Identity and Access Management: Defenition and Benefits

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 13, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Businesses in nearly every industry use a growing number of technologies and digital platforms, like email, messenger apps and data storage. To keep their content safe, many companies and organizations use technology safeguards to prevent unauthorized access or breaches, often called identity and access management (IAM). Knowing more about IAM can help you develop professional capabilities to use in an information technology career. In this article, we explore what identity and access management is, why it's important and who uses it, plus share a list of tools and technology that help achieve successful identity and access management.

Related: How To Start a Career in IT

What is identity and access management?

Identity and access management is the comprehensive framework of platforms, practices and policies a company or organization uses to protect and manage its electronic and digital users and identities. IAM is often a mix of technology and practical use. For example, it can be a company policy to not share login and password information or an actual electronic process, like multi-factor authentication that protects login access itself.

You can use IAM for your business or organization through hiring direct employees, selecting contractors and third-party vendors or through subscribing to cloud-based designs. You can also use elements of all options to create a unique and customized identity and access management system. Using IAM helps ensure employee user identities and profile data get stored securely, company information gets shared properly and that unauthorized access or system breaches become minimized or eliminated.

Nearly every industry uses IAM and these specific roles often handle identity and access management tasks within a company or organization:

  • Identity and access management engineer

  • Systems engineer

  • Information technology technician

  • Information technology manager

  • Cybersecurity product manager

  • Vice president of technology

  • Chief technology officer

Related: 21 Different Types of IT Jobs To Explore

Why is identity and access management important?

Identity and access management is important because it protects critical data and information of a company, organization or individual. For example, creating a strong and unique password for your online banking login can help protect your account and funds as an individual example of IAM. For a business, identity and access management protects far more than financials—historical files, company handbooks, employee and customer identifying information, proprietary business materials and more all gain protection from implementing an effective IAM framework.

You can have various users within or affiliated with an organization, like customers, employees and business partners, who all operate various devices and systems, like computers, printers, smartphones, routers, servers and software programs. Protecting each user and device means maintaining and monitoring access from each individually and together as a whole. With identity and access management, IT technicians and managers can verify and authenticate users and ensure they have authorization to resources, tools and material they're allowed.

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Information Technology

What are the components of identity and access management?

There are five major components of identity and access management:

  • How a system defines and identifies individual users, like a directory

  • How those identities and roles get added, changed or deleted, called access life cycle management

  • How access levels get properly distributed to individual users, groups of individual users and roles

  • How the systems get audited and concerns reported

With advances in identity and access management, these components often include a mix of machines, biometrics, artificial intelligence and human behavior and error.

Related: What Is Data Management?

What are the benefits of identity and access management?

There are many benefits of implementing an identity and access management framework for your company, organization or business, including:

Stronger security

A strong IAM system can help an organization find and resolve internal or external security risks. It can also satisfy regulatory security measures or audit controls often required for certain industries, like banking, power, utilities, oil and gas and government agencies. You can also use an IAM system to monitor policy violations or control access privileges to certain data with more ease.

IAM systems allow for greater multi-factor uses, like fingerprint sensors, facial recognition, retina detection or voice matching to add extra layers of strengthened security measures to best protect company assets. Many industries and companies with confidential or high-level clearance material often use a combination of various elements when building their IAM framework.

Better passwords

Because IAM systems include credentials and logins, they help to eliminate weak passwords which can easily become stolen or compromised. IAM systems prompt for strong password creation, often requiring a variety of components like using a numerical, capitalized letter or at least one character, for example. They also ensure passwords get updated frequently, adding to the level of security.

Greater ease of use

Previous iterations of identity and access management used manual steps to assign and track different user access levels, privileges and authorizations. With advancements in technology, new IAM systems offer more simplified versions of sign-in and user management, making it easier for system administrators and end-users, like employees and customers. The ease of use often also increases user satisfaction, often making it easier for employees to access files or complete work.

Lower IT costs

Many IAM systems operate at lower cost points than in the past, making them affordable options to protect an organization's digital assets while also staying in compliance with regulations. The administration and handling of hardware, software and other components are often easier with identity and access management. Cloud-based technology also reduces the cost of physical hardware and infrastructure, adding to the cost savings you can gain from using IAM.

Proper information sharing

Information has a universal platform with IAM frameworks, allowing you to apply security measures and policies across all operating systems, devices and platforms for an organization or facility. For example, implementing a single-sign-on system or prompting passwords to update at certain increments, like every 90 days. IAM lets you create and enforce safety, security and data policies around:

  • Access privileges

  • Authentication

  • Validation

Better productivity

Productivity often increases when using advanced and automated IAM systems. For example, a new hire employee or one transitioning to a new role often enjoys an easier, faster and automated process for creating or updating login content or file access. With automatic processes, there's also less manual work for system administrators and IT technicians, reducing both additional time spent on tasks and potential errors made.

What are some identity and access management tools and technologies?

Here are some specific examples of identity and access management tools and technologies to consider implementing for your business or organization to strengthen the security of your information:

Pre-shared key (PSK)

A pre-shared key is a digital authentication technology that allows for a shared password to certain resources. For example, a password for an office Wi-Fi router or a password for a survey platform account. While pre-shared keys can simplify processes for employees and other users, changing them often for continued security may be burdensome and they're generally less secure than individual passwords.

Behavioral authentication

Often used for highly sensitive information on platforms and systems, behavioral authentication helps organizations and companies verify users are who they say they are through this artificial intelligence system. It monitors elements of a user's behavior, like keystrokes, login times and mouse use to help verify and authenticate a user. If the behavior seems abnormal, the system locks to prevent potential unauthorized access until the user gets verified in other ways and the system becomes unlocked.

Biometrics

Biometrics is another advancement in IAM that uses a definite authentication that can't get altered because it relies on human characteristics. For example, biometrics often include:

  • Fingerprints

  • Facial recognition

  • Iris detection

  • Palm prints

  • Ear shape recognition

  • Vein pattern recognition

  • Voice matching

  • DNA

While biometrics are consistently more effective than other IAM tools, they pose other considerations, like ethics, transparency and privacy concerns or the ability to opt-out. Biometrics also often have a high initial investment cost and require training for proper use. Recovery can prove challenging if a biometric system gets compromised or breached, because individual users cannot change biometric attributes like they can passwords, for example.

Password reset

Password reset is part of identity management and often lets users change or update their passwords without involving IT technicians or administrators. Users often answer identifying information they previously shared when setting up the account, like the name of the street they grew up on or the first phone number they had, helping authenticate the user when resetting a password. Password reset tools also often lock an account if a user enters an incorrect password too many times in a row or cannot answer the security questions correctly.

Risk-based authentication

Risk-based authentication uses artificial intelligence to monitor, analyze and determine access based on a user's circumstances at the precise moment they attempt to access. For example, it might detect an unusual geographic location or an internet protocol (IP) address the user hasn't had before. Based on the level of risk determined, additional login measures may prompt.

Single sign-on

A single sign-on access control serves as one login point for several individual systems. The username and password allow a person to gain access to separate systems and platforms with a single credential rather than multiple ones. For example, a company might provide single sign-on features that access the company intranet, email and file storage systems all with the same login information.

Data loss prevention (DLP)

In identity and access management, data loss prevention is an important tool to monitor data and its use. You set parameters for DLP to monitor your data intricately whether it's in use, on a cloud server, at rest on storage platforms or on specific user devices, like computers connected to a primary server. This can help companies easily track where data gets housed, how frequently it's accessed and who uses it, helping identify unusual activity.

Alert prioritization

With alert prioritization, you can set your IAM system to scan activity across all platforms continuously for security concerns. You can customize it to prioritize security events you deem more important than others or create categorized alerts, like ones originating from international locations or being accessed by someone outside of an organization, for example. Alert prioritization can help IT teams and administrators design and filter specific industry interests or broader cybersecurity protocols.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Organizations often use MFA to give access to a system or network, like a company intranet platform. It typically has an extra step beyond entering your password, like getting a short message service (SMS) text or code sent to your phone or scanning a fingerprint biometric. MFA systems sometimes require cellular data versus using Wi-Fi connections.

Data encryption

Data encryption is an element of IAM framework used as a last layer of protection, in case a breach happens or an unauthorized user gains access. With data encryption, your sensitive material and content gets obfuscated, rendering it unusable even if extracted. The ciphertext is only readable to those who have a decryption key or password.

Explore more articles