Access Management: A Comprehensive Guide

Sharavanan

6th March, 2024

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As organizations expand, they increasingly incorporate additional SaaS applications. Due to this, effectively managing dynamic user access to such an extensive SaaS stack can pose challenges. However, with the help of access management, this issue can be addressed thoroughly. In this article, we'll dive into the realm of access management, exploring its significance and everything intertwined with it.

Ever wondered why a data breach occurs? There are several reasons, but the prime culprit is access gaps. So, what's an access gap? Access gaps are nothing but vulnerabilities or lapses in managing user access within a system or network. These gaps can occur when there are flaws in the implementation of access controls, such as insufficiently restricted user permissions, misconfigurations, or overlooked security settings. 

And you know who loves exploiting these gaps? Hackers. They see it as an open invitation to sneak into your system and wreak havoc. These intruders take advantage of those gaps to infiltrate your organizational systems, and the repercussions of such a lapse can be extensive, resulting in significant financial and reputational damage. 

So, to safeguard against compromising your data, it is crucial to implement effective access management. But what is access management?

What Is Access Management?

Access management is the process of managing, controlling, and monitoring the access of users (human and non-human like service accounts) to organizations' IT resources (SaaS apps, data, network, and system), both in the cloud and on-premises. The ultimate goal of this management process is to ensure that only authorized users have the right access to the resources they need and to restrict unauthorized users' access. 

An access management system, also known as a security access management system, is a solution that is designed to manage and monitor the user's access lifecycle. One of the prominent examples of access management solutions is Zluri.

But what does access management consist of? Access management consists of 4 key components:

  1. A directory for defining and recognizing authorized users

  2. Tools for providing, modifying, or removing user's access throughout their lifecycle

  3. Capabilities for overseeing and managing user access

  4. Functionalities for reviewing access and generating reports

Now, let's understand how exactly access management works.

How Does Access Management Work?

Access management works through a series of steps designed to control and secure user interactions with your organization's digital resources. Here's how it works:

Step 1# Authentication 

The first step is verifying the user's identity. This is typically done through a username and password or more advanced methods like fingerprints or codes sent to a mobile device. Authentication helps ensure that users are who they claim to be, preventing unauthorized access.

Step 2# Authorization 

Once a user is authenticated, the system checks what resources and information they are allowed to access. This is determined by their role, permissions, and access levels, cross-referenced with a database of authorized users. Authorization ensures users can only access what they are allowed to.

Step 3# Access Control 

With authorization in place, access control mechanisms decide whether to grant or deny access to resources based on the user's authorization. This way, access control ensures that users only get into areas they are permitted to access.

Furthermore, access control helps your IT team create, modify, and delete user accounts and manage user attributes like roles and permissions. It enforces policies for password management and account lockout, which helps maintain a secure access environment for both users and data.

Apart from that, access control takes it a step further by implementing various security measures to prevent unauthorized access and add an extra layer of defense mechanisms. These measures include enforcement of multi-factor authentication (MFA), physical security, monitoring user access, and periodic behavioral analysis. Moreover, monitoring and analysis help identify suspicious behavior, allowing for swift detection and preventing unauthorized access.

In short, access management authenticates users and then determines their authorization. Further, it controls their access by managing their accounts and implementing preventive measures to ensure security and prevent unauthorized access to valuable resources and data.

Now, let's understand why exactly access management is important. 

Methods & Protocols Used By Access Management

Access management utilizes a range of methods and protocols, some of which are listed below: 

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): RBAC stands out as a method that restricts access based on predefined roles within an enterprise. This ensures that employees only access apps and data that is required for their specific job title, reducing the risk of unauthorized data exposure. 

  • Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC): ABAC offers a more dynamic model that grants access rights based on a user's attributes, resource attributes, and access policies, and environmental factors. ABAC introduces a level of granularity, enabling organizations to define complex access scenarios and adapt to evolving business requirements. However, its implementation complexity lies in the comprehensive management of attributes and policies.

  • Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC): PBAC takes a flexible and dynamic stance, allowing your IT team to define access rules based on diverse factors, such as user attributes, resource properties, and contextual information. It combines elements of both Mandatory Access Control (MAC) and Discretionary Access Control (DAC), offering a balanced approach that aligns with organizational needs.

  • Single Sign-On (SSO): Transitioning to authentication protocols emerges as a user-friendly method, streamlining the authentication process by enabling users to access multiple apps with a single set of credentials. SSO not only simplifies the user experience but also centralizes authentication, providing enhanced control over user access.

  • OAuth: An open standard for access delegation enables your IT team to grant limited access to third-party applications to users and prohibits them from sharing their credentials. It is particularly used in API access control and social media login integrations, contributing to seamless user experiences.

  • OpenID Connect (OIDC) builds on OAuth 2.0: OIDC focuses on identity verification. It uses JSON Web Tokens (JWT) to encode user information, providing an ID token for secure authentication. OIDC is widely adopted for single sign-on solutions and modern web applications, reducing the need for multiple account registrations.

  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP): LDAP serves as a client-server protocol for accessing and managing directory information services. Recognized for its speed, flexibility, and scalability, LDAP is commonly used to organize user, group, and device information within organizational directories.

  • Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML): SAML is an XML-based standard that is used for exchanging data associated with authentication and authorization between different parties, particularly between an identity provider and a service provider. Widely used in enterprise settings, SAML enables seamless access to web applications and services, fostering collaboration across organizational boundaries.

  • Web Authentication API (WebAuthn): WebAuthn serves as a standard for passwordless and multi-factor authentication. Developed to enhance security and user-friendliness, WebAuthn uses different types of authentication methods, such as biometrics or security keys and public-key cryptography, providing a resilient defense against common cyber threats during web authentication.

    Now that we've covered the essentials of access management, its importance, and the methods and protocols in play, you might be questioning how it differs from identity management. Let's explore the basic difference between identity management and access management. 

    Now, let's wrap it up by exploring access management best practices. 

Difference Between Identity Management & Access Management

In the below table we have closely compared identity management vs access management based on different parameters. This comparison analysis will help you thoroughly understand these two critical concepts:  

Parameters

Identity Management 

Access Management

Definition 

Identity management manages the digital identities lifecycle, including their creation, modification, and deletion.

Access management controls and governs access to organization’s resources based on user identities and permissions.

Focus

It concentrates more on managing user identities and their dynamic attributes.

It focuses more on regulating user access to systems, apps, and data.

Objective 

The prime goal of identity management is to ensure the only right individuals (identity) have appropriate access throughout their identity lifecycle.

The main objective of access management is to protect organization’s resources by permitting or restricting user access based on predefined rules.

Authentication 

It verifies and validates user identities through various methods like passwords, biometric authentication, etc.

It implements authentication mechanisms to verify every single identity before granting access.

Authorization 

Generally, it is less focused on fine-grained access controls. More concerned about creating, modifying, or deleting identities

It emphasizes on defining and enforcing access policies to ensure users have the authorized permissions.

Security 

It improves overall security by efficiently handling user identities and their associated attributes.

It strengthens security by controlling and monitoring user access to restrict unauthorized entry.

Why Is Access Management Important?

Without an access management system, an organization's IT team loses control over determining who, when, and why individuals access its resources. The IT team faces challenges in verifying whether authorized users have appropriate access to enterprise systems and data and whether unauthorized users possess permissions they should not have. 

These vulnerabilities expose the organization to risks such as accidental data leaks, where authorized individuals with unnecessary access may inadvertently disclose sensitive data. Also, it creates gaps for internal and external malicious actors, enabling them to exploit legitimate user credentials of unauthorized access and compromise sensitive data. 

However, implementing secure access management tools such as Zluri helps overcome these vulnerabilities. This tool enables IT teams to accurately assign user-required permissions and avoid granting excessive access privileges, which further helps prevent data breaches and cyberattacks. 

Not only that, secure access management strengthens enterprise defenses, safeguarding the organization against both malicious external actors and inadvertent internal threats. 

Also, apart from security aspects, access management plays a crucial role in adhering to compliance regulations. Many industries and regulatory bodies have specific data access and security compliance requirements. Access management helps organizations adhere to these regulations by ensuring that data is accessed and handled in accordance with legal standards.

Now, let's proceed further and explore the methods and protocols that access management implements to effectively manage users' access permissions and rights. 

Access Management Best Practices

Given below are some of the best practices recommended by experts to ensure effective implementation of access management:

1: Implement a Zero-Trust Policy

To strengthen defenses against cyber threats, adopting a zero-trust policy is crucial. This strategy requires every individual within the organization, even those already inside the network, to authenticate their identity before accessing any resources. By treating each person and device as a potential threat, the system can identify abnormal behaviors, closely monitor activities, and assess risk levels, enhancing overall security.

2: Adopt the Principle of Least Privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege emphasizes caution when assigning access privileges. This practice involves providing users with the minimum level of access necessary to fulfill their roles. Recognizing that different roles within the organization require varying levels of access, this principle ensures that individuals only have access to what is essential for their specific tasks, thereby reducing opportunities for unauthorized access and potential security breaches.

3: Utilize Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Understanding the limitations of relying solely on strong passwords, the implementation of multi-factor authentication (MFA) becomes paramount. MFA introduces an additional layer of security during the login process, requiring users to provide extra verification beyond their passwords. This could include entering a code sent via email or text or undergoing a biometric scan using features like fingerprint or facial recognition. By incorporating MFA, your IT team can significantly enhance user access security.

4: Get Rid of High-Risk Systems

The shift towards cloud-based systems is emphasized to mitigate access management vulnerabilities. Unlike the misconception that on-site servers are safer, cloud platforms encrypt all data and offer extra security features, such as patch management and segmentation. On-site servers, however, are more vulnerable to physical access, making them a riskier option for organizations looking to enhance access management security.

5: Remove Orphaned Accounts

To improve the overall effectiveness of access management, it is recommended to systematically identify and eliminate accounts that are no longer in active use. This helps maintain a secure access environment, reducing the risk of unauthorized access through orphaned accounts, which hackers often target due to their relative ease of access. Regularly reviewing and removing these orphaned accounts is essential in maintaining the integrity and security of access control measures.

6: Opt For An Effective Access Management Solution 

As a manager, you need to look for a solution that effectively manages your user’s access and supports your existing system. Fortunately, there is a solution, “Zluri,” that includes all the required functionalities and capabilities to streamline access management seamlessly. But what is Zluri? 

Zluri is an advanced access management solution that is designed to streamline and simplify identity & access management processes, such as managing user accounts, granting, modifying, and revoking access, enforcing granular access policies, adhering to stringent regulatory compliance, and more. This helps ensure only the right user has access to the right app or other organizational resources at the right time, which further helps maintain a secure access environment. 

Let’s have a quick look at how it works and the benefits it offers:

  • Offers Zero Touch Onboarding 

Zluri's access management assigns new employees their digital identity upon onboarding. How does it do that? It fetches all the data associated with the new employee's profile by integrating it with HRMS and assigning the employee's identity accordingly. Once the identity has been assigned, Zluri automatically grants new employees required access with just a few clicks, saving time and effort. Further, it ensures your new employees gain access to all the required SaaS apps to start with their work effectively from day 1. 

  • Authenticates The Identity Before Granting Access

Once your IT team has assigned new employees digital identity, with Zluri's access management, they further create accounts for the new employees. So, when you grant them access, your IT team quickly cross-checks their digital identities before granting them the required access. 

  • Effectively Manages Employee's Access Upon Mid-Lifecycle Changes

Upon mid-lifecycle change, employees undergo role change, department, or even position change, and all these new roles require access to new applications. So, Zluri automatically runs playbooks to modify their existing access and assign them a new set of tools and entitlements. 

  • Automates Access Requests Management

With Zluri's access management, your IT team can automate access requests via Slack. Your IT team can set multi-step approval workflows as well as rules to automatically approve or reject access. So once the concerned managers receive a notification sent via Slack about application requests, they check some parameters and approve and reject access requests accordingly. If the concerned manager approves the requests, Zluri automatically runs the approval workflow and grants employees the right level of access with just a few clicks.

  • Provides Access Beyond SCIM

In most organizations, IT teams struggle to provision access for applications with no SCIM connectors, as the process is manual and extremely time-consuming. So, Zluri's access management addresses this issue by integrating it with Single Sign-On (SSO) systems. It centralizes and automates access management for all applications, making it more efficient. 

Additionally, for applications without SCIM connectors but with public APIs, Zluri can establish connections through API-first, no-code integrations. Furthermore, Zluri supports SCIM actions through SSOs like Okta, enabling access management for all applications through a unified platform. 

  • Promptly Revokes Departing Employee's Access To Ensure Secure Onboarding 

Upon offboarding, when the employees depart from the organization, your IT team can promptly revoke all access from the employee with the help of Zluri access management. This reduces the risk of data breaches associated with lingering access rights. 

  • Thoroughly Monitor Access Activities 

Zluri's access management enables your IT team to monitor all access activities within your organization. Including which user has access to which applications, their status as active or inactive, what permission level they hold, and more. 

Your IT team can understand access patterns and user behavior by keeping track of user's access activities. This will help your team ensure only authorized users access sensitive SaaS application data. This way, your team can establish a well-governed and secure environment.

  • Enforces Access Control Policies 

Zluri's access management helps your IT team enforce different access control policies, including SoD, RBAC, PoLP, and just-in-time access. By implementing these control policies, they can ensure that only authorized users gain access to the right resources and nothing beyond that. Moreover, these policies are also a mandatory requirement of compliance standards (such as GDPR, SOX, SOC 2), so you have to enforce these policies to meet the regulatory requirements. 

  • Generates Insightful Reports 

It also generates curated reports that play a pivotal role in identity and access management (IAM). These reports provide visibility into who has access to what systems and data. This visibility is essential for clearly understanding user privileges and preventing potential security risks. 

Book a demo now to know more about Zluri's access management.

Simplify Permissions with Access Management 

In conclusion, access management is the linchpin of organizational security, encompassing solutions that authenticate, authorize, and control user access to digital resources. Organizations can safeguard against unauthorized entry, data breaches, and internal vulnerabilities by understanding the importance of access management. 

Effective access management solutions like Zluri strengthen security posture and contribute to a seamless and secure operational environment, ensuring that users have the right level of access needed for their roles while mitigating potential risks. As technology evolves, the significance of access management continues to grow, making it a critical element in maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information within the digital landscape.



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