Last updated at Tue, 21 Feb 2023 13:46:19 GMT

Identity and access management (IAM) is one of the most critical tools for today's cloud-centric environment. Businesses' IT architectures have become more highly distributed than ever, and users need to access a growing suite of cloud services on demand. Determining the identities of users and resources, and what services each user needs access to, is critical to cloud-native security. It provides the basis for enforcing the principle of least privilege, which aims to minimize risk by giving each user the lowest level of access they need without limiting their job effectiveness or reducing productivity.

But getting an IAM solution up and running comes with its own headaches and stresses — especially in the context of complex cloud environments. Here are three of the main challenges that security teams face when implementing a cloud IAM solution, as well as some strategies to help tackle them.

1. Onboarding without errors

The first step is always the hardest, right? Getting your entire team onboarded with the correct level of access is the earliest snag many organizations hit with IAM.

Obviously, large enterprises with huge numbers of employees will likely feel this pinch more than others. But with cloud complexity now fully entrenched at even small and mid-sized organizations, making sure each team member has the correct level of access to the right applications on day one can seem like an overwhelming task, no matter how large your team. The stakes of a misstep here are high: Improperly configuring user access not only introduces risk, it can also slow down employees in their critical tasks — hindering the business's ability to provide value for customers.

One of the keys to success here is having a tool that makes it easy to adhere to the principle of least-privileged access. Role-based access controls, for example, help assign user rights in an automated way based on the team member's job function and department. This can help take some pressure off the security team to stay up-to-the-minute on every employee's access and allows necessary changes to be made faster.

2. Integration across services

Cloud adoption is big and sprawling. The average company now uses 110 software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, and for large enterprises, some estimates put the number of cloud services in play at over 1,900.

That's a whole lot of solutions to integrate with your IAM platform — and if every user currently has a separate, distinct identity when they sign on to each application, the numbers grow exponentially. When implementing IAM, network administrators need to take full stock of all cloud services in play, as well as ensure any new services that teams subsequently bring on board are integrated with IAM. At large, growing companies where things move quickly, that can mean provisioning several new services per week or per month.

To help alleviate these issues and reduce complexity, it's critical to integrate your IAM platform with a single sign-on (SSO) tool that allows users to access SaaS applications with a single identity, linked to a central directory. While there are still quite a number of integrations necessary to make this happen, the one-two punch of IAM and SSO provides much-needed structure to that complex picture. It also helps out the end user, providing them the convenience of only needing one sign-on identity to access all their critical applications.

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3. Maintaining and auditing identities

In cloud computing as in life, change is the only constant. Not only are organizations onboarding new cloud services all the time, but they also see employees leave, change roles, switch offices, and transition to fully remote work. Any of these actions may bring about some needed adjustment in a team member's access permissions.

IAM can't be a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Improperly provisioning and deprovisioning users — i.e., granting access where it may not be needed, or failing to remove access when an employee leaves or switches teams — can lead to major gaps in an organization's risk profile. It can allow the proliferation of so-called "zombie accounts," identities that still exist for users who are inactive. It can also result in an excess of admin accounts, giving users the highest level of access even if they may not need it.

Automation is one of the best tools to help security teams circumvent issues associated with out-of-date identities and improper access provisioning. If you have rules set up for reducing or removing access privileges when an employee leaves, for example, you can get ahead of the problem before it grows. Behavioral analytics can also be immensely helpful in spotting dormant accounts or removing access to applications and services that haven't been used for a prolonged period of time. It can also help identify unusual user actions, which could indicate an account has been provisioned incorrectly.

What cloud IAM issues are you facing?

Complexity is the tradeoff of the flexibility and scale that cloud architectures offer — which makes it all the more important to streamline wherever possible. Having a unified solution that provides IAM alongside the other key elements of cloud security can save security teams a lot of time and stress, helping them identify and remediate risks more quickly.

What kinds of IAM challenges is your team facing? Come chat with us at AWS re:Inforce on July 26-27, 2022 — we want to hear how you're tackling IAM as you work toward fully cloud-native security.

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