Padlock / code / hacking

What small businesses should know about identity and access management

Even though in the past, most identity and access management (IAM) solutions were geared toward enterprise organizations, now small businesses realize this is something they need to understand as well.

Small businesses are frequently the target of cyber-attacks, and with increasingly hybrid and remote work environments, IAM is more important than ever before.

With those things in mind, the following are the key elements of identity and access management businesses of all sizes should know, including startups.

What is identity and access management (IAM)?

Identity and access management is a term that refers to the management of user accounts and privileges for programs and systems. Compliance is the objective as is overall security.

When you have IAM solutions in place, your corporate network can be opened up to external access, including remote workers, without the higher risk of security breaches that could otherwise occur.

IAM is built around user identities and the critical functions of user authorization and authentication.

It broadly works like this—the system gets the user’s identity through a combination of username and password or perhaps biometric data. Then, the identity if established is associated with access rights, which is an authorization.

Federated identities often receive support from modern IAM systems. This means identity information is both exchanged and also managed between boundaries, like devices and the cloud.

To simplify it even more, IAM includes the following elements:

  • How individuals are identified within a system
  • How roles are identified and assigned individually
  • How individuals are added, removed, and updated within their roles in the system
  • Assignment of levels of access to either individuals or groups of individuals
  • Protection of sensitive data in the system and securing of the system as a whole

Identity vs access

Identity is usually a reference to whoever is accessing the business network or services. This can be anyone, including a client as well as an employee or maybe a contractor. If you have a deployed cloud solution, your users can log in from various devices.

IAM not only establishes and manages user identity. It also tracks activity and devices. User identity is unique across devices.

Once there’s an establishment of identity, what the user can access has to be defined. No one should have access to everything. This is where you may be employing the principle of least privilege, meaning that there’s access to only the minimal number of files needed.

The user’s role is what IAM manages access control based on, and access can be updated if needed.

Why does IAM matter?

IAM helps small businesses mitigate some of their most significant security issues.

First is password security. No matter the size of your business, your employees will inevitably have a lot of sets of credentials they need to log into the applications that allow them to do their jobs. When they’re managing these multiple sets of passwords, they may not be following best security practices. That creates a security risk.

Small businesses can cut these risks and secure their systems with single sign-on. With SSO, employees have to remember only one set of credentials and enter those once. SSO can be part of a broader approach to IAM.

Small businesses have sensitive data like larger ones, and single sign-on can pair with two-factor authentication, again as part of IAM. Two-factor authentication lets you, as a small business, add another layer of security to your applications and systems.

When an employee forgets a password or gets locked out of an application, they may need to go through a reset. If you’re a small business, it’s unlikely you have a helpdesk.

If you do have a dedicated IT employee or team, you don’t want their time to be consumed by password resets.

With IAM, you can add self-service solutions for employees to deal with password-related issues.

Other benefits of IAM for small businesses include the achievement of regulatory compliance and reduction of costs. When you use IAM, you have access control policy that helps you stay compliant with things like HIPAA.

For costs, as we touched on, it reduces the workload on your IT employees or contractors.

Beyond the security considerations, one of the biggest benefits of IAM for any business of any size is productivity improvement. All the access policies are organized into one platform.

The process is largely automated. Your employees can use new applications faster, and they’re spending less time moving between them.

Your employees don’t have to be frustrated by memorizing and entering multiple passwords, and remote employees can access what they need to do their job no matter what.