5 ways iam helps with cybersecurity

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a cybersecurity discipline, so it’s almost trivial to claim that a solid IAM foundation brings critical security benefits for any organization. Fundamentally, IAM allows the right people to access the right resources at the right times, in the right way for the right reasons. Yet IAM projects consistently take a backseat to other, more fashionable cybersecurity initiatives in a lot of organizations, ultimately harming the security posture.  

Identity is the new security perimeter, replacing the traditional firewalls as the logical boundary of the protected environment. We should consider this shift complete with the advent of cloud-based infrastructure and applications, remote/hybrid working, mobile devices and many other IT trends all pointing towards the login screen as the true gateway to the resources our organizations have. 

So, let’s review a couple of ways that IAM investment directly contributes to good cybersecurity. 

1. Identity is the foundation for Zero Trust 

Zero Trust revolves around the principle of “never trust, always verify, and naturally it relies on a mature IAM program to function well. Identity will provide the core of Zero Trust, as it establishes a system for verifying user identities and access requests before granting any permissions.  

An identity provider, be it some cloud solution or Active Directory, is a pre-requisite for any Zero Trust effort, but it’s only a start. Governance, advanced access controls, least privilege and automated workflows are some of the stepping stones towards a more complete Zero Trust framework and are key benefits that identity and access management can bring. 

2. Granular Access Controls to limit the potential blast radius 

IAM allows organizations to define precise access permissions for every user and system. This eliminates the risky practice of excessive privileges, minimizing the blast radius of any potential breach. Access controls also help in differentiating between data, with more sensitive information (credit card info, PII) getting the most secure treatment, and low sensitivity data enjoying more flexibility.

Access controls blend well into compliance, auditing and accountability. By tracking who accessed what, when and why, organizations can meet high standards of industry standards. 

3. Privileged Access Management 

A special case is, of course, the case of privileged accounts with elevated access rights. These accounts are used to administer critical resources, such as servers, applications, security settings, etc. Protecting this access is like safeguarding the keys to the kingdom: every attacker is going after these special access accounts to elevate their access rights on the network, and to gain clearance to cause significant damage. 

PAM is also not “just” a password vault, and it’s not just 2FA for developers/administrators. A complete PAM solution shrinks the attack surface multiple ways. Credential vault is an absolute musteliminating sharing passwords, complete with approval and check-out processes, and automatically resetting after use. Session monitoring records and audits privileged user behavior, enabling real-time interruption of the connection if suspicious activity is detected. Root delegation on Windows and UNIX/Linux/macOS limits what attackers can do if they overtake a user account. Again, this is not a matter of trusting your developers or sysadmins: their devices and their accounts are vulnerable and need additional protection. 

4. Identity Lifecycle Management 

Hand-in-hand with the above two key functionalities goes identity lifecycle management: the ability to closely match user access rights to their changing role in the organization. Sometimes called joiners-movers-leavers, automated or semi-automated processes should grant or revoke access based on the status of every employee, including removing all access rights when they leave the organization. 

Reaching true identity governance is also a business enabler, extending the originally security-focused feature set with provisioning-deprovisioning and advanced approval workflows. 

+1: Log source for your SIEM 

A mature cybersecurity program monitors the internal environment in great detail, from firewall and network activity to application behavior. And one of the critical signals should be the IAM suite: login events, access requests and user behavior across the environment all could point to an imminent attack or a breach. Event data from the IAM suite can minimize this blind spot and provide more complete visibility into the corporate environment, enabling easier identification of suspicious activity and facilitating faster response times to potential security incidents. 


Don't overlook identity. In today's threat landscape, strong access controls are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity. A well-resourced, well-budgeted identity team, equipped with a robust IAM solution, can offer a significant contribution to your overall cybersecurity posture. By implementing granular access controls, leveraging multi-factor authentication, and enforcing user lifecycle management, you can significantly reduce the attack surface for cybercriminals and protect your valuable data assets. 

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