Do You Know Who IAM? Identity & Access Management & Why You Need It

How long does it take you to answer a simple question of who has access to your crown jewels in your cloud infrastructure? If it takes awhile, you might be in trouble. Read how IAM can help you fix this.

Do you know who IAM? 

Identity and access management (IAM) is about defining and managing the roles and access privileges (i.e. entitlements) of individual network identities (users and devices) in your multi-cloud infrastructure.

Users represent people and include customers, partners and employees; devices include computers, smartphones, routers, servers, controllers and sensors. The core objective of IAM systems is to govern digital identities and ensure they are legitimate. Once that digital identity has been established, it must be maintained, modified and monitored throughout each user’s or device’s access lifecycle, via entitlements management. 

Why do you need IAM? 

Adoption of public cloud services is growing rapidly as more organizations are prioritizing digital business initiatives, even more so in a post-Covid world. Gartner forecasts that by 2023, 40% of all enterprise workloads will be deployed in cloud infrastructure and platform services, up from 20% in 2020. And with more adoption comes associated increased risk due to the concentration of workloads in the public cloud and increasing number of identities and entitlements that control privileged operations. 

"A single misconfigured cloud infrastructure entitlement can bring down an entire organization’s applications with one line of code."

Furthermore, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to accurately manage these entitlements, as evidenced by the rise in cloud outages due to customer misconfigurations. Also, organizations often rely on scripts and tedious manual configurations that are susceptible to errors, and do not provide a visual way to easily detect unnecessary access. This is further complicated as more organizations are adopting a multi-cloud strategy, and each Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) has its own particular way of managing access and entitlements to resources. This puts your organization at an increased risk that attackers will find and exploit these misconfigurations, as shown by recent data breaches.

Is IAM for you?

Identity and access management plays a critical role at several stages in an organization’s security stack. But it isn’t often given its due attention because these various roles are spread out across different groups within the organization such as development teams, security teams, DevSecOps, IT infrastructure, the legal department. To quote Gartner, “IAM teams are no longer making all the related decisions about IAM”.

First, IAM techniques are just the beginning of managing a secure network. They require companies to define their access policies, specifically outlining who should have access to which resources and applications and under which conditions they should have access (who has access and when they access). 

So in a nutshell, IAM is for you if you are adopting cloud services at scale in order to innovate and see yourself in any of these situations: 

  • Organizations who have established some-level of cloud security strategy but are still not utilizing a third party tool for entitlements management for your cloud infrastructure.
  • Team of developers and business units directly managing their own cloud and data resources, who might not manage access permissions and secure them properly. 
  • Security team or DevOps team with limited bandwidth to have complete visibility in your entitlements management system to mitigating security threats. 
  • Organizations who have not yet implemented the Least Privilege Principle for their cloud infrastructure.

3 problems faced due to poor IAM systems

Permission access and management

Permission access and management refers to the processes used to control and monitor access to systems. These are important aspects of a multi-cloud infrastructure’s security stack. Due to the growing complexity of cloud infrastructure, permissions granting is decentralized, inconsistent and dynamic, making it extremely difficult to understand and mitigate risks at scale. 

Some common use cases that face this potential challenge are:

1. Organizations that start out with a lean development team and few data resources set up in the cloud manually manage this during the initial setup. But as the team and the number of cloud entities expands, they tend to see an increase in entitlements due to the decentralized permission granting process. 

Multiple factors can contribute to the rising difficulty to manage identities and entitlements, like:

  • Increase in the number of services being introduced to the market; growing number of members joining the organization, which leads to increasing number of entities in the cloud. 
  • Different types of entitlements, different approach to resource or entitlement hierarchy and complicated evaluation process to determine the actual permissions being granted.
  • Lack of clarity in answering simple questions such as “Who has access to my crown jewels?”.

2. The increased need for working from home and having a distributed workforce. More businesses have moved toward remote users and have also given users outside the organization greater access to their internal systems.

Visibility

It is difficult to have consistent, comprehensive visibility of all access across all environments, including the ability to accurately assess permission risk. Additionally, it is hard to demonstrate compliance to regulatory requirements and cloud platform security best practices. With excessive and broad-reaching access, static accounts, roles and associated entitlements are often more than what is actually required to perform a particular function. These accounts and privileges increase the attack surface and increase the chances of misuse. This is further exacerbated by a multi-cloud setup, as potentially thousands of services can be affected.

Some common use cases that face this potential challenge are:

1. In a growing team, members often start with predefined roles, and are gradually given more permissions and entitlements to get things done faster. However, this inadvertently results in excessive and broad-reaching permissions being granted. Due to the complexity involved, particularly for multi-cloud setups, these excess permissions are rarely reviewed and removed. These unintended broad-reaching access permissions increase the potential attack surface and blast radius for both internal and external threats. 

2. Teams who rely on scripts and manual configurations to detect unintended permissions that are granted. It is tedious, requiring constant maintenance, and prone to mistakes, thereby increasing the security threat to your crown jewels.

Native tools vs. third-party tools

Native tools from cloud providers are not the most intuitive and easiest way to extract actionable insights. Although they are often simple to configure for very basic deployments and cover some parts of an organization’s security needs, they have gaps when it comes to more complex IT infrastructure such as multi-cloud environments or a mix of cloud and on-premise security. Additionally, they can be costly when considering the need to hire and maintain in-house cloud security experts to continuously configure and maintain security tools. 

  • Services such as IAM Access Analyzer can be helpful, but they are not very comprehensive. It can take up to 30 minutes to analyze a single policy.
  • No unified dashboard: Users continuously need to toggle between multiple tabs and windows to understand who has access to specific data, which is not feasible as a long-term solution for continuous monitoring and protection. 

The solution: Warden IAM

Warden IAM prevents cloud data breaches by automating the detection of identity and access management risks in Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure (coming soon). It automatically discovers all user and service identities and analyzes their entitlements, as granted by roles and policies, using a continuous lifecycle approach. By combining analytics with granular, full stack insights, Warden IAM makes it possible to enforce least privilege access at scale even in the most complex cloud environments. Who has access to what in your cloud infrastructure? With Warden IAM, you can quickly find out.

Conclusion

If you are having trouble answering “who has access to my crown jewels, and what kind of access do they have in my cloud infrastructure?” then get in touch with Horangi for a quick demo of Warden IAM to identify important security risks and remediation steps today. 

Mito Ye

Mito is a Product Manager at Horangi for Warden IAM. She is passionate about building a safer cyberspace by helping businesses adopt least-privilege principle in their identity and access management.

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