Identity and Access Management: The First Defense in Cloud Security

Identity and Access Management: The First Defense in Cloud Security

Author: Roger Neal, Senior Cloud Security Consultant, DevSecOps

The term “cloud security” is broad, but at its core, it describes a range of best practices and configurations to safeguard businesses from internal and external threats. As more organizations undergo the process of digital transformation and incorporate cloud-based tools and services into their infrastructure, cloud security becomes essential. According to the team at CloudZero, current estimates state that the cloud computing market will surpass $1 trillion in the next 5 years. But the biggest challenge for most organizations isn’t the digital transformation itself—it’s how to balance productivity with security.

Cloud-based technologies allow organizations to expand beyond on-premise infrastructure; however, migrating to a cloud-based environment comes with security challenges.

With companies increasingly migrating to the cloud, it is crucial to secure data, particularly in light of new Zero Day threats such as the MOVEit vulnerability. While third-party cloud providers handle infrastructure management, the shared responsibility for data asset security and accountability remains with the organizations themselves. Cloud providers generally adhere to best security practices; nonetheless, organizations must take additional measures to protect data, applications, and workloads running on the cloud.

The blog below discusses the most common cloud security challenge, Identity and Access Management (IAM), and common-sense ways to overcome IAM issues without breaking the bank.

When talking with our clients, we’ve found that some of the most frequent issues that occur during cloud security audits are the following:

Identity and Access Management

While these security issues aren’t surprising, what is surprising is how often these issues are overlooked or not addressed at all.

What Is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Identity and Access Management (IAM), particularly using the principles of least privilege, can enhance cloud security. In this case, your organization would only grant permission to those needing them. For instance, the marketing team doesn’t need access to the same proprietary apps or software your accounting team uses. It seems like common sense, but unfortunately, these are often overlooked due to a lack of resources and best practice knowledge.

IAM, or identity and access management, is designed to keep unauthorized individuals out of a network while allowing authorized users to perform their necessary tasks within certain limits. While each company may have unique policies, processes, and tools for building their IAM system, most implementations focus on four main functions.

The first function is identity lifecycle management, which involves creating and maintaining digital identities for all human or non-human entities on the network. These identities provide information about the entity and their allowed actions on the network, including standard account details and access permissions based on their organizational role.

Access control is another crucial function of IAM, where each digital identity is given a designated level of access to network resources based on the company’s access policies. This can vary from limited customer access to broader access for employees or system administrators.

IAM systems often utilize role-based access control (RBAC) to enforce access policies, assigning privileges based on job function or title. This ensures users can only access what they need to perform their tasks. Some IAM systems also have policies for privileged access management (PAM), which focuses on managing permissions for highly privileged accounts that could pose a significant risk if compromised.

Authentication and authorization are crucial components of IAM systems. Authentication verifies the user’s identity through credentials, while authorization determines whether the authenticated user has the necessary permissions to access resources.

To enhance security, many IAM frameworks incorporate multi-factor authentication (MFA), requiring users to provide multiple authentication factors and single sign-on (SSO), allowing users to access multiple services with a single set of credentials. Adaptive authentication adjusts the authentication requirements in real time based on risk factors, providing additional measures when needed.

Lastly, identity governance involves monitoring user activities and ensuring they comply with access policies. This helps prevent abuse of privileges and aids in regulatory compliance.

How Does IAM Work?

IAM protects company networks by managing identities, controlling access, enhancing authentication, and monitoring user behavior.

  • Authentication and authorization: IAM allows the cloud service provider to verify the identity of users and determine their level of access to cloud resources. This ensures that only authorized users can access the cloud environment, reducing the risk of unauthorized individuals accessing sensitive data.
  • Centralized control: IAM provides a centralized control point for managing user access to cloud resources. Administrators can easily create, modify, and revoke user access rights, ensuring that only the necessary permissions are granted. This minimizes the risk of excessive privileges and helps prevent data breaches and other security incidents.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): IAM supports MFA, which adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification (such as passwords, biometrics, or security tokens) to access the cloud. This makes it more difficult for attackers to impersonate legitimate users and gain unauthorized access.
  • User activity monitoring and auditing: IAM systems can track and log user activity within the cloud environment, providing a valuable audit trail for security investigations. Suspicious behavior or actions can be flagged, allowing administrators to detect and respond to potential security threats in real time.
  • Segregation of duties: IAM enables the principle of segregation of duties, ensuring that no single individual has excessive control over cloud resources. By separating responsibilities, there is a reduced risk of internal fraud or malicious actions.
  • Account lifecycle management: IAM facilitates the management of user accounts throughout their lifecycle, including creation, suspension, and deletion. This ensures that only active users can access the cloud environment and prevents orphaned accounts from posing a security risk.
  • Integration with other security tools: IAM systems can integrate with other security tools, such as intrusion detection/prevention systems, firewalls, and security information and event management (SIEM) platforms. This allows for a holistic approach to cloud security, increasing the effectiveness of the overall security infrastructure.

Overall, IAM is critical in enhancing cloud security by providing robust authentication and authorization mechanisms, centralized control, and user activity monitoring. Its implementation strengthens the protection of cloud resources and mitigates the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

IAM: Your First Line of Cloud Security Defense

The evolving digital landscape has given rise to more advanced security threats, mainly targeting cloud computing providers due to organizations’ limited visibility into data access and movement. Without proactive steps to enhance cloud security through IAM, organizations face significant risks in terms of governance and compliance, regardless of where client information is stored.

Managing identity lifecycles involves updating accounts and permissions using the least privilege, onboarding new accounts and users that require access, and offboarding users who no longer need access. Identity and Access Management must be integral to your company’s cybersecurity strategy. VerSprite’s team can help you get there.

From large cloud infrastructures to helping organizations with cloud migration and integration, VerSprite’s DevSecOps team can help you safeguard your applications, systems, and data using IAM best practices.

Our DevSecOps team has years of experience helping enterprises like yours set up an IAM program. We’ll help you meet your organization’s needs now and help you stay agile as your business grows. Contact us today.