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What Is IAM? Identity and Access Management Today

What Is IAM? Explaining Identity and Access Management | RecFaces

Identity and access management (IAM) systems are the foundation for ensuring that the appropriate people have access to certain technological resources. Moreover, the management requirements have become critical in recent years. This is because the issue of regulatory compliance is becoming more stringent and complex.

Our review will allow the reader to understand IAM inside and out. We will tell you about tools, terms, and functionalities; we will also show you the most significant system benefits. Of course, our team has not forgotten about the risks — this matter will also be disclosed. But for now, let’s start with the basics!

Table of Contents

What Is IAM? Definition & Meaning
Why Is IAM important?
How Identity and Access Management Works
Main IAM Uses and Functionalities
Key Identity & Access Management Terms
IAM Tools
User Provisioning
Single Sign-On
Multi-Factor Authentication
Risk-Based Authentication
Identity Analytics
Identity as a service (IDaaS)
Identity management and governance (IMG)
API security
What IAM Means for Compliance Management
Benefits of IAM
IAM Risks
Best Practices for Identity and Access Management
Before Establishing IAM
What Qualifies as a PII violation?
Identity and Access Management FAQs
What is IAM, and what is its purpose?
What are IAM permissions?
What is the difference between an IAM role and an IAM user?
What are the three types of access control?
What are the important components of IAM?
What is an IAM policy?

What Is IAM? Definition & Meaning

IAM is a special corporate management system that allows each user to perform certain actions due to individually open access. Employees of the organization and its customers can use these privileges. Moreover, the degree of access and its control varies for different users.

Importantly that after installing digital identity, ongoing account management support and adjustments can be needed. It will also be possible to track the life cycle of a particular account. In general, company administrators receive a convenient and simple tool for:

  • Assigning a user role;
  • Changing the authority of a specific employee or client;
  • Tracking user actions in the framework of interaction with the company;
  • Following corporate policies;
  • Following government regulations.

Thus, the system aims to grant certain powers to a specific user at the appropriate time. It’s noteworthy that most of the operations occur very quickly — and this is all thanks to the digital identification of each person.

Why Is IAM important?

Managers of the company will sooner or later stumble upon a proposal to implement IAM. Logically, that they will think about the question: “Is this system really that important?” There are several reasons to install IAM tools:

  1. Correct issuance of powers. There’s no need to manually select tasks because the system will open access itself (following the account’s parameters);
  2. Digital identity is not just for people. The system can successfully manage device or application IDs;
  3. Accuracy of access rights. Thanks to the automation of issuing access, the risk of possible data leakage (both internal and external) is significantly reduced.

Also, the role model of auto-control reduces the management burden. And it’s no wonder because we live in the age of technology.

How Identity and Access Management Works

Three components ensure ideal fulfillment of the tasks of the identification, authentication, and authorization system:

  • A large-scale database that contains information about accounts and their access rights;
  • Special system tools that allow the administrator to change access rights;
  • Access history for each registered login.

To elucidate how this structure works, we will give specific illustrations:

  1. Example №1. Each login & password entry is accompanied by an automatic check. The system makes sure that such a user exists in the database. If an employee works in the content creation department, then access to the new work publication is given. However, a person can’t make changes to the other content makers’ publications;
  2. Example №2. Those who control the production process, as a rule, can only view the progress of the work in real-time. At the same time, the superiors can both view the procedure and make some changes. If everyone had such access, it would lead to unpredictable results.

Typically, system management is the responsibility of the corporate cybersecurity department.

Main IAM Uses and Functionalities

By getting such a system with tight security controls, enterprises can further prevent unauthorized intrusion and even localize corporate breaches. The implementation of the structure covers the following tasks:

  1. Creation of a single database. It stores the most complete and accurate information about each account and the actions performed by it;
  2. Identity verification at the time of user login. No unauthorized person will be able to access the corporation’s data without a username and password. Also, obtaining information depends on the position of the employee and individually opened access;
  3. Structuring undefined data. In some IAM products, some special modules allow you to classify data by content and document attributes. Employees are later granted access based on a comparison of user-supplied data and document classification data;
  4. Reporting. If a user has extra rights (for example, an administrator added a random user to a group) that does not correspond to his role, the security service will receive a notification. After that, the admin needs to confirm the exception or eliminate the user;
  5. Management and interaction with mobile devices. In modern companies, users use not only desktop computers for work but also smartphones and tablets. In many cases, these are not corporate devices but personal ones — it is important to provide additional security.

Some other uses and functionalities differ in specific AIM products. For instance, the separation of duties (SoD) policy, when an add-on prohibits the combination of certain roles. A concrete example: the employee placing the order should not be involved in financial transactions.

Key Identity & Access Management Terms

Often, when speaking about IAM, there are a lot of incomprehensible terms. Nevertheless, it will be difficult to understand the issue without them. So, we have selected the most frequently used thematic key terms:

Key TermDefinition
Access ManagementThis is the process of managing an account by assigning it a specific role and access rights.
AuthenticationThis is a standard way of verifying the identity of the person or device being used. It often requires the creation of a unique username and password.
AuthorizationThis is the process of determining what rights are available to a user by entering a username and password.
ComplianceThis is how the company complies with government regulations and corporate requirements for access control and security.
Digital IdentityThis is a complex of digital information about a specific employee of the organization, which allows him to get access to work files and procedures.
IdentificationThis is the process of collecting and verifying information by comparing it with stored positions in the database.
Level of AssuranceThis is the degree to which the system is confident in the correspondence of the personality and the presented data (from zero to the fourth level).
ProvisioningThis is a process that allows a privileged user to apply their capabilities to work procedures.

IAM Tools

The task of any IAM system is to improve the cybersecurity of an enterprise. However, choosing a quality product from a trusted developer provides a set of useful tools. So be sure to check out The Forrester Tech Tide’s report for getting up-to-date information.

Then readers will be able to familiarize themselves with examples and functionality of the tools.

User Provisioning

The tool helps administrators to create accounts with a specific set of permissions. They can be changed, disabled, or supplemented. Similar actions are triggered when new information is entered into the main network (when a new employee is hired or fired, for example).

Single Sign-On

This structure allows the user to navigate different tabs and perform tasks in different sectors without re-authenticate. This helps to get rid of multiple data entries — for example, while going from a blog to the same platform chat.

Multi-Factor Authentication

The MFA tool guarantees high-level security since the user needs to provide more than 1 form of proof of access. An additional “key” can be a password, pin code, magnetic card, biometrics (fingerprint or face ID), etc.

Risk-Based Authentication

A very useful module determines the individual level of risk for each of the users and then provides the appropriate login method. Depending on the product type, the RBA can be static or adaptive.

Identity Analytics

The tool reduces the amount of manual labor for analysts while raising the level of cybersecurity. This is achieved by creating individual risk profiles based on the history of each user’s actions.

Identity as a Service (IDaaS)

It is a cloud-based service that provides authentication, authorization, and identity management functions for corporate IP organizations.

Identity Management and Governance (IMG)

With this tool, an enterprise can provide managers with automatic access to technology assets that are constantly growing.

API Security

The module assumes the use of modern methods of ensuring the safety of corporate data. The service includes detection and elimination of attacks, as well as access control.

What IAM Means for Compliance Management

Using an IAM product is not just about data security. Each organization must conform to some government regulations and permits, and such a system will help verify this compliance. It is important to study these standards when starting a work process with IAM:

  1. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is a pan-European document with the latest updates that coordinate the work of enterprise cybersecurity services;
  2. California Consumer Protection Act. It is similar to the previous regulation but additionally describes the requirements for the system users’ data confidentiality;
  3. ISO 27001. It is a standard that describes information security management requirements;
  4. Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This document contains the main financial standards that relate to the dissemination of corporate data. Also, the act coordinates the correct storage of information in electronic resources;
  5. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It’s another key regulation that is relevant for most healthcare organizations switching to electronic systems for data recording. Naturally, patients should receive complete data confidentiality.

Thus, IAM fully complies with the standards. Employees have access strictly to the data that allows them to perform their tasks.

Benefits of IAM

Discussing the main advantages of the system, we can highlight:

  1. Comprehensive business protection. IAM prevents data breaches and provides cyber threat analytics. Besides, administrators can timely identify unauthorized persons and users with excessive access rights;
  2. Fast transformation of digital data. Users get a convenient way to access resources regardless of their status: corporate users, privileged administrators, or regular clients;
  3. Compliance with regulations. Requirements are constantly changing. Centralized management of access certificates, as well as tracking of misconduct, will help to prepare for any new regulatory acts.

IAM Risks

Unfortunately, IAM products have some risks. For instance:

  • Imperfect storage and verification of biometric data;
  • Violation of process automation;
  • The emergence of vulnerable accounts due to the uncontrolled growth of the number of administrator profiles.

Of course, it is possible to get rid of risks only with the least privileged tenet. However, this may reduce the functionality of the system.

Best Practices for Identity and Access Management

IAM’s best practice is to follow specific security standards. Most of them involve information technology or privacy requirements. Here are some corporation security service standards, which the experts noted:

  • ISO/IEC 24760-1:2019 IT Security and Privacy;
  • ISO/IEC 24760-3:2016 Information technology;
  • ISO/IEC 29101:2018 Information technology.

More information about the standards and their components can be found in the article, the link to which is indicated above.

Before Establishing IAM

Despite the obvious benefits of the system, you shouldn’t rush to install it. It is important to plan a strategy for the implementation of a set of tools and prepare employees. The desirable sequence of actions:

  1. Selecting a team to supervise and control the IAM systems;
  2. Analysis of the product market, comparison of the offers from suppliers, and selection of the optimal service;
  3. Analysis of the enterprise’s work, which allows you to collect maximum information about each employee and department.

By comparing the complexity of the product and the company’s requirements, the administrator will be able to choose the best offer.

What Qualifies as a PII violation?

According to the expert, PII violation can be triggered by an employee’s irresponsible use of information. For example, a leak of a driver’s license number or even the date of birth of any user can disrupt an entire corporation’s operation.


Summing up, we can say that the IAM system is a method for solving many corporate problems. Such a product itself consists of several convenient tools and operates by certain regulatory standards. Thanks to the introduction of such modules, it will be possible to achieve high-level protection, full-fledged user data storage, and convenient provision of access.

Identity and Access Management FAQs

What is IAM, and what is its purpose?

IAM is a unified identity management service. The system allows the admin to create user identities, manage them and grant permissions to access resources.

What are IAM permissions?

These are special parameters that the cybersecurity department fixes. Thus, each account has its permissions. Some users have access to one type of task, others — to several ones.

What is the difference between an IAM role and an IAM user?

The user has a clear range of long-term powers, and it constantly applies the services of the system. The IAM role does not have an account or data access, but an authorized user can accept it.

What are the three types of access control?

The classification distinguishes discretionary, managed, and role-based access control. The choice of this parameter depends on the requirements of the corporation itself. You can find out more here.

What are the important components of IAM?

The system components are divided into four corresponding groups. These include the Authentication, Authorization, User Management, and Central User Repository blocks. A clear distribution allows maximum control over access rights and data security.

What is an IAM policy?

IAM policies define exactly what a user can do, regardless of how the task is executed. Thus, the module is responsible for matching the user’s role and open access to information or action.

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