Rohit Rai - Apr 30, 2020

What is workforce identity & access management (WIAM)?

The Covid-19 pandemic has truly tested the preparedness of businesses to function with remote teams. Simply put, it is a question of how well an organization can provision enterprise information resources for a remote workforce without compromising data security.

To be productive, employees must be able to access enterprise data quickly and seamlessly. But unauthorized access to sensitive enterprise data may damage business reputation or bottom-line. Thus, IT teams must ensure that no data breach occurs during access. Identity & access management (IAM)) solutions achieve this by creating a digital identity & access ecosystem of policies, frameworks, & tools. Right access is granted to the authorized user at the right time. Additionally, security mechanisms ensure that the business is protected from unwarranted access to sensitive data.

There are two kinds of IAM solutions—Workforce identity & access management (WIAM), & Consumer identity & access management (CIAM). As is evident, WIAM is used to manage a business’s workforce identities while CIAM is used to manage its customers’ identities.

So what exactly is WIAM?

IT teams use WIAM tools to establish, manage, and govern various data and system access for various identities. These identities can be employees, privileged users, or devices. Accesses to these identities are provisioned as per business requirements. Security mechanisms are used to prevent unauthorized access, data misuse, & theft. Hence, WIAM tools empower organizations to function with remote teams. Apart from ensuring remote productivity, WIAM solutions provide additional benefits to businesses such as:

  • Automate provisioning & de-provisioning of accesses to enforce security policies
  • Eliminate passwords by federating user identities or easing access to distributed systems with applications such as Single Sign-On (SSO)
  • Ensure compliance with regulatory requirements such as GDPR, HIPPA, etc.
  • Automate regulatory conformance with automated audits and comprehensive audit reporting

There are three primary modules in any WIAM solution – Identity Management, Access Management, & Identity Governance. Each module comprises various components & applications (such as provisioning, workflows, authentication, audits, reporting, etc.). Together, they enable organizations to leverage a unified digital identity with a balanced approach of people, machines, processes, technology, & scalability.

Identity management refers to the creation & management of various identities. It is the first step towards setting up an effective IAM mechanism in any business and involves components such as:

1. Provisioning system Provisioning implements an identity lifecycle for users. With more and more users being granted access to systems and applications, it is crucial for an organization to have a process in place to manage the lifecycle of those identities and corresponding accesses.

2. Workflows – Workflows are sequences of processes established to manage identities across an organization. Most IAM solutions in the market come pre-packaged with workflows such as onboarding new users, changing user status based on role/privilege changes, granting or revoking access, etc.

3. Synchronization & Reconciliation – These systems synchronize & reconcile changes in configured mappings. It is essential as identities may sit on disparate directories and any changes in accounts, entitlements, passwords, etc. must be synchronized & reconciled to ensure consistency.

4. Identity profiling – This refers to linking various identity data sources, identity proofing, & creating a centralized view of users, roles, privileges, etc.

5. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) – One of the prominent methods of access control, RBAC restricts access based on user roles. It is aligned with the levels of accesses in any organization. Employees in the lower ranks who do not need access to sensitive information are restricted, while the higher echelons are allowed access. Some tools may also have Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC), wherein access rights are based on policies which use attributes instead of roles.

In addition to the above, identity management can also include applications such as Robotic Role Management (RRM), Password Manager, Privileged Account Management, etc.

Access Management refers to the mechanisms by which a business grants access of business data to its users. There are two processes involved in access management – Authentication & Authorization.

1. Authentication is the validation of an identity that requests access to a resource in a network. It is the process of verification through technologies such as two-factor authentication (2FA), multi-factor authentication (MFA), User Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA), onetime pins (OTPs), etc. depending on security protocols.

2. Authorization determines the extent and type of rights/privileges of an identity, once the user is authenticated. It restricts access of the user only to its requirement for that specific session.

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Business requirements primarily dictate the mechanisms that are used to manage accesses. Depending on the type of security required at various roles & levels, multiple levels of protection may be deployed to ensure that only users with the right permissions are authorized to access the information they need.

Identity Governance ensures policy-based orchestration of identity and access control that supports enterprise IT security and business regulatory compliance. It is used to create auditable trails for employee identity, access and endpoint data, in compliance with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA.

Businesses, in the end, are all about delivering value to customers. WIAM solutions empower businesses to deliver that value securing their workforce, preventing data misuse, and boosting productivity, irrespective of where its employees are.

Written by Rohit Rai