Identity and access management (IAM) has become a critical component of any organization’s security strategy. Implementing strict controls over user access and privileges is clearly important for protecting sensitive systems and data. However, relying solely on IAM to secure your environment is insufficient in today’s threat landscape. Sophisticated cyber attacks and insider risks require a more comprehensive approach to security.

What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a critical part of cybersecurity. Broadly defined as a set of policies, processes, and technologies that help organizations manage digital identities and control user access to critical corporate information. 

IAM can help organizations protect themselves from a variety of cybersecurity threats, including:

  • Data breaches: IAM can help organizations prevent unauthorized access to data by ensuring that only authorized users have access to sensitive data.
  • Malware attacks: IAM can help organizations prevent malware attacks by preventing unauthorized users from installing malware on corporate systems.
  • Phishing attacks: IAM can help organizations prevent phishing attacks by educating users about phishing scams and by blocking unauthorized users from accessing corporate systems.
  • Insider threats: IAM can help organizations detect and prevent insider threats by tracking user activity and by monitoring for suspicious behavior.

To address these challenges, organizations need to implement a comprehensive IAM program. This program should include the following elements:

  • Strong authentication: Organizations should use strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, to verify the identity of users.
  • Least privilege: Organizations should only grant users the access they need to do their jobs. This will help to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Password management: Organizations should implement strong password management practices, such as requiring complex passwords and rotating passwords regularly.
  • User education: Organizations should educate users about cybersecurity best practices, such as avoiding phishing scams and clicking on links in emails from unknown senders.
  • Continuous monitoring: Organizations should continuously monitor their IAM systems for signs of attack. This will help to identify and respond to threats quickly.

By implementing a comprehensive IAM program, organizations can significantly improve their cybersecurity posture and reduce the risk of data breaches, malware attacks, phishing attacks, and insider threats.

In the context of the above it is easy to see why an organization’s IAM policy is an essential part of its cybersecurity strategy. While IAM lays the foundation for access controls, it has its limitations. IAM policies focus narrowly on managing identities and entitlements. But attackers often exploit other weaknesses that have nothing to do with authentication – unpatched vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, phishing and more. No single security tool can catch every threat vector.

The challenge is that while IAM is necessary, it is far from sufficient to protect an organization. The first reason for this is because IAM is an operational management policy – not a security policy. The second reason for this is that the human users in any organization continue to present themselves as the weakest link in the security chain. It also bears mentioning that typical IAM solutions are of an operational nature. These are not  security solutions. As such, they are usually not sufficient to secure your organization. It is for these reasons that many organizations are collecting IAM logs for consumption by a dedicated security platform for the purpose of security. 

The issue is that it seems that most organizations stop at ingesting these logs. In fact, according to Cardinal Ops, 75% of organizations that forward identity log sources to their SIEM, and do not use them for any detection use cases. This number is staggering when we consider that Identity & Access Management is widely discussed as a top cybersecurity threat surface to be concerned about in 2023.

There are a few reasons why organizations collect identity management logs, but do not use them for any detections:

  • Log volume: The volume of identity management logs can be overwhelming, making it difficult to identify and prioritize potential threats.
  • Log complexity: Identity management logs can be complex and difficult to understand, even for experienced security analysts.
  • Lack of correlation: Identity management logs are often not correlated with other security logs, making it difficult to identify patterns of malicious behavior.
  • Lack of automation: The process of detecting and responding to threats from identity management logs is often manual, which can be time-consuming and error-prone.

Cybersecurity detections and alerts are difficult for IAM for a number of reasons:

  • Attackers are constantly evolving their techniques to evade detection. This makes it difficult for rule-based systems to keep up with the latest threats.
  • IAM users and roles vary greatly – even within the same organizations. It is difficult to create detections that rely on ML models, rules or thresholds that can apply to an organization with many users and profiles.
  • Most SIEMS offer little more than visibility.

When considering the security of your IAM environment you should consider a combination of visibility and detection.

Log visibility is important because it allows the organization to see what is happening with their user base within their identity and access management (IAM) platform. This can help identify potential threats, such as unauthorized access, account takeovers, and privilege escalation. However, log visibility is not sufficient without detection capabilities.

Detection capabilities can provide organizations with insights on which to take action. The challenge is to deliver insights that are impactful without over burdening the team with false-positives. 

To fully secure your critical assets, you need to view security holistically across your people, processes and technology. An effective cybersecurity program integrates controls across identification, detection, protection and response. This starts with a solid IAM program but also requires data security, network security, incident response and other capabilities.

How MixMode Can Help

MixMode’s Identity Threat Detection and Response Solution provides real-time monitoring of your identity infrastructure, capable of ingesting and analyzing large volumes of diverse data from multiple systems. We’ll dive a little deeper into our solution in an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, reach out to learn more. 

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