Why invest in IAM?

I find myself being asked this question, indirectly or directly, by clients and prospective clients alike.  With all the demands on IT infrastructure spending and business application development (and integration), and with all the information security risks out there waiting for solutions to be implemented, why should an investment in IAM be a priority?

From the well-respected Kuppinger Cole blog comes this view:

Part of IAM’s job is protecting data, either directly or by protecting the systems that use and store data. That is also the backdrop against which compliance regulation, both internal and external, must be viewed. That also means that it is much easier to talk with business people about “access” rather than about “identity”. The big question is how do we control and monitor access to information and systems? To do that, we need to know who is allowed to do what – and who isn’t. The only way to achieve that goal is through true digital Identity Management. Anyone who thinks he can do it by granting rights and approvals based on IP addresses or MAC numbers is seriously kidding himself.

It strikes me as odd that there are still IT and information security professionals that believe IP and MAC access controls are sufficient, but it appears that this myth persists in enterprises.

Worse, I believe, is the view that the home-spun access control that has been built into legacy applications is ‘good enough’.  Why replumb our existing enterprise and customer-facing systems with a new-fangled IAM solution when we have the problem solved already?

This is a powerful myth that can be hard to overcome. But compared to application-specific controls, IAM has some significant advantages:

  • Compliance — Organizations today must comply with legislation and their own policies.  The access control sub-systems built-in to many legacy applications are simply not compliant, and it may require significant rework and duplicated processes to remedy.  Conversely, an enterprise IAM solution can be implemented to be compliant from the start, and a single set of processes can be created to maintain identity and access information.
    • Example: Privacy Impact Assessments (required in Canada for all projects that deal with personal information) can be done once and shared across all applications.
  • Audit Support — ‘Siloed’ access control systems are very difficult to report on at audit time.  With IAM, consolidating information is much easier and correlating a user’s access through multiple systems can be achieved.
    • Example:  A single reporting tool or sub-system can meet most (if not all) auditor reporting needs.
  • Help Desk Efficiency — With IAM, a single console for Help Desk agents can be implemented for end-user support purposes.  Naturally, a single system will offer improved efficiency and better service to end-users than multiple, application-based systems.
    • Example: Help Desk lookup tools can be standardized and easily learned by new staff. Password policies become consistent. Access to multiple systems can be suspended or revoked from a central point. Service to end-users improves.
  • Leverage and Speed — New applications, especially e-business and e-government systems that have to deal with privacy and security issues, can be readily designed around a common IAM solution.  Deployments can be rapid due to standardized interfaces and re-use of common templates.  Processes can be leveraged, not rewritten from scratch, making the transition to a production environment more seamless.
    • Example: Strategic applications that need to be implemented ‘right now’ can be rolled-out quickly with high security, advanced features and appropriate user privacy protection. Decisions can be made with confidence that the common IAM solution will meet both enterprise and line-of-business requirements.

Real IAM solutions offer real value, making business case development easier and more compelling.  However, widely-held myths about the effectiveness of network and application-specific controls need to be dealt with if broader IAM implementations are to be approved, funded and supported.


72 things I’ve learned about IAM

72 door-opening thoughts…

In 2006, after three years of working with an inflexible vendor to implement immature identity and access management technology, my client asked me to document some lessons learned from the projects.  I’ve done a couple of talks with these findings over the past few years and these lessons have influenced my approach to IAM project delivery ever since.

[Click here for a Prezi of this post…]

In the past few months, I’ve come across blog posts related to identity management best practices and lessons learned, such as this one from Mark Dixon. These observations mirrored my own in some ways, and differed in others, so I thought I’d put together a top 10 list things I’ve learned, including some useful advice on identity.

The only problem is that in preparing the list I cruised past 10, then 20 — and before long I had itemized 72 things that I’ve learned about IAM since I entered this niche seven years ago.

In keeping with the fashion of today, each entry will be 140 characters or less…

  1. IAM is a tool for business; it has little to do with technology.
  2. Business people are frequently shielded from making IAM decisions.  It is not clear why this is so.
  3. Develop an IAM strategy in 2010.
  4. If you aren’t ready for a strategy, consider an IAM assessment so you at least know where you are at.
  5. Products have improved greatly in the past seven years.
  6. Delivering IAM is still difficult — there are too many disciplines involved and not enough fundamental understanding.
  7. If not managed, all IAM business decisions would be driven by user convenience and process simplicity.
  8. Information security professionals need to influence these IAM implementation decisions.
  9. Some of the best resources for an IAM project are senior software developers.  Tech analysts often don’t get it.
  10. Information security analysts need to understand that IAM enables — they often get caught up on the protection bit.
  11. All IAM projects need business analysts.  Every. Single. Project.
  12. IAM should be delivered as a program, not a set of loosely connected projects.
  13. An IAM program needs deliberate governance and formal communication.  Just winging it won’t work…
  14. Build an IAM roadmap.
  15. New to IAM? Start small: proof-of-concept, then a pilot, then small app in production, then the big one (in stages).
  16. IAM needs to be driven by policies and standards — without these in place, IAM will flounder.
  17. Support IAM with good IT and security architecture.
  18. Many IAM experts I’ve come across online are  obsessed with technology and rarely link to the business.
  19. Avoid ocean boiling — leave fine-grained entitlements with the application to worry about (for now).
  20. Strong identity assurance is poorly understood.
  21. Strong authentication is useless without good identity assurance processes.
  22. Strong identity assurance processes are difficult without face-to-face identity validation.  But not impossible.
  23. A strong authentication device does not make a secure system.
  24. Strong passwords do not equate to strong authentication.
  25. By their actions, Canadian banks don’t understand strong authentication, but are masters at strong identity assurance.
  26. Many enterprises are still drinking RSA’s kool-aid and are blind to other strong authentication options.
  27. Some strong authentication technologies, such as smart cards, can get you into buildings.  Think convergence.
  28. Some web sites have silly ideas about passwords and security.
  29. Most senior execs do not understand how IAM can both protect and enable their core business.
  30. Most IT execs can’t explain how IAM can both protect and enable their core business.
  31. Most techs don’t understand how IAM enables business.
  32. Many vendors are starting to understand how IAM can both protect and enable their clients’ businesses.
  33. IAM is not just about electronic access — people access information in all kinds of ways, and from myriad locations.
  34. Two IAM geeks talking will induce lethargy on any bystander within ear-shot.
  35. IAM is an enabler for any organization that serves people with disabilities.
  36. IAM is largely being used for low value transactions.  ROI will sky-rocket when the important stuff comes along.
  37. In IAM, sometimes clicking ‘I Agree’ is not sufficient.  Blue ink on white paper can still be still necessary.
  38. Federated identity can cement business relationships — for good and bad.
  39. Federated identity excites people.
  40. Federated identity scares enterprises.
  41. Federated identity challenges are not technical — most issues are related to process and agreements.
  42. There will be a boom in the coming years for businesses that provide identity assurance services to enterprises.
  43. IAM systems collect way too much information for the access requirements of most business applications.
  44. IAM stores are gold mines for identity fraudsters.
  45. Pan-Canadian IdM&A still rocks, even if it is only partially developed and is horribly communicated.
  46. Canada is behind the US and Europe in IAM implementations.
  47. People still trust passwords even though they shouldn’t.
  48. The best book on identity is Jim Harper’s Identity Crisis.  Read it.
  49. Vague IAM prediction for 2012: Microsoft.
  50. IAM projects often get dragged into enterprise confusion about the identity information that they already hold.
  51. Young people are starting to become more privacy aware.  Slowly. And it is probably too late for most of them.
  52. There are no Canadian university researchers interested in identity. Zero.  None. (Are there?)
  53. American views of identity are heavily focused on protection.
  54. Canadian views on identity are heavily focused on privacy.
  55. IAM solutions for health care are difficult due to perceived and real risks.  The challenge is to know the difference.
  56. Identity can’t get in the way of delivering health services, even if it can link a patient to his/her records.
  57. A risk management approach must be taken towards all IAM projects.
  58. Security in layers for IAM solutions is a good thing, but poorly understood.
  59. Certifying IAM processes is critical if common identity assurance and authentication practices are to take hold.
  60. End users of IAM systems are more capable and responsible than we give them credit for.
  61. IAM systems are very difficult to make highly available — too many pieces.  But most apps don’t need high availability.
  62. Those that ask for IAM high availability often don’t have well-developed reasons for it.
  63. 90% of IAM traffic is authentication.
  64. 10% of the work in an IAM project is to figure out authentication and strong authentication.
  65. 10% of IAM traffic is related to registration/enrolment.
  66. 90% of the work in an IAM project is needed to build a compliant registration/enrolment sub-system that works.
  67. Copying a driver’s license to screen customers should result in more than an order from the privacy commissioner.
  68. Relying on existing data stores or directories for an IAM user store is risky — most user data is in terrible shape.
  69. Help desk staff must understand and follow formal identity assurance processes when dealing with IAM users over the phone.
  70. Having users self-register and self-enroll into business applications can be very effective.
  71. Powerful user-self administration is just around the corner.

and finally,

72. People are what matters in IAM, not ‘users’, ‘stakeholders’ or ‘customers’.  Think people and IAM gets easier.

Happy 2010!