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@CloudExpo: Article

Consolidating the Variables: Augment Existing Identity Management Systems

Using cloud security to expand on-premise investments

The modern enterprise is a fluid entity. As an IT construct it expands and contracts (sometimes simultaneously), and many of the moving parts (like users and applications) are themselves evolving and changing. This creates unique challenges in operational efficiencies, core competency support, compliance observance and risk management.  The central theme to all these challenges is establishing and maintaining control of applications which serve as gateways to all the valuable data (personal, trade secrets and other IP) on which an enterprise exists. Many companies have turned to an identity management solution which administrate and validate the digital identities of authorized users.

This is not a new concept, nor is it a foreign practice to many established enterprises. Identity management combined with controlled and channeled access is a recognized best practice and regulatory compliance necessity. Many companies have invested in some sort of authoritative identity repository and management system.  The rising issue is that in order to keep up with the quickly changing landscape of SaaS, cloud and web –based apps, that investment becomes costlier and the ability to agilely address identity validation and authentication becomes less responsive.

Unless you leverage the cloud to augment existing systems.

Let’s assume an enterprise has made a serious investment in a solution like IBM Tivoli or Oracle Identity Manager.  Both products have significant clout and enterprise functionality. It handles the identity creation, rules management, administration and provisioning for many of the legacy and on-premise products and internal systems. It's no secret that these enterprise monoliths are expensive to purchase, deploy and continuously maintain. So, when examining the scope of applications available to users, several are left unsecured because of the cost and resource drain to incorporate them into IDM fold.  Layered on this is the need to authenticate and authorize users outside of an enterprise’s direct control. This includes 3rd party suppliers, vendors and even customers; all who need access to slivers of data contained in specific applications.

The costs to expand the on-premise authentication scope are broader and deeper than simply adding the subscription price of a SaaS solution. There is the licensing of the adapter (or connector) to allow the data of the SaaS to securely flow between the application and the IDM solution via Active Directory (or other repository source). There is support and maintenance (usually 20% of the purchase price paid annually). There are the professional services to install and configure the connectors. There is the cost of development, time-to-market gaps, and the added burden of doing this multiple times for each SaaS and web-based application.

Yet, by deploying a complimentary IDaaS (identity-as-a-service) strategy, all of the above costs, services and deployment difficulties are considerably reduced or eliminated, while still promoting the necessary security gravitas to assert control, streamline workflow and optimize IT resources. As part of the IDaaS arsenal, most of the popular federated connectors are already available out of the box. IDaaS managed from the cloud also extends its scope to those Non-SAML based application (web-based) through an identity gateway. So, no development costs, no additional licenses, and professional services shrink to a minimum. By creating this umbrella over your virtual footprint, the ability to automatically provision and deprovision user accounts extends to these new applications as seamlessly as if they were parked on-premise. Additionally, creating a parallel-yet-integrated identity manager allows for seamless integration with single sign on. This unique cloud-controlled advantage enforces corporate access policy decisions across the enterprise and puts IT back in control of the IT landscape. It eliminates the potential for Shadow IT applications, BYOD abuse and enables better productivity.

The notion is not to reinvent the wheel, but to expand the metaphor, change out the tires for all-terrain use.  If an organization has spent millions to create a viable identity management system, it is unlikely they will abandon the project to put the entire administration and management in the cloud. However, it is prudent to create a cost-effective, enterprise grade equivalent to integrate new applications, multiple data stores and “outside,” users accounts into a secure and controlled environment. In short, it consolidates the variables into a manageable, automated and centralized strategy without incurring additional resources and runaway costs.

Some call this a hybrid strategy. Regardless of the label, a strategy that extends your capability to authenticate, attest and authorize user names, passwords and permissions beyond your firewall will only strengthen you defense against breach, unwanted usage and data leakage from insider threats. In that it can be done with minimal disturbance and without deep pocket spending makes this all the more attractive and practical.

The automations inherent in IDaaS also facilitates stronger compliance…especially when it comes to monitoring the SaaS and web applications. Instead of an infrequent review of logs real time reports can be instantaneously generated to see exactly who accessed what application. But the cornerstone of compliance is to monitor if any changes were made, especially to access protocols (passwords, user names etc…). IDaaS can note in real time when any attribute changes, who made the change and who approved the change. This is a standard compliance audit requirement.

The proliferation of SaaS and web-based applications has changed the security quotient. Leaving these applications partially secured still leaves them partially unsecured. IDaaS allow you to close those vulnerability gaps. Despite best efforts, network perimeters have all but disappeared. All too often, because of multiple data stores and the virtual left hand does not know what the right is doing.

As noted earlier, your IT environment continues to expand and contract. Just consider the lifecycle of the different users that need to access different applications. New hires, promotions, demotions, firings, new partners, new customers, latent customers-- each instance requires some modification to their identity rights.  Does Chuck, who used to be in your accounting department still have his active user credentials? Has Rachel who hasn’t ordered from your site in 3 years had her account retired? How easy would it be for Chuck, Rachel or some nefarious account takeover hacker using their stolen credentials to create significant havoc on your network? It’s a significant task and greater responsibility to find each data store they have been given access and deprovision, However,  IDaaS can turn off or modify any user account instantly-both in the cloud and through on-premise systems through its connection to Active Directory (or LDAP, AS/400, MySQL, Solaris, RedHat, etc…).

Now multiply the above scenario by 500 or 5000 users a day for a modest enterprise when creating users, resetting passwords and permission sets and you begin to recognize the significant advantages and efficiencies a centralized and augmented with the cloud identity rights management and access control system provide. And the larger the organization, the more complex these data islands are to resolve.

Stronger forms of authentication and authorization need to be deployed in response to the growing threats.  Using an IDaaS and SSO combination from the cloud is a proactive step towards consolidating all the variables and cost-effectively strengthening your identity defenses.

Kevin Nikkhoo

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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