Imagine if the ability to assign and manage an employee’s application and data access disappeared overnight and all of your systems and data were left wide open to everyone in your organization. Needless to say, the fallout would be disastrous. Employees would be able to see each other’s salaries, confidential trade secrets would be readily viewable and open to the world and the threat of industrial espionage after an employee’s departure would increase exponentially.
It is obvious that the above scenario would be catastrophic and wreak havoc on every organization worldwide. The ability to assign employees specific rights to access only the applications and data they need to perform their jobs is one of the most important tasks that IT performs for an organization. The question that needs to be asked is how to perform these tasks in the most efficient manner while ensuring the utmost security.
Ever since computer passwords first appeared on the scene more than 50 years ago at MIT, the search for better security and access control has marched on, in an effort to lock down who can access what information. Thus, password and access control has morphed over the years into sophisticated systems for management of user provisioning and access governance. And, just as companies were getting a handle on their internal systems, the advent of cloud computing introduced a new level of complexity to the environment, as these applications and their dataset are not under the direct control of the organization.
The purpose of user provisioning and access governance systems is distinct, yet intrinsically intertwined. The following list is a synopsis of the functionality and processes required for a complete and thorough system:
- Identify the data the organization has and classify it according to sensitivity and relevance
- Access critical processes, applications and data that must be managed
- Create and leverage an IT platform to enforce those policies and procedures so everyone understands the results and risks of non-compliance
- Audit the current access employees have to data and applications
- Control which users have access to the organization’s information and ensure that those users with privileged access do not enable unauthorized access to data
- Implement reporting and accountability functionality for managers and data owners to review and change access where needed
- Implement a change control process to ensure proper approvals when changes to access are requested
- Implement proper identity management procedures to insure new hires are permissioned accurately and not based off a “template” employee
- Implement user lifecycle management to ensure promotions or transfers do not result in inherited permissions
- Finally, close the loop with user lifecycle management to remove access to all data and applications, in a timely fashion, when an employee leaves the organization
Each of the above-listed points and responsibilities add a level of complexity to the management of users and their access to data and, as such, needs to be implemented in a fashion that does not add significant workload to the IT staff, but promotes an ease of use by data and system owners to review and attest to access rights on a regular, scheduled basis. Systems should also be put in place to facilitate employee self-service for requesting access to additional resources with a workflow process to obtain approvals for granting the access.
While all the above may seem like a lot of time consuming and expensive effort, the option to do nothing is even more costly. By not having correct identity and access management policies and systems in place, one seemingly trivial error could have the same devastating result as having no system at all.
Imagine, if you will, what might happen to your organization if your identity and access management system simply disappeared from one day to the next. Now, imagine your organization has access to such solutions, but simply chooses to do nothing with this technology. Scary, isn’t it?
Dean Wiech is managing director of Tools4ever US, a division of the global supplier of identity and access management solutions for organizations small to large in a variety of market sectors.