User Access Management: A Key Player in Zero Trust Security

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Calender
June 20, 2024
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Before 2020, companies were using traditional security perimeters to protect their assets and data.

In 2020, the pandemic limited access to the physical office, leading to a rise in remote work, BYOD policies, and cloud-based assets. This forced companies to redefine traditional security, leading to the formation of zero-trust architecture (ZTA).

Zero trust means treating every access attempt as untrusted. It requires continuous verification at every entry point. As per reports, by 2032, the global zero trust market could reach a staggering $133 billion from $32 billion in 2023, which underlines its significance.

The zero trust model is centered on the "least privileged access" principle, which limits users' access rights across the company’s network.

User access management (UAM) is also pivotal in this security model. It helps ensure that only authorized people can access specific resources. UAM aligns well with the zero trust philosophy of trust no one, verify everything.

Read on as we will discuss user access management, its purpose, why you need it, the process, its relation to zero-trust security, and the best way to implement it.

What Is User Access Management?

User access management is a security approach that controls and monitors who can access your organization's SaaS stack and data.

In UAM, you must first identify users, verify their credentials, and grant them the appropriate level of access based on their roles and responsibilities.

One of the main components of UAM is identity and access management (IAM), which helps authenticate users. Once implemented, UAM works by continuously authenticating and authorizing users throughout their sessions and promptly revoking access when necessary.

In a nutshell, UAM is like a gatekeeper. It lets you securely manage who can access your company’s portfolio and what they can do within it.

What Is the Purpose of User Management?

The purpose of user management is to establish a strong foundation for the efficient implementation of privileged access management in your organization.

User management helps ensure you have accurate user identities by maintaining an authoritative user directory with up-to-date information like names, roles, and employment status.

User management also helps ensure that user onboarding and offboarding processes are smooth. It automatically provisions or revokes access to SaaS apps as needed.

Additionally, it helps facilitate role-based access control by mapping users to appropriate levels of access based on the functions of their jobs.

With a well-designed user management system, you can consistently enforce least privilege principles and maintain a secure, audit-ready SaaS stack through user access management.

Why Do We Need User Access Management?

UAM is a critical security measure today. Below are the main reasons why UAM is an absolute must:

Ensuring the Right People Have the Right Access

With UAM, your IT department can control who can access specific tools, assets, and data within your SaaS environment.

This access control is crucial because granting excessive or unnecessary access can open doors for potential misuse, the risk of data breaches, or even malicious insider threats. Inside threats have also become more common with each passing day.

Image showing a statisitcs for insider threats

According to StationX, 67% of companies they surveyed in 2022 had 21 to 40 insider threat incidents each year, which was an increase from 60% in 2020. In 2023, it increased to 71%. This consistent increase in insider threat only shows how vital UAM is.

When implementing UAM, you establish a model for granting users access based on their roles, responsibilities, and the least privilege principle.

Verifying Identity for Every Access Attempt

Trust is never implicit in the zero-trust security model. It must always be verified. UAM enables you to authenticate users' identities for every access attempt, whether they're trying to log in or perform certain actions.

This ongoing verification helps mitigate any risk of unauthorized access, even if user credentials are compromised.

Enforcing Least Privilege With Granular Controls

One cornerstone of zero-trust security is adhering to the principle of least privilege. UAM enables you to enforce this principle by implementing granular access controls that limit users' permissions to only what's strictly necessary for their jobs to function.

This way, even if someone has unauthorized access, their ability to move laterally or escalate privileges will be significantly restricted.

Reducing Attack Surface Through Limited Access

By granting users the minimal level of access required, UAM helps reduce your organization's overall attack surface.

The fewer users with elevated privileges or broad access rights, the lower the risk of those privileges being exploited by bad actors or malicious insiders. This access management approach will effectively minimize potential entry points that could lead to cyber threats.

Minimizing Breach Damage With User Access Restrictions

UAM plays a crucial role in helping contain the damage in the unfortunate event of a security breach. With granular access controls in place, the impact of a breach will be isolated to specific users, applications, or data.

This damage control helps minimize the potential for widespread data exposure or system compromise. It makes it easier to mitigate the breach and recover from its effects.

Enhancing Compliance With Strong Access Controls

Many regulatory frameworks and industry standards, like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS, mandate strict access controls and auditing capabilities.

UAM helps your organization meet these compliance requirements by implementing robust access management policies, logging user activities, and demonstrating a clear separation of duties.

What Is the User Access Management Process?

To implement effective user access management, you have to follow the five steps below:

1. Authenticating New Users

When new employees join your company, the first step in the user access management process is to authenticate them as legitimate users.

You must do this by registering their identities in a centralized account with secure credentials like a username and password.

Enforce strong password policies and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure only verified users can gain initial access.

Proper user authentication lays the critical foundation for controlling access to your SaaS stack and data, right from onboarding.

2. User Provisioning: Granting Access To Get Started

After authenticating new users, the next step is user provisioning - granting them the appropriate access to resources they need to be productive from day one. To do this, you have to:

  • Define user roles and map them to specific levels of access.
  • Automatically assign the right permissions based on job functions.
  • Leverage role-based access controls (RBAC) to enforce least privilege principles.
  • Integrate with your identity provider for centralized user management.

onboarding, prompt offboarding

You can automate this process to get the best result, and one of the best access management system for this is CloudEagle. With CloudEagle, you can achieve the following:

  • Centralized management: It provides a centralized platform to manage access across your SaaS portfolio and eliminate multiple logins.
  • Role-based access control: You can define granular access policies aligned with each user's roles and responsibilities and enforce the least privilege.
  • App recommendations: CloudEagle helps analyze user profiles to recommend the most appropriate apps for provisioning intelligently.
  • In-app suggestions: It offers contextual suggestions within apps to boost productivity and efficiently execute tasks.
  • Automation: CloudEagle helps automate user provisioning by instantly granting or revoking access based on new hires, role changes, or offboarding.
  • Reusable playbooks: You can save custom provisioning workflows as reusable "playbooks" for quick, consistent application across your organization.

Alice Park from Remediant shares her success story of streamlining user provisioning and deprovisioning using CloudEagle.

3. Access Controls

In the access control step, you have to carefully define and enforce the specific permissions and restrictions for each user or user group within your SaaS stack.

Image showing role based access control

This can be achieved through different access control models, such as role-based and attribute-based access control, and the implementation of comprehensive access control policies.

You can also simply achieve all these with ClouEagle, as it helps simplify access control management through its unique features.

It offers centralized role-based and attribute-based access control. These allow you to align permissions with user roles, responsibilities, and dynamic attributes.

CloudEagle also enables you to define and enforce comprehensive access policies and ensures your users only access authorized resources.

Its intelligent automation tools help streamline access reviews, identify violations, and provide auto-remediation, promptly adjusting access rights to maintain a secure, compliant environment.

4. Access Review and Monitoring

The access review and monitoring phase is crucial for maintaining the integrity and security of your SaaS stack. It involves regularly auditing and validating user access rights to ensure they align with the organization's current roles and responsibilities.

This step helps protect against potential risks like unauthorized access by former employees or people with outdated or excessive permissions.

Monitoring:

This phase is all about continuously monitoring user activities through comprehensive activity logging.

You track access patterns and resource usage and detect anomalies or suspicious behavior that may indicate compromised credentials or unauthorized access attempts.

Automated anomaly detection systems alert administrators to investigate and mitigate potential threats promptly.

In this phase, you must also conduct regular audits to review access rights and ensure compliance with established policies, regulatory requirements, and security best practices.

This approach helps identify and address any access control gaps or policy violations before they can be exploited.

CloudEagle helps streamline access review and monitoring through:

  • Automated access reviews: It automates periodic user access reviews based on predefined rules and policies to ensure users have the right level of access.
  • Comprehensive activity logging: CloudEagle logs all user activities across your SaaS stack, enabling you to track access patterns and resource usage.
  • Anomaly detection: Its advanced analytics engine helps detect unusual or suspicious access attempts, promptly alerting administrators to investigate potential threats.

5. User Deprovisioning

The user deprovisioning phase is the final step in the user access management process.

It helps ensure that when an individual leaves the organization or transitions to a new role, their access privileges are promptly revoked or adjusted to align with their updated responsibilities.

This phase is critical because it helps mitigate potential security risks from former employees or users with outdated access rights.

Access revocation involves systematically removing or modifying a user's access permissions across all relevant systems and data repositories.

Simultaneously, you must deactivate user accounts to prevent further unauthorized access attempts and reinforce the principle of least privilege access.

When managing user authentication and provisioning, it's fundamental to understand secure data interchange practices. Exploring how Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) fits into modern security processes can enhance your structure.

For a comprehensive overview, check out this complete guide to EDI to understand its essentials and integration methods.

Image showing CloudEagle's user deprovisioning module

CloudEagle helps streamline user deprovisioning by providing automated workflows for access revocation based on predefined rules.

It facilitates immediate device access control, ensures data integrity during revocation, manages user licenses, and removes single sign-on integration.

What Is Zero Trust Security and Its Relation With User Access Management?

Zero trust security is a cybersecurity model that operates on the principle of "never trust, always verify." It assumes that threats can originate from both inside and outside the network, leading to the second principle: "assume a breach is inevitable."

Consequently, the strategy is built on the "least-privileged access" principle, granting users only the minimal permissions necessary.

User access management directly supports Zero Trust's core tenets. It enforces continuous verification through robust authentication and ensures that only legitimate users gain access.

It implements granular access controls based on the least privilege and restricts users to only the required resources.

User access management involves tightly managing permissions and verifying every access attempt. This approach perfectly aligns with Zero Trust's "never trust" philosophy, enhancing the overall security posture of your stack.

Conclusion

Cyber threats are rising, so you must embrace the zero-trust security mindset to help protect your organization.

User access management enables you to implement the core principles of zero trust - continuous verification, least privilege access, and the assumption of potential breaches.

Strengthening user access controls through an access management solution like CloudEagle will secure your SaaS, mitigate risks, and maintain a secure, compliant infrastructure.

Take the first step towards a zero-trust future—book a demo with CloudEagle today and see how IAM solutions can secure your SaaS.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the role of IAM in a zero-trust environment?

Identity and access management is crucial in continuously verifying user identities and enforcing granular, least-privileged access controls in a zero-trust environment.

2. What are the 7 pillars of zero trust?

The 7 pillars of zero trust are user, device, network and environment, application and workload, data, automation and orchestration, and visibility and analytics.

3. What is the difference between identity management and access management?

Identity management focuses on establishing and managing user identities, while access management governs the specific permissions and restrictions for accessing resources based on those identities.

Written by
Prasanna Naik
Co-founder, CloudEagle
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