The increasingly distributed nature of corporate IT networks poses problems for legacy on-premises access management and authentication. With users accessing cloud-based applications and other corporate resources from multiple device types in any location, businesses need to securely manage access across a wide range of contexts within a diverse IT ecosystem. This article describes cloud-based access management, including its benefits and some key considerations when choosing a solution.
The Pandemic and Rapid Change
The Covid-19 pandemic caused rapid shifts in corporate IT environments as companies scrambled to enable work-from-home arrangements for employees. Cloud adoption, remote desktop protocol (RDP) connections, and VPN use all accelerated to facilitate remote work.
Legacy access management systems struggle to cope with the challenge of granting user access in a secure way to information assets, systems, and other resources across such a dynamic environment. Effective centralized on-premises access management in the face of such change requires an enormous investment in manpower hours and servers.
The statistics alone provide compelling evidence of the security risks and struggles organizations face. According to the Thales 2021 Data Threat Report:
- Just 55 percent of organizations have implemented MFA in any form.
- 46 percent of security professionals felt their infrastructure wasn’t prepared to handle pandemic-induced information security risks.
- 82% of respondents expressed some level of concern about the security risks of employees working remotely.
Before moving on to understanding the value of cloud-based access management, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with some key IAM terminology.
Cloud-Based Access Management Overview
Cloud-based access management gives companies an agile and scalable solution for managing and controlling user access and authentication across complex modern IT infrastructures. The key features of cloud-based access management are policy-based access, authentication, and single sign-on delivered from the cloud as a service.
The aims of cloud-based access management are the same as existing on-premises identity and access management (IAM) solutions:
- Ensure users are who they say they are via authentication.
- Provide the right levels of access to applications, databases, services, and other network resources through authorization.
- Provision, monitor, and de-provision access over the lifecycle of a user’s identity.
The difference is that cloud-based access management, otherwise known as identity-as-a-service (IDaaS), uses cloud infrastructure to meet these objectives without the inherent limitations and higher costs of on-premises access management.
Benefits of Cloud-Based Access Management
The benefits realized from cloud-based access management are similar to other cloud service model solutions, and they include:
Lower Total Cost of Ownership
The cost of ownership for a legacy on-premises solution includes server procurement, software licensing, security monitoring, and more. With a cloud-service model, several of these factors don’t enter the equation.
With a cloud-based service, you automatically get new security updates or added functionality without needing to schedule a maintenance window. Ultimately, the IAM-related workload for your IT administrators drastically reduces, which is a big plus when there are so many other fires to put out in modern IT environments.
Scalable and Controllable Pricing
The scalability of cloud services means that you typically pay for only the resources you need. You typically get charged a subscription fee per user, which adds an extra level of control over the price you pay for access management.
Another benefit of the cloud-based access management model is that as soon as you sign up, you can begin to realize the value of the solution. Contrast this with on-premises solutions that require more time spent on setting everything up right, manual integrations, and procuring sufficient hardware to deal with the high identity management workloads within modern hybrid corporate network environments. With IDaaS, you can get multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, and provisioning all accessible as a single offering without time spent integrating solutions from different vendors.
Suited for Infrastructural Complexity
Cloud-based access management uses open standards such as Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and OAuth to pass authentication to service providers of cloud apps. On-premise integration leverages standards like Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS).
Within modern IT environments containing a disparate mix of cloud and on-premises apps and services, this means consolidated access control that keeps pace with infrastructural complexity. IDaaS facilitates secure access while accounting for user context, device, and network location. You can protect all your valuable assets with the same solution.
If you’re migrating your legacy IAM solution to a cloud-based access management service, a phased migration is critical to a smooth transition with minimal impact on user experience regardless of what vendor you opt for. Read more about the four crucial steps to modernizing your IAM environment.
When evaluating potential solutions, it’s advisable to opt for a service with a high level of third-party integrations. You want your cloud-based access management to support the applications you currently use and those you plan to use in the future. It’s important to avoid being indirectly locked into certain software vendors because your cloud-based access management solution doesn’t have enough depth or breadth in terms of third-party integrations.
Do your research on the level of security you’ll get from different service providers. Ask for security certifications, documentation, and practices that outline the steps taken by the service provider to keep security front of mind.
Identity is the new perimeter of corporate networks. Proper access management is central to a robust information security posture and a seamless user experience when accessing corporate resources. Cloud-based access management equips your organization with the flexibility, control, security, and automation that modern corporate networks need to manage access.