Cloud migration is one of the biggest business priorities today. Gartner predicts that public cloud services spending will reach $482 billion this year, and that cloud will exceed 45 percent of all enterprise IT spending by 2026.
Transitioning to the cloud doesn’t happen overnight, however. In fact, most organizations are still in the progress of making the switch, with some still early into their journeys. As a result, a hybrid cloud environment is the reality for most organizations. Unfortunately, this set up can quickly create issues around both accessibility and security due to the challenges in managing identity across vastly different systems.
Why is identity management more difficult in the cloud?
Identity is the key to a successful business in the digital era. Strong Identity and Access Management (IAM) capabilities are critical for granting access to legitimate users while keeping out threat actors.
Identity has always been complex, with multiple accounts across different systems, including Active Directory (AD), Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directories, HR systems, application databases, and any number of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms and tools, as well as any legacy systems.
The dynamic nature of the cloud adds a new layer of complexity that manual identity management processes cannot easily keep up with, particularly when it comes to hybrid set-ups.
For instance, manually provisioning and de-provisioning access is a common stressful point within IAM. Effectively protecting cloud-based resources is oftentimes another leading concern, as is gaining visibility into access rights.
All of these challenges become more pronounced in a hybrid cloud environment because crucial user identities are distributed across multiple, usually disconnected systems. Legacy systems may be left on-premises indefinitely, particularly proprietary hardware and operating systems that do not mesh well with standard cloud environments and modern security protocols.
As a result, there is usually a split between legacy systems and cloud architecture, and user identities are divided across the different environments.
How disjointed identities creates cyber risk
Having disjointed IAM processes across multiple environments can cause multiple issues for the organization. It’s difficult to reconcile identities across different systems and gain a real understanding of how they are being used and what access rights they have. Without a single sign-on (SSO) system that can account for all areas of the business, users will need to repeatedly verify their identities in order to access assets across different systems.
More critically, this fragmented approach to identity creates a powerful opportunity for threat actors, making it far easier for them to exploit compromised accounts to access the system and carry out malicious activities undetected. Without a unified view of all the different identities, it is near impossible to detect red flags, such as users logging into two accounts from different countries at the same time.
The migraine-inducing task of trying to keep all of these identities straight with manual processes also increases the likelihood of accounts being overlooked when employees have left the organization or changed roles. Stale accounts that retain access can be exploited by former employees out of malice or greed, and are also at increased risk of being discovered and taken over by a cybercriminal.
Creating a single source of identity
To overcome these issues and regain control of identity across the company’s infrastructure, organizations need to establish a single source for all user accounts, creating what is known as an Identity Data Fabric—all identities meshed together in one layer.
Through the use of automated tools, it is possible to discover and collate all identity across the business. From here, identities belonging to individual users can be mapped to an abstraction layer and united into a single profile, while those that are defunct can be deleted.
Once this has been achieved, IT and security teams will have a clear view of the true level of access each user has across multiple systems, even if those environments themselves are not fully in sync.
Using an Identity Data Fabric approach to establish a single source for all digital identities will deliver multiple operational benefits. On a tactical level, it provides users with a frictionless experience that will help to improve productivity and efficiency as workers will no longer need to continually jump through authentication hoops as they move across systems.
Likewise, it considerably eases the burden on IT teams and reduces the amount of time and resources it takes to manage identities or create customized access processes for different systems. With a unified Fabric, it is possible to implement automated processes that can reliably handle access changes and account removal when users shift roles or exit the company.
Strategically, this all improves the organization’s ability to move forward with cloud migration and other digital transformation projects without worrying about increasing the company’s risk exposure from threat actors seeking to co-opt user identities to infiltrate the network.