Businessman touch a virtual screen to unlock and access information showing identity management and access control

Mastering Authorization in Modern and Dynamic Environments

IT has long been pegged as the adversary of productivity. Authorization management is an obvious subgroup that takes some of the biggest grief from the modern knowledge worker. Winding through access pages for various applications and networks can certainly slow down one’s workday. Managing a variety of digital identities and assets only compounds the frustration for security teams who are responsible for having full visibility and control of user access. For the modern enterprise, this introduces a steady challenge to balance security and friction without impacting workforce productivity.

A rise in complexity

The concept of identity and access management (IAM) is much more complex than it was several years ago. This can be attributed mostly to the introduction of cloud and mobility, including the blurred lines between personal and corporate devices that were so integral to previous IAM concepts, especially in the area of authorization. Likewise, the surge in the sheer volume and variety of data has contributed to a more dynamic and multifaceted authorization process for enterprises.

Authorization must be simple and intuitive

In the face of increased environmental complexity, IAM and security teams can add value by implementing a simple and intuitive process for both their business and administrative teams. IAM professionals can streamline the entire authorization process from start to finish by rooting their approach in the business’s own unique logic. In other words, if IAM teams can improve the ease of use of its authorization management systems, both technical and non-technical admins can work harmoniously to create secure connections between who has access to what and when in real-time.

To achieve this, IAM professionals should consider focusing on three categories to ensure ease of use. First, decipher the type of centralized management deployment model that works best. Second, create ways for authorization to be easily managed and altered by business-driven managers (IT-specialized or not) who are also stakeholders in the user journey. And finally, determine how authorization management can be extended through the entire technology stack.

The perfect deployment model

Deployment models should be chosen based on the unique enterprise environment, taking into consideration factors such as regulatory constraints, industry standards, workforce structures, etc. The two most popular deployment models are full SaaS, where centralized management and runtime layers are managed by an authorization company, and a hybrid model, which gives companies the flexibility to host the decision-making and policy information components of the runtime layer in the enterprise’s own cloud instance or on-premises.

A full SaaS model is often the best fit for enterprises that need a heightened level of technical expertise and resources from outside the organization. This allows the IT and security team to free up internal resources by delegating maintenance and updates of the platform to a dedicated authorization company.

The hybrid model is typically more popular among those operating in regulated industries, like financial services, because it enables a more secure environment by reducing the amount of traffic outside of the organization’s data centers. The policy decision point (PDP) runs closer to where the applications, APIs and microservices are, which lends greater control and reduces the response time for users and systems that are depending on policy decisions for access.

Better visibility through visualization

In the past, individuals tasked with building and approving internal authorization policies had to work with multiple lists of names, groups, applications and other properties. Not only was this a cumbersome experience to begin with, but amid the current complex and dynamic work environment, that process is now thoroughly ineffective. To improve authorization processes, IT teams can introduce visualization that maps the relationships between identities and resources as intended. Some authorization companies offer visual policy map features that give graphical representations of access policy connections. This allows teams to better understand how their policies relate to identities and the specified permissions, applications, asset types, conditions, etc. Policy visualization enables the controllers to fine-tune policies, which ultimately increases the accuracy and efficacy of policy design before going live.

Extending across the tech stack

Of course, one of the main contributors to the complex environment seen within the enterprise today is the growing tech stack. While there are arguments for and against growing a tech stack, every piece of added software requires its own dynamic and fine-grained authorization capabilities. Whether an organization is dealing with just a few applications or hundreds of microservices and APIs, sensitive data must be managed and exposure of that data must be limited. An elite authorization company should work to limit exposure of sensitive data down to the cell level of data in an organization’s data platform, whether it’s managed by a data lake or data virtualization tools. Second, it should be able to increase the performance of applications by retrieving only the subset of data the user is authorized to see. Lastly, authorization technology should be able to accommodate different data platforms (i.e. Snowflake, Denodo or Google BigQuery) and be able to quickly tailor an authorizer for data enforcement specific to those needs.

When authorization controls are simplified and streamlined, enterprises have a centralized way to manage who and how assets and resources are accessed. Full control and enforcement are maintained and distributed across the entire tech stack so that the enterprise can guarantee security at scale.