10 Tips for Breaking Down the Complexities of Audits & Compliance

In our previous posts for this 5-part series on lifecycle management, we offered various best practices you could implement to better manage identity data, lifecycle processes, and access grants. Today, we’ll review the identity-related challenges surrounding audits and compliance, and offer ten ways to gradually chip away at the complexities of increasingly demanding regulations. Compliance can be a huge resource drain as your organization grows, and while your security team holds responsibility for helping auditors understand who has access to what, IT is often tasked with providing that data for them. 

As you’d expect, the extent of this burden varies greatly across companies. Those at the earliest stages of LCM maturity often resort to long spreadsheets of account information—a manual, time-consuming process. Others implement sophisticated tools to fully automate in-depth access reviews. We’ve looked at the full spectrum of approaches to tackling audits and compliance, and grouped them along the the following continuum:

Stage 1: Manual Processes

All of your IAM processes and techniques influence how many audit headaches you must endure. IT teams in stage one are still manually provisioning resources, so they have no central record or logs. Additionally, the presence of widespread shadow IT means that they don’t even know the full scope of applications their employees use. As a result, every audit requires painstaking investigation, and failed audits are all too common.

If this sounds familiar, we recommend you start getting audit and compliance management under control by:

  1. Reviewing your understanding of what’s in scope for audit requirements. Ask which regulations your company is subject to (e.g., HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, PCI) as well as what kind of data you store (such as financial orPII), and in which apps. Be sure that you also have clarity on the processes auditors look for in your organization (such as employee offboarding, external user offboarding, specific app access, or entitlements or admin access in certain apps).
  2. Developing a systematic way to retrieve information, even if it’s still manual for now.

Stage 2: Basic Automation

At the next stage of LCM maturity, organizations have a single view of users. This single view aggregates users, their roles, and their groups, making it easy to retrieve information about access grants for audits. Your IT team should be able to provide the security team with lists of users and groups relatively easily, even though inspecting access data is still a manual process.  

Your main focus at this point should be to:

  1. Create handy playbooks that document how to pull users, entitlements, accounts, and access log data for audits—by leveraging your identity platform and directories (e.g.,users, groups, roles) to ensure accurate reporting.
  2. Ensure you can show proof of your process, for both onboarding and offboarding, from IT sources of truth.

Stage 3: Leading Automation

Next, you’ll be ready to leverage Okta’s reports and automated lifecycle capabilities to further elevate the efficacy of your audit efforts. Once you reach stage three, it should be much easier to slice and dice centralized, granular access reports (e.g., by user, by resources, or by time). You’ll have reliable onboarding and offboarding processes in place for all user types, which also helps with audits.  

Key tips for boosting your impact during stage three include:

  1. Facilitate audits with Okta’s out-of-the-box reports, such as the Current Assignments report (all current access grants to each cloud app) and the Recent Unassignments report (deprovisioned access records).
  2. Speed audits by documenting your automated process. For employees, show how you on/offboard from your HR systems, and for external users, show your process for offboarding via policies.
  3. Implement proactive risk mitigation and cost control. For example, you might want to set up lifecycle triggers to alert third-party systems, run complex workflows (such as killing sessions, or suspending accounts after a specified time period), or revoke or downgrade app licenses.

Stage 4: Visionary Automation

At the final level of LCM maturity, your organization will enjoy abundant identity data that’s comprehensive and easily shared. For example, highly regulated organizations might want to leverage identity data to support integrations with third-party tools, like an identity governance and administration (IGA) system. What’s more, your identity data can go beyond supporting audits; proactively enriching your security posture.

In stage four, we recommend the following best practices for visionary IT teams:

  1. Use Okta APIs to retrieve data for audits.
  2. Give your end users, managers, and application owners visibility into the current state of access, with the opportunity to flag access issues.
  3. Leverage lifecycle events to alert security teams or trigger heightened authentication. Use real-time alerts or audit logs for high-risk, high-value access changes, e.g., new privileged accounts, entitlement step up, etc.

Okta Lifecycle Management (LCM) enables you to simply click a checkbox and orchestrate the repetitive identity tasks described above, and a myriad of others. Our solution streamlines provisioning and deprovisioning for 200+ cloud and on-premises applications—including configurable policies, workflows, and reporting for the members of your ever-shifting workforce (and their devices). LCM can even remove access to applications containing PII automatically, based on group membership, role, and business need. 

These powerful capabilities will help your team maintain audit-readiness and stay on top of frequent changes to employee identity and access. By tackling all four of the lifecycle challenges we discussed in this blog series, you’ll streamline operations, ensure day-one access for employees, and prevent former users from retaining business accounts—improving productivity and enhancing security. Of course, you should adapt our identity recommendations to the strategies and techniques that best fit your organization’s unique needs. 

For more details about how you can advance your company towards visionary LCM automation, download our step-by-step guide with a practical framework of best practices and goals for each stage of maturity.