What is the Role of IAM in Cloud Computing?

The post-Covid-19 business world doesn’t work without cloud computing, and cloud computing doesn’t work without IAM. 

As the world reacted to the global pandemic back in 2020, organisations turned to technology to enable their workforce and respond rapidly to changing customer demands. Digital transformation roadmaps, originally plotted over months and years, were condensed to weeks - even days. All of a sudden, cloud adoption became critical.

In the months following the global shift to remote working, many organisations turned to various SaaS solutions to rapidly scale out remote collaboration between their teams. SaaS teleconferencing platforms in particular saw huge adoption spikes, with Zoom reporting 300 million daily meeting participants globally and Google Meets witnessing 3 million users per day .

Adoption of cloud infrastructure also accelerated. Organisations were forced to pivot business models around digital experiences for their customers. In fact, by summer 2021, Covid-19 had prompted 8 in 10 businesses to accelerate their deployment plans for cloud computing. Today, market analysts tell us that by 2025, cloud computing’s adoption will more than double, to become a staggering $832.1 billion market worldwide.

What are the challenges for IAM in cloud computing security?

Rapid adoption of cloud computing has been particularly challenging for IT and security teams who are focused on protecting organisations and employees from cyber threats. 

Enterprises have had to embrace new technologies and quickly re-engineer systems to support a more distributed, hybrid workforce. This has redefined the cyber threat landscape, introducing new vulnerabilities and increased levels of complexity to an already demanding discipline.

Identity Access Management’s role has been to pinpoint and address this new generation of security challenges that come with accelerated cloud transformation.

  • How can you combat ever-advancing cyber threats, protecting your employees, as they work outside the traditional security perimeter. 
  • How do you implement privileged access protocols quickly and easily, ensuring the relevant users have access to data and applications they need to carry out their role. 
  • How do you balance the sophisticated security protocols the distributed workforce requires, with simple, intuitive end-user access?
  • How do you adopt security protocols quickly and easily in a world of big data, where BYOD is prevalent today, and smart cities will deliver unimaginable network security challenges for IAM in cloud computing tomorrow?

It’s identity-driven Zero Trust that makes IAM such an obvious choice for enterprises adopting or extending their cloud based ecosystem.

By focusing on identity and access management you can incorporate user behaviour and device location context to build a robust, risk-based decision engine. This trust nothing, verify everything approach, provides granular control over access to resources, so you can clearly define which user, within which context over a specific time gets access to a specific resource

IAM: Going beyond two-factor authentication 

Modern Identity Access Management goes beyond the two-factor authentication protocols that have facilitated “allow or deny'' style access in the past.

In today’s highly distributed workforce, the traditional: Something you know (such as a password), Something you have (such as a smart card), Something you are (such as a fingerprint or other biometric), security protocol has become inadequate.

To really leverage the advantages of cloud computing across the distributed workforce, you need to be able to make risk-based security assessments dynamically, based on a sophisticated array of identity data points. 

For example, Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication gives you full control over when, where, and by who 2FA or MFA needs to be used depending on contextual behaviour and login patterns (geolocation and proxy detection). This method also allows organisations to create nuanced policies, such as only authenticating logins from managed or known devices.

IAM: Putting identity into context

Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication continually interprets contextual data points to support real-time risk assessments for every user.

Is the user accessing from the office, from their home, from a coffee shop or an airport's wifi system? Are they using a device they’re known to have used for access in the past? Is the software they are using to access the system the version they used last time? Do the keystroke patterns of the user meet the keylogging expectations known to the IAM? By incorporating contextual data points like these (and others), Identity & Access Management determines an appropriate trust level for every user, each time they need to access the cloud, without adding unwanted complexity to the end-user's sign-in experience.

Why choose an IAM solution when adopting cloud computing?

Improved security

88% of cloud computing breaches are caused by human error. Malicious activities, like phishing, target insiders through LinkedIn and other data stores, to gather details on employees and stage attacks using stolen or compromised user credentials. These social engineering-based attacks will become more intensive and even more sophisticated in time. And responding to them will take more than security patching and bigger, better firewalls.

IAM’s expanding set of contextual data points mitigates the risk of the highly sophisticated social engineering attacks we witness today. It is designed to respond and adapt as these attacks become even more sophisticated.

Centralised administration and lifecycle compliance

Identity & Access Management (IAM) provides administrators with the big picture visibility and permission authorisation you need to manage and control cloud resources centrally. 

From onboarding to offboarding, IAM allows you to set, review and renew access control to business data over the entire employee lifecycle at a company, group, department, team and even a personal level.

Safe collaborative working and information sharing

Distributed teams operating in cloud computing environments expect simple, frictionless access to an ever-widening portfolio of resources.

IAM’s ability to support multiple proprietary and third-party identity credentials across the cloud makes accessing any resource an employee is entitled to use, simple and intuitive. 

Ease of use, without compromise

Keeping data secure is a challenge. So too is optimising user experience. The million-dollar problem for IT has always been achieving both without compromise. 

Tougher security has traditionally resulted in more hassle for the end-user. IAM’s wider range of authentication and authorisation methods means access levels can be determined by contextual “trust signals”, like the user's device or location, without adding more friction to the sign-on experience.

IAM and compliance management

IAM supports compliance by ensuring users have access only to the cloud-based resources they need to do the jobs they are tasked with. No more, no less.

When the distributed workforce is operating across borders, this access needs to respect a growing set of privacy compliance regulations mandated by country. With IAM, access management is granular, allowing managers and administrators to comply with regional privacy laws easily.

We understand how complex cloud adoption initiatives can be. Click here to discover how Okta's IAM solutions can remove some of the headaches of cloud migration, helping you transform IT efficiency, improve productivity, and deliver secure, always on access.