What Are Identity Risks and How Can They Be Mitigated?

IT security never gets easier.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, IT organisations have had to deal with constant, rapid change – from enabling a hybrid workforce to the mass adoption of cloud-based, SaaS tools and services.

These shifts have moved employees and devices outside of the traditional security perimeter, making understanding who your users are and what resources they have access to, more complex and more crucial than ever before.

It’s essential that businesses get back on top of critical identity risk factors and securely manage their identities. Businesses need to know what the account takeover and identity theft risks are and how to protect themselves, responding quickly to any suspicious activity. 

What is the definition of identity risk?

An identity risk is any vulnerability in an organisation’s identity and access management processes. As an organisation scales, its exposure to identity risks increases, as data verification and control becomes very difficult without a central management system. 

Why manage digital identity risks?

The consequences of poor identity risk management are significant. Your organisation and employees are at risk of identity fraud, financial losses, theft of personal information, account takeovers, reduced productivity, damaged reputation and regulatory non-compliance.

Organisations cannot afford to run unnecessary risks with their digital security. With the proper digital risk protection strategies in place they can ensure firmer control of employee user access, lessening the exposure of critical resources to data breaches.

Types of identity risk factors

The most common cause of identity risk happens when employees are given excessive authorisation to company-wide data, applications or networks, and there is poor, or no identity management in place to make access decisions. 

Who decides on the access rules within an organisation, the IT department, information security team or the business?

In its infancy, IAM typically sat with the IT organisation, reporting to the CIO. However, as the technology has developed – and its strategic importance has grown – it has become more of a concern for the CISO. 

Whether it is handled by IT or security, IAM requires collaboration with the rest of the business. The IT department will have a basic idea of what access various users, groups and departments will require, but will need clear input from heads of departments or management as to who needs access to exactly what. Otherwise, there is a danger of over-provisioned access - where a user is given access way beyond what they need to do their job.  

Identity theft can also occur if too many users are clustered into a single group, which can mean loose user access controls, or worse, access control compliance breaches. 

Orphaned accounts (accounts without an associated, active user) also pose a threat, particularly if an account was not removed when an individual left an organisation, or changed roles.

Further identity theft risks can surface if access has been granted outside of the agreed access approval process (access outliers), or if a user is granted access to carry out conflicting tasks, such as both issuing purchase orders and having the authorisation to make payments for such items (toxic combinations of roles).

How to mitigate identity risks

Once your organisation understands the critical identity risk factors you are up against, there are several things you can do to manage the risks. 

Robust identity governance from the ground up

Successful identity risk management begins with a robust identity governance and administration processes. Transparency across all applications and users will enable organisations to become aware of the information/detail required to manage access and identity, including pinpointing any unauthorised access or violations. 

To achieve this you’ll need to implement robust business processes, using rules and risk-based information to define the acceptable level of risk from giving access or authorisation.

Automate access control

Lifecycle management automation can be a great help with rigour: A lack of streamlining through automation is a risk in itself as this can lead to critical processes not being completed. An example of this would be when an employee changes job role or leaves an organisation, but their access rights are not updated or rescinded. This can also cause problems for shared or service accounts if an identity linked to one of these accounts leaves or changes role.

Coupled with Identity and Management (IAM), automation can help an organisation keep pace with changes to the access environment, which will inevitably develop and adapt due to advances in technology or simply the growth of the organisation itself. And of course, an organisation will need a strict access policy which limits who can manage the IAM itself.

Are you prepared against identity risks?

As controlling access to data becomes even more important as security regulations increase, it’s worth looking at your own organisation’s security measures. Are you confident your networks, applications and personal information are fully secure with controlled access management? How many users have access to it? Is your system enabling your organisation to perform at its best?

Discover how you can provide secure, intelligent access for all of  your employees – wherever they are – with Okta’s workforce identity solutions