User Access Management: The Fundamentals Explained

This article delves deep into the fundamentals of user access management (UAM), its differences from identity management (IDM), its types, how to set up effective user access management, and the everyday challenges that come with it.

User access management (UAM) is the process of controlling who has access to an organization's resources, such as systems, data, and networks. Implementing effective user access management is essential for organizations to protect their resources and sensitive information from cyber threats and meet regulatory requirements. 

The fundamentals of user access management (UAM) involve controlling who has access to an organization's resources, such as systems, data, and networks. By implementing effective user access management practices, organizations can protect their resources and sensitive information from cyber threats and meet regulatory requirements. Effective user access management practices are the foundation of and can help organizations establish robust IAM (Identity and access management) and PAM (privileged access management) processes and frameworks.

Understanding The Basics

Understanding the basics of user access management is paramount to protecting sensitive information and reducing the risk of data breaches. The following definitions  constitute the fundamentals of UAM.

  • What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and access management, or IAM, is a set of processes, policies, and tools to ensure the right people or identities have the right access to the right resources at the right time. IAM helps an organization know who has access to what resources and timely grant and revoke access to resources for individual identities (users, devices, processes, etc.) based on their roles and responsibilities. Typical processes in IAM are access requests, approvals and access reviews. 

  • What is User Access Management (UAM)? 

User access management, or UAM, is a subset of IAM that emphasizes managing user access to various system resources and data. It helps provide users within the organization access to the tools and services they need at the correct time. The process is typically done through user accounts, roles, and permissions, which can be granted or revoked based on an individual's needs and responsibilities within the organization. 

  • Understanding the Difference Between Accounts, Users, Roles, and Access Levels

In user access management, the following are the most fundamental terms. 

        • Account: An account represents someone or something (e.g., another server) that can access  an organization's resources. Accounts are given a unique set of credentials.
        • User: A user is the actualan individual that works at the organization. Users are given one or more accounts and can access resources using that account.
        • Role: Roles are used to group users based on their responsibilities and permissions within an organization. For example, a position might be "sales team member," "accounting manager," or "IT administrator." Each role is typically associated with permissions that specify what actions the users in that role can perform on specific resources.
        • Access Level: Access levels refer to the level of access of a user (or a device, program, or process) to a particular resource. Access levels can vary depending on the resource's sensitivity and may include read-only access, read-write access, or full access to modify or delete the resource.
  • Identity Governance

Identity governance is a critical component of user access management and helps organizations control access to their resources and protect sensitive information by enforcing policies and processes related to user access and identity within an organization. Identity governance ensures that users have appropriate access to resources based on their roles and responsibilities and that access is granted and revoked in a timely and controlled manner. It is accomplished by monitoring roles and responsibilities, access activities, establishing and automating access management policies and procedures, and reviewing and timely updating them. 

Benefits of a User Access Management System

Implementing a user access management system can provide several benefits to organizations, including:

  • Improved Control and Data Security: You can not safeguard information assets you have no visibility of. By controlling access to resources, organizations can have better control over data and protect sensitive information and reduce the risk of data breaches.
  • Enhanced Compliance: A user access management system can help organizations comply with internal policies and procedures, industry frameworks, and regulatory requirements. The enhanced compliance further helps elevate stakeholder trust in the organization’s capabilities to keep their data safe.
  • Better Resource Management: By only granting access to the resources that users need, organizations can help employees work more efficiently and effectively, better manage resources, and have a comprehensive view of their information assets which in turn helps reduce the attack surface. 
  • Reduced Cost: A user access management system provides a common platform for managing user access to resources across the organization, prevents wastage of resources, and helps keep the cost in control. For example, an instance or workload running indefinitely in the cloud can result in enormous fees if it is not tracked or has no visibility via an enterprise dashboard.

Types of User Access Management

There are two types of user access management, internal and external. 

  • Internal User Access Management (Employees, Administrators, Management)

Internal users of an organization are its employees, administrators, managers, and others. Internal user access management refers to controlling access to organizational resources for those individual identities. It typically involves using user accounts and permissions and may include techniques such as password management policies, access control lists (ACLs), role-based access control (RBAC), etc.

  • External User Access Management (Customer, Clients, Vendors, Suppliers)

External user access management refers to controlling access to resources for individuals outside the organization, such as customers, clients, partners, vendors or suppliers, etc. It may involve using single sign-on (SSO) systems to allow external users to access multiple resources with a single set of credentials or using access control lists to specify which external users can access specific resources.

Both internal and external user access management systems are essential for protecting resources and sensitive information. 

Setting up your Access Management Systems

As explained below, setting up an access management system involves implementing UAM policies, procedures, and technologies to control resource access in an enterprise environment. 

  • Setting up Your Access Levels

Setting up access levels involves determining the level of access users should have to specific resources based on their roles and responsibilities within the organization. Some steps to consider when setting up access levels include identifying the resources you want to protect, determining who needs access to each resource, defining the access levels for each resource, setting up access control measures, and monitoring access activity. 

  • Setting up Your User Roles: Fundamentals of User Access Manager

Setting up user roles involves grouping users based on their responsibilities and permissions within an organization and assigning permissions to each part. It also begs the consideration of access and defining access levels.

  • Automating User Access Management

Automating user access management involves using tools and technologies to streamline granting and revoking access to resources. Organizations can automate processes with UAM systems, implement self-service portals, and integrate organizational systems for enhanced insights and to reduce the risk of errors or oversights. 

  • Monitoring and Compliance

You can define your compliance requirements by identifying regulations and standards and performing regular audits to ensure proper functioning. Implementing corrective mechanisms to overcome challenges and regularly reviewing and updating your UAM policies and procedures are also essential. It will help ensure that they are effective and in compliance with any changes in regulations or standards while setting up monitoring and compliance for UAM. 

Differences Between Identity Management and User Access Management

Identity management (IDM) and user access management (UAM) are essential for maintaining security and compliance in an organization. IDM and AM are related but distinct but similar concepts in information technology (IT). These differ in many scopes, as explained below.

  • Scope: IDM deals with the identification and authentication of users, while AM focuses on controlling and managing access to resources.
  • Purpose: IDM is primarily concerned with verifying users' identities, while AM focuses on granting and revoking access to resources based on predetermined policies and rules.
  • Technologies: IDM typically involves single sign-on (SSO) systems, identity and access management platforms, and directory services. UAM technologies include user inventories, software for supporting the governance processes and authorization servers.

Common Challenges Faced with User Access Management

UAM can be a complex task, and organizations may face several challenges when implementing and managing a UAM system, as listed below.

  • Dual Nature of Security: User Access management is not limited to controlling and managing identities but extends toward improving user experiences. A successful digital transformation strategy is needed to retain and attract users instead of driving them away. 

  • User Password Fatigue: Even if SaaS (Software as a Service) models provide easier access, the time spent resetting, remembering, and managing passwords decreases productivity. Furthermore, security risks of password fatigue, such as insecure or reused passwords, cause challenges that need to be addressed with SSOs.

  • Data Governance and Integration Challenges: User Access management is presented as a security tool but is more about data governance since Active Directories or Lightweight Directory Access Protocols (LDAPs) ensure access to data so the workforce can do its job. The AM solution must integrate with existing IAMs to maintain business productivity. 

  • Managing Remote Work Access: Cloud applications provide access from any part of the world. Hence, IT departments must facilitate AM across multiple devices and platforms while maintaining top-of-the-line security, which becomes a challenge with existing IAM systems. 

How Organizations Can Overcome User Access Management Challenges

There are several strategies that organizations can use to overcome the challenges of user access management and maintain a secure and compliant UAM system. These include:

  • Using automated tools such as identity and user access management platforms to automate system access monitoring and reviews.
  • Implementing centralized systems for user authentication and authorization, user training, reviewing and updating policies regularly
  • Using a risk-based approach and only allowing access based on the principle of least privileges and need-to-know-basis.
  • Revisiting data assets and deploying adequate controls over distributed data, such as segregation of duties (SoD), etc.
  • Employing autonomous data catalogs to allow teams to make the most of unstructured data across hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments.
  • Establishing comprehensive user access management-related security policies for shadow IT resources, orphaned accounts, and misconfigurations.

Final Words

User access management, hence, has become essential for organizational security today due to the increasing reliance on digital systems, growing cyber threats, stringent regulatory requirements, and widespread remote work. Effective user access management ensures that only authorized individuals have access to valuable resources. Organizations can effectively protect sensitive information for business continuity and data protection by understanding the concepts mentioned above.

PS: Don’t forget to take a look at Elimity Insights, a powerful access governance solution which enables you to stay ahead of the IAM challenges.



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