9 Common IAM Risks & How to Mitigate Them

6 mins to read

9 Common IAM Risks and How To Mitigate Them

If Identity and Access Management is on your mind, you’re not alone. Recognizing a weak point and seeking out stronger protections is the first step to securing your environment. Anecdotally, many industry practitioners express IAM to be one of their greatest challenges. Let’s explore why that’s the case.

identity and access

What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Identity and Access Management refers to a security program designed to identify, authenticate, and authorize the access rights of identities and groups to applications, resources, actions, and data. It serves to better protect your data and overall environment from exploitation. 

IAM can be deployed on-prem, natively by your Cloud Service Provider, or by third-party tools dedicated to it.

How Does IAM Work?

At its core, IAM works by imposing rights and restrictions around access. Implementing an IAM tool automates the governance and security of identities as opposed to manually authenticating access, which often leads to increased security risk. The most common is overprovisioning access rights that are unnecessary or create risk by enabling an identity (user) to take greater action than one ever intended.

Some capabilities IAM solutions offer include identity inventory, Multi-factor Authentication, Single Sign-On, Password recovery and protection, data access controls, Authorization as a Service, user provisioning, and some reporting and compliance capabilities.

Why is IAM Important?

Having a secure cloud identity and access management program is no longer an option for  organizations operating in the cloud. Identity is a major player in what leads to data breaches. In 99% of the cloud breaches analyzed by IBM’s X-Force Team, overprivileged identities were involved.

Previously, security focused on locking down a perimeter, network controls, and vulnerability management, but the attack path is working differently in the cloud. Attackers inevitably find their way in one way or another, and security identities and their access is the next step in ‘defense-in-depth’ to mitigating the damage attackers can make.

In the 2022 Trends in Securing Identities Report by IDSA, 84% respondents experienced an identity-related security breach in the last year. Of those 84%, 96% reported that they could have prevented or minimized the breach by implementing identity-focused security outcomes.

So, what are some common Identity and Access Management risks to prepare for?

Common Identity and Access Management Risks

1. Excessive Permissions

Excessive permissions refers to any permissions assigned to an identity that are not absolutely necessary to completing their intended job function. This could result unintentionally, or perhaps because the person provisioning the privilege was unsure how they’d use the identity in the future and offered a broad stroke of privilege. Excessive permissions can be avoided by following Least Privilege policies, assigning more refined and specific permissions to identities, and delegating permissions into multiple roles. 

Learn more about Least Privilege.

2. Misconfigurations

Identity misconfigurations can look like allowing logins from unauthorized users or IP addresses, leaving APIs or datastores publicly open, a lack of MFA, not rotating access keys regularly, or a lack of access control of data. Misconfigurations are one of the leading causes of environment breaches. Cloud Security Posture Management tools are the leading solution detecting and remediating any misconfigurations leaving environments at risk. They work by continuously monitoring audit logs and activity and comparing them against a secure baseline.

Learn more about preventing misconfigurations.

3. Compliance/ Audit Challenges

A lot of enterprises face industry regulations like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and NIST-800 53 that require certain levels of security. A lot of it has to do with data access and privacy. Enterprises need a way to ensure their business and customer data is secure. IAM tools help manage this access, prevent malicious access, and detect when there is breach. A strong IAM tool that offers accurate insight into 1. all the identities in the environment, 2. All the access those identities can hold, and 3. What access they’re using, can be immensely helpful when facing audits. 

Learn more about meeting compliance and passing audits.

4. Privilege Escalation

Without proper privilege control, it is possible for attackers to start with low-level identities and escalate their privilege to assume greater control. An example scenario is Self-assigning privileges with new IAM policies. All a bad actor needs to execute this exploit is access to an identity with the permission iam:CreatePolicyVersion. They can then create a new version of an IAM policy and simply grant themselves the access privileges they need to execute their plan. The only way to avoid this is an accurate insight into the true extent of every identity’s abilities, their ‘effective permissions,’ and leveraging a cloud security tool that can detect this risk.

Follow an example of privilege escalation in the cloud.

5. Multicloud Risks

Most large enterprises are operating out of multicloud environments. Governing and securing identities in one cloud alone is difficult enough – adding other environments into the mix makes things even more complex. Identities and their access can cross over accounts, and even clouds, which can’t always be detected. An attack path to critical data may hop from Azure into AWS, so having an advanced enough IAM tool that is built for cloud is critical to preventing breach.

Learn more about IAM for multicloud (CIEM solutions.)

6. Insider Threats And Privilege Abuse 

Highly privileged identities are gold to an attacker and often what they’re in search of during recon. It’s important to prevent privilege abuse from intentional and unintentional individuals. Insider threats refers to an individual posing risk from within your environment. They come in many forms including an employee acting out of negligence, oblivion, or alternatively, out of malice. You cannot always prevent insider threats, but you can do your best to limit their abilities and mitigate the damage. This is where refined privilege is important to limiting lateral movement, and making choices like not using root user accounts or admin accounts for everyday actions – instead delegating permissions by roles with very fine tuned privilege.

Learn more about protecting privileged accounts (CIEM solutions.)

7. Poor Access Management Policies And Practices

When new applications are deployed, teams need to manually design security protocols and functionalities – unless there is a central IAM solution in place. These manual efforts face a few challenges. Budgets and time are often tight, leaving little incentive for addressing data security early and proactively. Without a clear process in place, developers may grant greater access than what is recommended. Leveraging automation and intelligent workflows can help operationalize your identity program and necessary remediations. 

Learn about operationalizing cloud security.

8. Data Access Risks

Protecting data and critical applications should be the #1 priority for any enterprise. Data breach means business disruption or destruction, monetary fines, and customer repercussions. A lack of sufficient identity and access management directly impacts data security.

Learn more about data security solutions (DSPM.)

9. Off-boarding Employees/ Orphaned Identities

Offboarding employees sufficiently is a big part of any identity governance program. Just as identity permissions are provisioned throughout their tenures, they need to be deprovisioned to strip away abilities and actions. This helps prevent future insider threats and also reduces an attack surface. One big challenge in the cloud is visibility into cloud-native identities – that is any identities that were created as off-shoots, for example, roles and roleassignments. Making sure you offboard not only an employee themselves, but any identities they created as well.

Get complete visibility into all identities.

cloud identity diagnostic

IAM Risk Management Steps

It’s important to get a clear picture of where your enterprise stands in terms of access control risks. There are steps you can take for an identity and access management risk assessment.

  1. Establish your entire IT and cloud environment. Specifically note the applications or data that are business critical or extremely sensitive.
  2. Have a risk assessment workshop with involved stakeholders. Identify threats and determine the consequences.
  3. Define your overall risk picture including what risks are acceptable and what are in violation with your internal goals or industry regulations.
  4. Plan and implement risk reduction and prevention with proper Identity and Access controls. Read more about IAM risk management best practices.

How To Pick an IAM Risk Management Tool

Picking the right solution for your organization depends on your goals, industry, size, and maturity level. There are a number of routes to go including on-prem traditional IAM tools, Cloud Service Provider tools, or third-party cloud-native tools.

The Sonrai Security platform specifically is the best option for Enterprise size organizations that are public multicloud environments. Sonrai Security offers Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) a more advanced level of identity and access security intended to address cloud-native challenges.

For a more in depth explanation of how CIEM can help your IAM risk management, read “Pick the Best Identity and Access Management Tool for Your Cloud.

Securing Your Business With Effective IAM Risk Management

Cloud identities and their privilege are some of the most valuable entities in your cloud. They offer direct paths to your business critical data and applications. Above, we explored a number of Identity and Access Management risks and how the right solution can address them. Concerns like insufficient data access controls, improper identity lifecycle management, identity misconfigurations and privilege abuse can lead to compliance violations, customer privacy breach, and total business disruption.

If you’re in the cloud, we recommend looking into CIEM. In fact, we offer a personalized 1:1 or on-demand demo, if you’re interested in seeing cloud IAM in action.

ciem vs pam cta