Understanding the Importance of User Identity Management

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In a previous post, we provided an in-depth discussion of insider network threats and how you can defend your network against them. You may have noticed that for the majority of insider threats, one of the most common strategies for staying protected is user access controls and identity management. That’s because properly implemented user identity management not only makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to get in; effective access controls also make it more difficult for cyber criminals to manipulate your network even after gaining entry.

But what does effective user identity management look like, and how exactly does it work? The experts at Be Structured have the answers.

The Fundamentals of User Identity Management

End users and endpoint devices pose two of the most significant vulnerabilities networks of any size experience. Oftentimes, these vulnerabilities only increase as a network and the number of users expand. That’s why no matter the size of your system, a comprehensive identity and access management (IAM) platform is fundamental to securing your network both inside and out.

To put it simply, user identity and network access management is the process your organization uses to identify, authenticate, and authorize access to your network, applications, and other information systems.

Some fundamental IAM strategies include:

  • Username and password management
  • User authentication tools
  • Multi-step authentication
  • Account recovery tools

Ultimately, an effective IAM platform ensures that users really are who they say they are before they’re granted access to your network and network devices. These access controls apply to both virtual network systems and the physical devices operating on your network while protecting you from internal and external threats.

First, IAM strategies make it more difficult for a malicious actor to gain unauthorized access to your network. Second, should a cyber criminal gain entry to your network, user access controls limit their ability to use your network against you.

With proper IAM controls, network administrators always know precisely:

  • Who is on your network
  • Which devices they’re using
  • What they have access to
  • What processes they’re running

With this critical information, your team has the ability to monitor for suspicious activity, flag and track any potentially malicious behavior, and keep your network protected at every level.

The Role of Multi-Factor Authentication and Endpoint Security

In today’s cyber security landscape, two of the most prominent tools for prioritizing IAM include multi-factor authentication and endpoint security. Multi-factor authentication requires that users take multiple steps to verify their identity before being granted network access. Often the steps they take must reflect the sensitivity of the data they’re trying to access.

For example, to access your network’s email platform, users may be required to enter their password along with a verification code sent to the mobile phone linked to their account. However, for higher-level access like logging into a network administrator account, users may be required to enter a password and answer a question before being sent a verification code.

Compromised accounts are frequently the result of lost, unattended, or stolen network devices. That’s why endpoint security is a must for protecting your broader network operations. Ensuring network devices automatically lock when they are put to sleep or left unattended for an extended period is a simple step you can take right now to minimize the risk of unauthorized access. For more comprehensive protection, application whitelisting—the practice of only letting users visit specific sites and applications—provides the most effective approach for defending against compromised devices.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) vs. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

The difference between two-factor authentication and multi-factor authentication is quite simple. Two-factor authentication is a form of multi-factor authentication whereby users are only required to follow two steps of verification before being granted account access. In the example above, users first enter a password followed by a verification code sent to their mobile device to log in. Multi-factor authentication can be used to describe two-factor authentication, but two-factor authentication can’t always be used to describe multi-factor authentication.

That’s because multi-factor authentication may require two or more steps to verify a user’s identity, including:

  • Entering a password
  • Answering a security question
  • Swiping a card or entering a pin
  • Entering a one-time verification code
  • Downloading a VPN client
  • Scanning a fingerprint
  • Attaching a USB hardware token

Again, the number of steps a user must follow to verify their identity should reflect the level of importance that information has to your network. For email accounts, 2FA is often enough to provide an additional layer of security. However, to gain access to more valuable network resources, three or four verification steps may be a better choice.

The Los Angeles IT Support Experts

Are you looking for ways to protect your network from unauthorized access? The experts at Be Structured can help. We specialize in assessing your existing network security to develop a user identity management solution that protects your network and users at every level. If you want to start structuring a cyber security platform around your mission-critical operations, contact our team today to get started.