Understanding the Basics of Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management is a broad term that covers products, technologies, and processes that manage user identities and regulate user access to software apps, IT resources, hardware, and more. It also includes authentication methods for verifying a user’s identity, such as passwords, digital certificates, hardware tokens, and smartphone software tokens.


Identity management systems protect an enterprise’s most critical data and applications by confirming users’ identities across a diverse technology ecosystem. This makes it possible to guarantee that, by privacy and security requirements, only the appropriate individuals have access to tools and resources. In this way, IAM supports an enterprise’s security functions and enables productivity.

The security aspect of IAM is made up of three key areas: authentication, authorization, and access control. Authentication is accomplished by verifying a user’s identity with tools ranging from passwords and one-time PINs to biometric devices. Once a verified identity is established, it grants access to digital assets like apps, databases, and APIs.

So, what is identity management? IAM enables the organization to assign and remove access privileges for individual users quickly. This can be important to avoid security risks, such as when ex-employees retain access privileges after they leave. IAM can help prevent this by automatically de-provisioning access privileges after a specified timeframe.

IAM can also help manage non-human entities’ identities, such as software, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and robotics. This is possible because digital identities can represent any entity, and IAM solutions provide a standard set of tools to manage these entities securely.


IAM systems monitor, modify and track the access privileges of network entities like users and devices. These systems help manage these privileges to various cloud and on-premise applications. They do this by using a single digital identity per user or device with the rights granted based on the context they seek to access. These systems also allow administrators to offboard users and devices promptly to avoid security risks.

IdM also supports zero trust by managing access at the identity level. This is a significant shift from traditional security postures which often grant access without further identification. IAM solutions validate and manage these identities throughout their use of the enterprise platform, applying a policy of least privilege access.

To authenticate an identity, IAM uses multi-factor and adaptive authentication methods to verify that a user is who they say they are. Moreover, an IAM solution will ensure that users only get access to the tools they are entitled to with role-based access control (RBAC). This helps eliminate unnecessary privilege creep and allows organizations to set up their roles based on the needs of the business.

IAM solutions can also make it easier for an organization to comply with regulatory and auditing requirements. This is because IAM can report on changes in access privileges to help identify and mitigate compliance risks. In addition, IAM solutions can de-provision access privileges as employees leave the business. This avoids security holes that hackers could exploit by leaving passwords or credentials behind.


IAM solutions automate and simplify many security functions that would otherwise require human intervention, saving IT departments from consuming time with manual, repetitive tasks. This allows them to devote resources to other critical initiatives that boost business value.

For example, an identity management system will automate the processes involved in creating a new user or changing that person’s role within an organization, reducing the time it takes to get the work up and running with access to tools and systems. This frees IT personnel to focus on bottom-line projects and improves employee productivity.

In addition to verifying the identity of individuals, IAM systems also manage access privileges for users and devices. These are based on a person’s or device’s digital identities created and stored in an IAM database. This database may include job titles, direct reports, and other identifying details. Access privileges may also be assigned based on the person’s or device’s organizational roles.

For instance, managers with direct reports might be authorized to use a tool for timesheet approval, while others are not. IAM can also ensure that the right employees have the appropriate access to IT resources, such as hardware and software applications. It can also prevent security risks when workers leave the company, and their access privileges are not automatically de-provisioned; a gap could provide hackers an opportunity to enter.


IAM is a set of technologies, processes, and tools to manage an organization’s digital identities and associated privileges. This is done across the identity lifecycle, from onboarding users and systems in the configuration phase to de-provisioning them as they depart the company, ensuring all identities are managed consistently and with the most up-to-date information. IAM solutions allow humans to access their digital work tools from any device and location while keeping hackers out and employees productive.

An IAM solution’s job is to confirm that an employee who enters a password into a sign-in screen is the person described in the company’s database. This is accomplished through authentication, which is performed via credentials like passwords and one-time personal identification numbers. Access management, conversely, is the process that validates a user’s request to access a specific application, data, or system; it’s achieved through authorization settings implemented and maintained in an IAM platform.

IAM platforms can integrate with other systems and technology, including applications, APIs, and devices. The integration uses a protocol that enables an IAM system to share an authenticated user’s identity with an external service or application. This is known as single sign-on, which allows a user to show in an IAM portal and then treat it as the source of truth for all of the other tools to which they have access, rather than having to log in and out of multiple resources every time they need to use them.

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