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The Zero-Trust Playbook: How to build a robust identity management system

Posted on March 6, 2023

Estimated reading time 5 minutes

‘Is it really you?’ – That’s the question your cloud environment should pose to everyone and anyone trying to access it.

Robust identity and access management is the bedrock of a Zero Trust network environment – a security method that’s built for our modern, hybrid and cloud-first working future. With the right identity access management tools, you can ensure those you want to access your data can do so, while locking out everyone else.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at why strong identity management systems are so important and how you can implement them using Azure identity solutions like the Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Read on to learn more and start embedding Zero Trust security principles across your organisation today.

What is identity and access management, and why does it matter?

Identity management, sometimes called identity access management or ‘IAM,’ is how organisations control their IT access. The aim is to ensure only authorised accounts have access to the files, software and data they need to do their job.

Identity and access management used to be centred around usernames and passwords. However, with cyber attacks growing more sophisticated and remote working becoming the norm, a modem and cloud-native approach is needed. More specifically, a Zero Trust model, the future of identity access management.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA), where login pages ask for codes sent via email or SMS, has long been accepted as the first step towards a Zero Trust model. Yet, despite being a quick and effective identity and access management tool, many organisations lag in adopting it.

Data from Microsoft’s 2022 Digital Defense Report showed that in 88% of ransomware incidents, MFA was missing from sensitive or privileged accounts, like network administrators and senior business leaders. As a result, this left a security gap attackers could exploit and use as the basis for further attacks. Even more worryingly, the same report found that 84% of admins didn’t use privileged identity controls, like just-in-time access, to prevent compromised accounts from being used further.

Senior leaders, therefore, must do more to protect their organisations by adopting a Zero Trust security model. When combined, the technologies enable secure access for users based on granular policies fit for the modern, fast-paced working world.

Your Zero-Trust playbook: How to build an identity management system based on Zero-Trust principles

Step 1: Add Multi-Factor Authentication

MFA is a solid choice as an early identity access management tool. The extra check involving another device creates a robust identity test preventing would-be threat actors from gaining access.

Implementing MFA is particularly important for privileged accounts. Threat actors who get control of these types of accounts can do immense damage, like stealing data, ransoming access, or even impersonating senior leaders and tricking employees into transferring money.

Step 2: Remove legacy authentication systems

As an identity and access management solution, MFA is a great starting place, but it’s not enough. Legacy authentication identity management systems increase your network surface area and make attacks more likely by giving threat actors more channels to exploit.

Therefore, it’s important to completely modernise your identity management approach by adopting cloud-native tools, like Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), and banning commonly-used passwords like ‘password,’ ‘qwerty,’ and others.

Step 3: Automate the threat remediation process

Once they’ve gained access, threat actors act quickly. We know from research into attacks, that it takes on average 1h 42 minutes for an attacker to being moving laterally within your network once a device is compromised. So, it’s vital to automate as much of your threat remediation process as possible to minimise the time threat actors have to steal or encrypt data, and access other accounts in your organisation.

Identity and access management solutions like Azure AD, Defender and Microsoft Sentinel can help you identify indicators of attack and compromise using cloud intelligence from over 43 trillion daily security signals. As a result, they can help you prevent compromised accounts from doing further damage quickly and easily.

Step 4: Improve your visibility over root causes

Effective threat remediation is difficult when you don’t have clear insight into your network activity. That’s why the next step in your Zero Trust journey is enhancing your visibility over why access attempts are blocked, where and when security alerts happen, and how you can better protect your cloud environment.

Doing so will mean you can build granular security policies that reflect the needs of your business, ensuring employees maintain seamless access without sacrificing your security posture.

Step 5: Enable self-service for end-users

Finally, self-service portals guarantee that employees receive timely support to resolve their access issues in full accordance with your security policies and remain productive. Self-service systems also have the added benefit of automating routine workloads within identity and access management, allowing your IT staff to maintain a strategic focus on active threats affecting your business.

Access expert identity and access management solutions from Atech

Atech is a leading provider of identity management solutions. As a global finalist in Microsoft’s 2022 Partner of the Year Awards for Endpoint Management and certified Security Solutions Partner (with a Specialism in Identity and Access Management), we stand head and shoulders above our competition. We build Zero Trust network environments using pure-play Microsoft technologies, giving you the deep integrations, cloud intelligence, and visibility needed to combat today’s threat vectors.

You can learn more about evolving your security posture by joining one of our in-depth workshops. They’re filled with tips and tricks on improving your identity management with the latest software and best practices. Delivered 1-2-1, the sessions are customised to your needs and are free for qualifying businesses.

Interested in future-proofing your security strategy with modern IAM solutions? Book one of our workshops and find out whether you’re eligible for funding today by getting in touch.

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