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Exclusive: Measurement key to successful identity governance implementation

07 Aug 2018

Article by One Identity product management vice president Jackson Shaw

Identity Access Governance (IAG) is an essential aspect for businesses operating in today’s digital economy.

The functional pillars of identity governance – privileged identity management, access management and identity lifecycle management – are key to protecting an organisation’s data.

However, many organisations are failing to adequately measure their IAG by not measuring it at all, or measuring it indirectly through objective standards such as the risk of data breaches.

This may help to ensure compliance at the next rapidly approaching audit, but identity governance is more than just a checklist.

It’s about providing a frictionless operating environment to lead a business towards growth whilst reducing a business’s exposure to risk.

Effective measurement of IAG is an ongoing program of defining, implementing and monitoring the impact of the controls that an organisation has put in place.

Without effective measurement, it’s hard to prove the value that IAG brings.

However, measuring it is vital to maintaining a clear business case for IAG initiatives.

To avoid unexpected surprises, such as a failed audit or security vulnerabilities, organisations should follow these five practical steps as a starting point to IAG measurement.

1) Assess the organisation’s IAG maturity

Organisations must determine what is and isn’t feasible within their current posture. Frustration, misspent money and wasted time from stalled or failed projects are the results of an organisation’s failure to identify IAG capacity.

‘Maturity models’ can be helpful, but since every company has a different IAG journey, organisations will have to develop a customised version.

Organisations who are embarking on their first IAG initiative should figure out where their company is making investments in digital transformation.

From there, organisations can gauge how IAG can help, and how well positioned - given the potential investment - the company is to move up the maturity model to its intended target.

2) Prepare a complete picture

A holistic image of the status quo will be vital in determining Key Risk Indicators (KRI). Risk derived from operational factors such as inconsistencies, availability, redundancies and compliance, carries a negative potential for businesses.  

Many organisations have hundreds of SaaS products live at any one time and no clear processes defined or implemented for the identity lifecycle around them.

Businesses must also consider the privileged identity management pillar, and how IAG applies to elevated system administration functions within key business applications, such as finance.

The access rights of all users, including outsourced workers, should be identified to contribute to an evaluation of the risk landscape.

Organisations must also determine how to implement new accounts while reducing risk exposure. Consider third parties to provide a different perspective, and fill internal skill gaps.

3) Fill the gaps

Using the completed picture of the status quo, organisations should work with their teams to define and implement controls that are enforced and reported by the IAG system.

Depending on the nature of the company and the problems prioritised, this approach may be policy or technology-based but must be able to be measured.

Controls such as ‘segregation of duties’ (SoD) help eliminate combinations or types of access that pose a security risk.

Assign ownership to key applications and privileged identities with a unified ‘centre’ for access that includes two-factor authentication, plus monitoring and recording of access.

4) Establish, monitor and share key IAG goal and performance indicators

Organisations must ensure that their IAG controls are working and they are on track to meet goals.

Sharing these results with sponsors helps to ensure the longevity of investment into the phased IAG program of work.

KPIs don’t need to be hard to define; some are very tangible, whilst others are likely to be trends.

Businesses must question whether the trends are increasing or decreasing, what is a justifiable and acceptable steady state to the trend?

Examples include passing IT audits; reducing the number of orphan or dormant accounts; end-user authentication; and increasing the number of systems supporting single sign-on (SSO) to reduce the number of passwords.

5) Regularly monitor and review your approach, manage by risk 

Effective IAG should not be a ‘set and forget’ approach to security. Rather, IAG must be considered as an ongoing journey of continual monitoring and refinement of KPIs.

Business goals inevitably change over time and organisations must understand that their approach to IAG will change with them.

Continual assessment of IAG processes, reviewing the previous four steps to ensure they align with the current operational capacity of an organisation is vital, otherwise, IAG will be rendered ineffective.

IAG is not a straight A to B program with a beginning, middle, and end.

As risks are identified, an organisation’s IAG path will have to adjust, making new stops and route changes to address key threat areas and ensure you’re gaining maximum value.

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