Five steps to build a strong access management strategy

It’s no secret that organizations are changing the way they operate. Digitization is everywhere, and employees are going from desktops in cubicles to cloud-connected laptops in home offices, coffee shops, and anywhere in between. But, legacy technology and cybersecurity architecture is struggling to keep up with this modern transformation.  Many organizations are relying on outdated methods (as well as software and hardware) to manage their cybersecurity, and as a result, sophisticated hackers are finding new ways in and stealing valuable data. With ransomware and other forms of cyber crime on the rise, organizations need to look beyond the stead-fast castle-and-moat structure and instead look to an access management strategy that works for their organization, risk level, and critical assets.

How to build a successful access management strategy

1. Perform an inventory of all current technologies and cybersecurity measures

You don’t know where to improve if you don’t know where you’re at. By inventorying what cybersecurity looks like for your organization currently (and what technologies are in place), you can begin to see where the weaknesses of your access management strategy lies and what aspects of your architecture need to be invested in. Maybe it’s IT employees, or third-party management, or even updating legacy systems.

2. Audit all user access — internal and external access

Modern cybersecurity is all about access — who should have it and who shouldn’t. With third-party hacks on the rise, and the “hack one, breach many” mentality growing among bad actors, access management is the most crucial component to a cybersecurity strategy. This audit should start by identifying your organization’s most critical assets, and then understanding who has access and if those users should. This audit should be undertaken for both internal and third-party users. Understanding the access third-parties have to your organization’s data, systems, and assets, can help you understand the risk they create and close any gaps.

3. Create access governance policies that address risk and need

Access governance, or the systems and processes that make sure access policy is followed as closely as possible, is critical for visibility and understanding of an organization’s access management plan. By looking at specific needs, risks, and critical access points, an organization can start to build an architecture that utilizes role-based access controls, employs least privilege access, and contains regular user access reviews. All of these components are needed to make an access policy work. 

Understanding the “who” in access management can not be understated. Identity-based attacks, particularly credential theft, are rising exponentially, so who has access to what limits the potential attack surface in case of a breach. Strong access governance and regular user access reviews are important to identity management strategies, but so is technology that automates, audits, and protects identities and identity access. PAM software can solve a lot of those issues with efficiency and ease, and it is a software all organizations should invest in as part of an identity and access management strategy. 

4. Implement access controls and access monitoring

Access governance is important, but not if users are circumventing the policies created. Fine-grained access controls (access notifications, access approvals, time-based access, and multi-factor authentication) are all important to make sure those critical assets have as much protection as possible. In addition, visibility can help an organization see where access controls are working and identify when user access changes are needed. Real-time monitoring, as well as reactive analysis, can stop nefarious activities before they cause any damage.

5. Understand changes will continue to happen, so be proactive and plan for the future

Organizations are struggling because they haven’t been able to stay ahead of the curve and are playing catch-up to smart, sophisticated hackers. By acting proactively, organizations can gain back control and put themselves in a position not to tread water, but to sail ahead securely. Cybersecurity and access management needs to come with flexibility and the understanding that hackers will adapt, so security should as well. Just as building a digital moat and leaving it alone didn’t work, neither will implementing a certain strategy and never checking back in to see what needs tweaking. Stay proactive. Stay vigilant. As organizations start to cross off items on this list and invest in their future, it’s important to remember that this process is not linear. Security needs to be adaptive, decentralized, and interconnected to meet today’s threat landscape. While the idea of an ever-changing process can seem daunting, organization’s can’t afford to do nothing. The best investment is an investment in the start of this access management strategy.