Cybersecurity, data breaches, and identity theft
Have you ever had your identity stolen? At best it is an inconvenience and at worst, it can lead to catastrophic consequences. Having one’s digital identity compromised can be similarly disastrous.
In terms of cybersecurity risks, identity theft is one of the top issues related to digital identity, especially for organizations. Cybercriminals can use stolen credentials to wreak havoc on networks and systems, can put customer data at risk. That’s a data breach.
Data breaches precede identity theft. Protecting against data breaches and, in turn, identity theft, requires strong security measures to be put in place. It also helps when organizations perform regular scanning and monitoring across their network and systems to identify any irregular or suspicious activity.
Modern issues and challenges
As everyone grows more reliant on technology and more interaction moves online, digital identity becomes more crucial to understand and manage. Whether you are discussing financial transactions or healthcare data, digital identities intersect with every aspect of our lives. But this leads to challenges, too.
Ensuring the privacy of data is one issue: people and organizations need to protect their data from those attempting to access it. Another issue is establishing mechanisms for secure authentication and identity verification. These challenges are multi-layered and complex. For organizations, it comes down to addressing how they can mitigate risks associated with their digital identities without hampering their staff members’ ability to perform their job duties.
Personally identifiable information (PII)
Another term to understand within the larger context of digital identity is personally identifiable information (PII). This is any data that can be tied to or used to identify an individual. Information such as one’s name, home address, phone number, or Social Security number are all considered PII. The safeguarding of PII is critical to help individuals maintain privacy and prevent identity theft.
For organizations, protecting PII allows them to build and maintain trust with its customers or users. For example, think of a company that sells items online and has access to the credit card information of all their customers. If they suffer a data breach and expose that data to malicious actors, it could endanger a company’s customers and damage their brand.
Human identity vs. machine identity vs. cloud identity
Human identity refers to the digital identity of an individual or person. A machine identity is the identity of a specific device or system. Finally, cloud identity is an overarching identity solution that manages individuals and groups accessing a system.
Digital identity issues for businesses and industries
Now armed with why digital identity is important – and what it is, and isn’t – the next logical step is to drill down into tangible impacts. While people need to figure out how to best manage and protect their own digital identities, it’s a critical consideration for businesses that are responsible for keeping their own – and others’ – data secure.
A general picture of digital identity for businesses and enterprises
Businesses need to take exceptional care managing digital identities to support both enhanced security measures and user productivity.
Organizations have employees to support them, and those employees have data associated with them. Those same employees also need to access the company’s IT systems and network. This is important because each employee will have a unique digital identity, and that identity can be used to enable access.
Companies must determine the best ways to protect and manage, maintain, and control their employees’ digital identities. This includes ensuring secure authentication, establishing privileged access management (PAM protocols), and managing employee access to sensitive company data.
As noted above, organizations need to protect their employees’ information while also ensuring the right people receive the right data at the right time with role-based access controls.
Companies often require vendors to provide services outside the scope of what their employees provide which in turn requires that vendors have access to IT systems. Because of this, organizations need to help these vendors establish digital identities within the organization. There can be many security concerns associated with this practice, as organizations look to fiercely protect their data from individuals who are not employed by the company but nonetheless critical to business operations. There are also challenges with getting vendors authenticated and authorized for access quickly, enabling them to do the job they were brought on to perform. By effectively managing third-party digital identities, organizations can enable critical business functions while keeping themselves safe.
See also "4 best practices for communicating with third-party vendors who need privileged access."
Most organizations have multiple systems, applications, and devices that employees and vendors must log in to. Organizations aim to keep the credentials used for these logins secure, as their exposure could lead to unauthorized access; they also aim to store them in a way that does not force users to remember multiple passwords.
Because expecting users to recall multiple passwords can slow down business operations, a balance between convenience and security helps the organization remain safe while not burdening users.
When multiple users need access to the same device to perform their job responsibilities, this can lead to shared devices in the workplace. The use of shared devices is growing, but can create glaring security weaknesses that can be exploited. For example, not properly securing shared devices (and not managing digital identities in a way that enables easy access) can lead to password sharing and open up potential vulnerabilities for unauthorized users to gain access.
Digital identity for healthcare
Digital identity is particularly important in the healthcare industry, where patient information must be protected, and where access to clinical systems must be carefully managed. This includes managing the digital identities of clinical staff, ensuring secure authentication and access management, and managing access to sensitive patient data.
Patient information and privacy
Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require healthcare delivery organizations to take special precautions to safeguard patient information, which is captured as part of each patient’s digital identity. Failure to comply can lead to steep fines and other penalties on top of a loss of patient trust.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines drug diversion as “the illegal distribution or abuse of prescription drugs or their use for purposes not intended by the prescriber.” When healthcare delivery organization employees misuse or steal drugs, it can put patients and other staff members at risk.
It can also lead to serious fines for the organization. With systems in place to detect and monitor activity (at the individual digital identity level) that could be related to drug diversion, healthcare delivery organizations can attempt to limit or eliminate this problem.
How healthcare facilities can safeguard their systems with a holistic security strategy
Explore how healthcare organizations are approaching security risks, with an inside look from security leaders at hospitals, clinics, and health systems across the US and UK.
Digital Identity for manufacturing
In the manufacturing industry, digital identity plays a role in managing access to sensitive manufacturing systems and intellectual property. This includes managing the digital identities of employees, contractors, and partners.
Digital Identity for finance and banking
In the finance and banking industry, digital identity is crucial for protecting customer information and preventing fraud. This includes managing the digital identities of customers and employees, ensuring secure authentication and access management, and implementing strong security measures to prevent cyber threats.
Digital identity for governments
Governments around the world are increasingly exploring the use of digital identity systems for a variety of purposes, including streamlining traditional practices and procedures for citizen identification, taxes, voting, and social services. However, these systems also raise important privacy and security concerns, and must be carefully designed and implemented to protect citizen rights and prevent abuse.
Future issues and challenges
Current issues and challenges don’t stay current for long, and there’s always something new on the horizon. As technology continues to innovate and evolve, new issues and challenges surrounding digital identity will appear.
Digital identity, web3, and blockchain
Web3 technology, also known as the decentralized or the blockchain web, is an emerging technology that can change how individuals interact with the internet. Blockchain technology is a distributed ledger technology that offers a secure and decentralized approach to managing digital identities that could help solve many of the challenges associated with traditional digital identity systems.
One of the key benefits of blockchain technology is its ability to provide an elevated level of security and privacy. Because blockchain is a distributed ledger, it does not rely on a central authority to manage digital identities. Instead, users can manage their own digital identities using a private key, which provides more security and control.
There are concerns around privacy, however. Web3 relies on the use of public ledgers to store data which could potentially expose sensitive information to unauthorized access.
Another challenge is the issue of interoperability. Different blockchain networks use different standards, which can make it difficult for users to manage their digital identities across multiple networks.
More digital identity resources
The digital identity framework
The digital identity framework provides IT and security leaders with a toolkit to drive their IAM strategy.
Digital identity assessment
Assess the effectiveness of your current digital identity strategy.