Cloud services have grown steadily over the years across all industries. Then COVID-19 happened, pushing businesses to adopt cloud services quicker than anticipated. New and evolving threats have also been growing alongside cloud architecture, and the best ways to deal with risk vectors involve leveraging Identity and Access Management (IAM).
Read on to learn all about how IAM in cloud computing can help your company stay safe in an increasingly remote era.
Guide to Identity and Access Management Architecture in the Cloud
IAM architecture should be a priority for your company, especially if you depend on cloud computing or cloud services. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about how IAM intersects with cloud security from two primary vantage points:
- Optimizing general identity and access management best practices for cloud security
- Optimizing general cloud security safeguards with robust identity access management
From there, you’ll have all the tools and resources you need to customize your IAM architecture in cloud computing solutions to your company’s architecture and specific needs.
Optimizing Identity Access Management in Cloud Computing
IAM for cloud computing relies on the same best practices for any identity access management protocol. That said, three primary principles are particularly essential for cloud security. These include:
- Control over the strength of user credentials and how often they are updated
- Requirements for multi-factor authentication, beyond exploitable passwords
- Restrictions on all user access sessions, including authorized and privileged users
These aren’t the only elements needed for a robust identity management program, but they are some of the most critical. Let’s take a closer look at each and how to implement them into cloud security.
Ideal Strength and Lifespan (Reset Frequency) for User Credentials
For a robust IAM program, the essential element is user credential management. Usernames and passwords or passphrases that grant access to sensitive data need to meet minimum requirements for length and complexity, which constitute strength. For example, passwords should have a minimum character count (eight) and should always comprise at least one special character (a number, symbol, or space) in addition to letters.
Password strength on its own is not enough to keep passwords safe. They also need to be updated at regular intervals, such as quarterly or monthly. Even the most complex password can fall victim to guessing or hacking. In cloud environments, where users’ remote security is difficult to ensure, theft is a significant threat. Cryptography helps to disguise credentials, protecting them if stolen.
Leveraging Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for Cloud Security
Regardless of how complex passwords are, how often they’re updated, or how impervious they are to theft, they’re still not the most robust authentication methodology available. That distinction belongs to multi-factor authentication (MFA), which leverages more than one identity vector. Identity vectors can include:
- Multiple things the user knows, such as a password and the name of a relative or pet
- Something the user owns or has access to physically, such as a second smart device
- A thing related to who the user is, such as a biometric scan of an iris or fingerprint
Using at least two factors is essential for cloud networks. When users are automating their log-in from home or remote computers, unauthorized users stealing or compromising credentials become higher risks. Credentials themselves cannot guarantee secure access.
Monitoring and Controlling All Authenticated Access Sessions
Finally, no IAM system focused only on authentication is enough to protect your networks, especially in a cloud environment. You must also closely monitor users’ behavior after they’ve been granted access. This comes in the form of authorized user access session security.
When an access session produces irregular activities, your systems should flag it and be on standby to terminate it. Sessions should also have clear time limits and lockouts for inactivity. There are also practices users need to implement and stay vigilant about through awareness training, such as not leaving their computer unattended, especially when logged in to systems.
Optimizing Cloud Security with Identity and Access Management
The second approach to IAM for cloud computing comes from the cloud itself, adapting its controls for IAM. Three principles of cloud security most apt for IAM integration include:
- Robust accounting for and management of third-party risks across vendors and partners
- Stringent controls for all users regardless of status as part of a “Zero Trust Architecture”
- Careful threat and vulnerability management across all remote and on-premise networks
Cloud security is by definition an uncertain area of cybersecurity, given the ever-changing nature of cloud technology. Nonetheless, let’s take a closer look at these principles for cloud IAM.
Accounting for Third-Party Identity Management Across the Cloud
The cybersecurity area of third-party risk management (TPRM or 3PRM) is not specific to cloud security; nonetheless, it takes on special significance in cloud-based or cloud-heavy contexts. It consists of wide-ranging inventory and threat monitoring capacities that account for risks across all suppliers, vendors, and businesses that make up your network.
Since mobile and remote partnerships make in-person meetings with vendors nearly impossible, practices like vetting and onboarding are especially critical. Cloud IAM needs to target vendors’ diligence with user accounts and access behaviors and hold them accountable to the same IAM standards of internal staff. Similar to user onboarding, the user offboarding process is an equally critical component. You don’t want third-party users to access your cloud services and data after the partnership has ended.
Integrating Principles from Zero Trust Architecture into Cloud IAM
One revolutionary new approach to cybersecurity is Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA). It has long been a part of governmental security measures, and the NIST Special Publication 800-207 from August of 2020 recommends broader implementations.
Overall, ZTA takes an approach to IAM and cloud security similar to the guiding principles of multi-factor authentication and access session management. No proximity nor user status is enough to guarantee “trust” in a given usage session. All users and sessions need monitoring as if they might be a threat. With respect to cloud IAM, this might mean stacking protective measures like MFA and TPRM or applying TPRM-like caution to all personnel, whether internal or external. In a cloud setting, there is no “outside.”
Monitoring Risks, Vulnerabilities, and Incidents Across Networks
More broadly, one final practice from cloud security that can shine a light on how effective cloud IAM might work is threat and vulnerability management. This approach to cybersecurity involves applying techniques such as the following to your cloud IAM:
- Threat intelligence mobilization, such as root cause analysis and penetration testing
- Infrastructure, threat, and vulnerability lifecycle management for continuous safety
- Website, application, web app, cloud platform, and Internet of Things (IoT) security
Vulnerability management can be as comprehensive or as focused as you need it to be. You can train your gaze on credentials used in cloud platforms or integrate data into broader inventories to address risks.
Professional Identity and Access Management in Cloud Computing
We’ve looked at the challenges of cloud IAM from both sides. We understand how to optimize IAM best practices for cloud security and utilize cloud-specific security controls and sensibilities when crafting a standalone or integrated IAM program. Concerning the former, password strength, MFA, and access session control are ideal for cloud computing. For the latter, TPRM, ZTA, and risk monitoring are critical.