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Identity Management: How to Control Access to Your System

Internet security, identity management
Credit: Andrea Danti | Shutterstock

Identity management, or ID management, is the process of identifying individuals accessing a system or network and giving them access to data appropriate for their user rights and restrictions. ID management helps to prevent unauthorized users from performing certain actions or accessing restricted data on the system.

Many different software applications exist that control user access to resources, and they accomplish this by associating a user's rights and restrictions with that established identity. In these applications, each identity includes a list of definitions for what that user can do on a network, with what device and under what conditions. The increasing number of mobile users creates more security issues for enterprise companies, and identity management helps to increase security and productivity while still reducing cost and redundancies.

In 2005, identity heists took place at corporate goliaths ChoicePoint, Bank of America and LexisNexis. These intrusions created a wildfire of congressional regulations to put the task of safeguarding customer information on the shoulders of the company. As a result, many companies are now encouraged to employ user management to safeguard and control access to customer and employee data.

The main selling points of ID management software come down to security and productivity. Not only does restricting access to different areas of a network and its data increase security, but it also increases productivity for administrators, thanks to its easy-to-use and comprehensive user management tools. For organizations with security policies or those wanting to create such policies, the use of identity management software allows for a wide range of user permissions and access.

Identity management software is most often used in an enterprise-level setting and is installed as an application on a dedicated network or server, either in-house or via the cloud. Its centralized location lends to its secure nature and allows for better management of user-rights policies. As a control, its location in the central network ensures that multiple security layers exist to prevent any sort of unauthorized access or alterations.

At the most basic level, identity management systems house controls that allow administrators to create, edit and remove user rights that can be specific to position types or even individual clients. Permission management allows administrators to control things such as device types and locations allowed, as well as define elements of access — including reports of user activity and alerts and alarms for unauthorized access attempts — for complete levels of management and operation. The end result is that a user might be given access to specific folders on the network, but if he or she were to click on an unauthorized file or folder, it would trigger an alert.

Companies seeking to give themselves a competitive edge in the market immediately benefit from identity management tools. Many businesses give consumers outside their organization access to their internal system and the resources it houses, such as cloud-based services. Opening a company's network doors to consumers, partners, suppliers, developers and employees can increase business efficiency in a number of ways, but without identity management, it is a problem waiting to happen.

ID management is the cornerstone of a secured network for cloud-based services, given the regulation it provides companies in the access-control spectrum. A well-controlled network ultimately means a reduced risk of internal or external attacks. In addition, user management assists in maintaining regulatory compliance by providing the tools needed to create comprehensive security, audit and access policies.

Each business's specific needs will ultimately determine the ID management software solution that's best for that business. A host of premier applications exist to address many of these needs, and companies may not be aware of some of these solutions. Access control is a feature of many Internet security suites.