Navigating the Cybersecurity Landscape: A Deep Dive into Identity Solutions

This deep dive demystifies the complexities of Identity Solutions, offering insights into their mechanisms, selection criteria, and the impact they have on safeguarding against the theft of credentials.
Written by
Christina Boyer
Published on
January 9, 2024

Introduction

In building a cybersecurity strategy, identity solutions stand as key gatekeepers, protecting organizations against the evolving landscape of security threats. Identity Solutions play an essential role in protecting the credentials of users, and preventing unauthorized access to an organization’s systems, finances, and data. It is the mechanism to centrally manage and authenticate any user attempting to gain access to an organization’s systems and data.

This deep dive aims to demystify the complexities of identity solutions, offering insights into their mechanisms, optimization strategies, selection criteria, and the impact they have on safeguarding against the theft of credentials, and keeping organizations secure.

Understanding Identity Solutions

At its core, an Identity Solution, also called an Identity Provider (IdP), serves as a centralized identity manager across an organization. It solves the inherent challenge of overseeing accounts scattered across numerous software tools, ensuring centralized control and security, and allowing an organization to map users to the devices they are using.

Identity providers address two intertwined challenges: authentication, proving who you are, and authorization, determining the extent of the authenticated person’s access. Getting this right is essential in protecting an organization from internal and external attempts to gain access to unauthorized information.

As organizations increasingly shift to cloud-based operations, being able to manage user access is essential in ensuring the correct users are accessing the correct systems and data. This is especially critical in a remote environment where users are not on local networks and corporate resources live in the cloud, where identity becomes the primary means for access control. This is a heavy burden to place on organizations, and identity providers exist to help centrally manage these identities. Let’s take a deeper dive by looking at the important properties of an IdP, and the key security controls an IdP should enable:

  1. Robust Access Controls and Regular Reviews: Establish and enforce robust access controls to minimize the risk of unauthorized access. Regular reviews ensure that access permissions align with current roles and responsibilities.
  2. Maximize for Feature Set & Effective Integration: A useful identity solution will integrate with as many of your other tools as possible. Ensure adequate integration with other tools to minimize workarounds, such as custom logic, serving to limit the attack surface and make managing your identity solution as efficient as possible. Any gaps in integration or features that require a company to build custom solutions can exposure your business to additional risks.
  3. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Elevate security by requiring users to authenticate through multiple verification methods. This multi-layered defense, incorporating biometrics and one-time passcodes, fortifies against unauthorized access attempts. Microsoft recently reported that MFA can block over 99% percent of account compromise attacks, so this is an essential component of an effective identity solution.
  4. Continuous Monitoring: Proactive threat detection is enabled through continuous monitoring. The system flags and blocks unusual behaviors, preventing potential threats from escalating.
  5. Maximize for Automation: Automation streamlines identity lifecycle management, increasing compliance and reducing the risk associated with manual processes. Consistent identity policies across platforms are enforced through automation, ensuring long-term effectiveness.

Navigating the Selection Process

So, how do you choose and secure the right tool for your organization? Selecting the right Identity Provider involves considering various factors to align the complexity of management with the desired features. Below outlines the broad key buckets to evaluate:

  1. Functionality and Controls: as mapped out above, it’s important to ensure a chosen tool has robust security control options, including features such as 2FA, password requirements, and SSO to effectively safeguard user’s identities.
  2. Management Burden: Evaluate the tradeoff between the complexity of IdP management and its features. Consider solutions like Google Workspace for simplicity or Azure AD for seamless integration with Microsoft tools.
  3. Integrations: Choose an IdP with integrations that align with your organizational ecosystem. Azure AD integrates well with Windows Devices and Office 365 applications, while Okta excels in integrating with diverse SaaS applications.

Complexity is the enemy of security — so it’s crucial to ensure your IdP exposes the right level of complexity for your team.

Example Tools: Okta, Microsoft Azure AD, Google Workspace*

*When considering your IdP tool selection, different tools will come with different functionalities, and therefore the tool you select will determine how the rest of your security stack and integrations are constructed. For instance, tools like Okta or Jumpcloud, which are not bundled with a native email solution, will require a tool like Google Workspace.

When considering a specific security strategy, such as an identity solution, it’s always important to think holistically about your security strategy to ensure tools are working across the board to protect your organization. Check out a recent post in our blog, that provides a helpful overview of the cybersecurity tools you should include when building an effective security strategy.

Deep Dive - The impact of stolen credentials and a note on modern attacks

How do attackers most commonly steal credentials?

Attackers acquire sensitive data mostly through credential phishing. Traditionally, phishing happened by targeting individuals via email or phone, but increasingly we are seeing more creative tactics via malicious links across the internet, including discord, twitter and social media. Some other common methods for credential theft include brute force attacks, and purchase on the dark web.

What do they do with stolen credentials?

Stolen credentials largely result in data beaches, where a malicious agent gains access to systems and either ransoms an organization, or leaks or sells on this information to third-parties.

What’s the impact?

When assessing the impact, it’s important to consider that multiple factors of an individual attack. For instance, different sectors are disproportionately affected by an attack.  IBM reported, the average critical infrastructure breach costs more than $1 million more than successful attacks on hospitality, entertainment, consumer goods and pharmaceutical companies. Healthcare is another highly impacted sector, where breaches of PHI (person health information) incur huge costs to recuperate, and massive disruption to patients and healthcare workers.

Overall, impact can be thought of in two different ways:

  1. Financial Impact: Internationally, the average cost of a data breach in 2020 for businesses was $4.35 million, according to IBM. However, for the U.S, the average cost was the highest worldwide at $9.44 million. Data breaches have a considerable financial impact on organizations, especially in industries that manage sensitive information or deal with customer data. Businesses can also face fines and penalties from regulators if there is evidence they were not in compliance with security standards.
  2. Reputational & Business Impact: companies face the challenge of rebuilding their reputation both internally and externally after a breach. The compromise of sensitive information can erode trust among clients, customers, partners, and the public.

Note From the Field

As MFA has become more present, attackers have evolved to get around this protection. Recently, we have seen a number of attacks where an attacker socially engineers a company help desk posing as an executive and demanding the help desk employee reset or bypass their second factor of authentication. Keep an eye out, alert your help desk, and don’t fall victim to these!

Closing

This article has hopefully offered a helpful framing for how you should think about your identity provider, and the considerations for choosing the most effective tool as part of your security stack. When considering how detrimental a breach can be both financially and reputationally, it is clearly evident how important it is to protect your organization against this risk. With the right deployment of an effective IdP, businesses can mitigate and minimize the risk of this threat.

Interested in learning more on this topic? Check out our latest article: What cybersecurity tools do you need to build and effective security strategy? and our other articles here.

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