Understanding IAM: Everything You Need to Know About the Components of Identity and Access Management

Discover the Essential Components of Identity and Access Management

Beginning in 2021, the second Tuesday of April is Identity Management Day. As a joint venture between the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA), Identity Management Day was created to raise awareness and educate business leaders, IT decision makers, and the general public about the importance of managing and security digital identities and the dangers of improper identity management. To learn more, visit the IDSA website for a full Identity Management Day overview.

As the landscape of cyberattacks continues to evolve, strong security controls are required to prevent and defend against breaches. These defensive measures start with identities. To celebrate Identity Management Day and help spread awareness, we have put together this blog to help you better understand the components of identity management and access management.

What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity Management and Access Management

Identity and access management (IAM) refers to a system of policies, processes, and tools that manage access privileges and entitlements of individual identities, like users or devices, on a network or in a cloud tenant. IAM defines what each identity can – or cannot – do when attempting to access the organization’s cloud or on-premises applications and digital resources. Identities may include employees, partners, and customers; on the other hand, devices may consist of computers, servers, routers, sensors, controllers, tablets, and smartphones.

With users accessing company resources from numerous endpoints, it is essential to have a strong, unified system in place to manage and secure their identities. An IAM system often assigns a single digital user identity to each device or individual during the user provisioning phase. Once the IAM system has established digital identities, it maintains, monitors, and modifies them throughout the user or device access lifecycle. This is also referred to as user lifecycle management.

Gartner defines identity and access management as the discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons. Identity and access management (IAM) ensures that only authorized people, devices, or job roles have access to the tools required to complete their tasks. The IAM system enables an organization to effectively manage all employee applications access without having to login with administrator-level credentials into each application individually.

Why is Identity and Access Management Important?

Your organization needs to implement an IAM solution for two fundamental reasons: to increase data security and boost efficiency.


Security is possibly the most crucial benefit that your organization can enjoy from implementing IAM. Traditionally, IT security has had a singular significant point of failure – the password. If someone breaches a user’s password or through some other means gets access to a person’s email, they will likely be able to change the account’s password, leaving your organization open to an attack.

Identity and access management workflows, or orchestrations designed for controlling access, help eliminate the risk of data breaches, user credential theft, and unauthorized access to your business’s confidential information. What’s more, IAM can stop the proliferation of compromised login credentials online and prevent unauthorized entry into your organization’s network. You also gain protection from phishing, hacking, ransomware, and other cyberattacks.

Overall, IAM can narrow the points of failure within your data security and network security setup, backstopping them with identity administration tools that catch mistakes that users make.


Once employees log into your company’s main IAM authentication service, they no longer need to worry about having the correct password or appropriate access level required to perform their work tasks. Each employee gets access to only the productivity tools they need to complete their jobs and their access is managed, en masse, as a group or role member instead of setting them up individually. As a result, your IT team has a lower workload and can work on more important matters.
IAM helps you to boost productivity in the following ways:

Streamline Your IT Workload

  • Every time you update a security policy, all access privileges for users across your organization change in one sweep. Identity and access management also reduces the number of support tickets sent to your IT help desk for password management. Some IAM systems can also automate tedious IT tasks.

Improve Collaboration

  • Your company can offer users (visitors, customers, partners, and suppliers) outside your organization’s perimeter secure access to its network resources.

Improve the User Experience

  • With IAM, there is no need for users to have multiple usernames and passwords to access the different systems in your organization. If you use smart cards or biometric technology, your users no longer need to remember complex passwords.

IAM, Identity Governance, & Compliance

In recent years, government and industry regulators have enacted several far-reaching and industry-specific privacy and data security regulations. If your organization fails to comply, you could face costly penalties, fines, and a lack of customer confidence in your company.

Fortunately, IAM solutions have evolved to meet the new demands on regulation-heavy sectors. Robust identity governance and access management solutions offer you proactive threat visibility and risk mitigation, helping you to meet and exceed strict compliance criteria laid down by various regulations. Although complex, there are a few common regulations that most companies should be aware of, like SOX, GLBA, HIPPA, PCI DSS, and GDPR.

Common Regulation Acronyms
  • SOX
  • GLBA
  • GDPR
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard
  • General Data Production Regulation

Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)

Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) applies to the banks, insurance, and financial services industries. Specifically, Section 404 of the regulations stipulates that organizations should have adequate, tested, and documented internal access controls to prepare financial reports and protect the integrity of information used to generate the reports.

IAM helps your organization comply with SOX by:

  • Offering a centralized way to administer and manage users’ authentication and authorization
  • Enforcing policies for segregation of duties (SoD)
  • Adjusting the access rights of individuals when their job functions change
  • Revoking access to systems on termination
  • Managing user access by job roles
  • Conducting periodic audits of user privileges, as IAM manages access rights, and generating automated reports

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GBLA)

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GBLA) is a federal law that requires all financial institutions to maintain the privacy of non-public customer data and protect the information from threats. GLBA includes a Financial Privacy Rule, which regulates customers’ personal financial information collection and disclosure. The Safeguards Rule requires financial institutions to put data security measures to protect the information.

IAM provides a GLBA compliance boost by:

  • Enabling centralized management of user access rights
  • Helping to enforce a SoD policy
  • Modifying access rights when a user’s job function changes
  • Managing user access by job role
  • Carrying out audits of privileges and access rights
  • Tracking each user’s account access

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets out national standards for processing electronic transactions by healthcare service providers. The regulations require organizations that handle confidential patient information to ensure secure access, storage, and transmission of health data by organizations in the U.S.

IAM can help your organization to comply with HIPAA regulations through the following features:

  • Use of federated identities
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Least privileges
  • Regular credential rotation
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Role-based access control policies for account provisioning and deprovisioning
Identity and access management can also help your organization comply with Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) regulations. The HITECH Act was created to promote and expand the adoption of technology in the health industry, with the use of electronic health records (EHRs).

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is an industry security standard covering companies that manage major credit cards. For instance, the PCI DSS regulations limit how many employees can access credit or debit card data.

You can use IAM to meet this standard by only granting the least privileges needed to carry out their jobs. An IAM solution can also help your organization fulfill the requirements of requirement 8.1 of PCI DSS, which requires organizations to “define and implement policies and procedures to ensure proper user identification management for non-consumer users and administrators on all system components.”

Compliance with this requirement requires each user to have a unique ID, automated provisioning and de-provisioning of individual users, and disabling inactive accounts.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is the EU directive enacted in 2018 to consolidate the different data protection and privacy laws across EU states. You should be concerned about the GDPR because it has heavy non-compliance penalties – as much as €20 Million or 4% of your company’s annual global turnover.

IAM can help your organization to comply with HIPAA regulations through the following features:

  • Use of federated identities
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Least privileges
  • Regular credential rotation
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Role-based access control policies for account provisioning and deprovisioning
IAM can help your organization comply with major GDPR rules, like managing individuals’ consent to track and record their personal information, notifying customers of potential data breaches, and responding to their requests to have data erased.

Read our Active Directory Management Tools guide to learn about managing Active Directory with native and third-party tools.

How Does Identity and Access Management (IAM) Work?

Understanding how IAM works requires knowledge of two related concepts: identity management and access management. Although the two are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably, they are very different. While both take care of user management, system access, and roles, identity management represents a broader focus on all users within your organization. On the other hand, access management is a subset of identity management. Still, it focuses on privileged users – individuals who have the authority to make significant changes to your network, devices, and applications. These privileged users could include system administrators, Finance or HR heads, or application service accounts. Privileged access management (PAM) builds on IAM’s advantages by establishing practices and policies that ensure critical infrastructure and sensitive data are secure. PAM typically includes automation, authorization, fine-grained authentication, and observability. Regardless of the differences, both IAM and PAM systems perform three critical tasks: identification, authentication, and authorization.

Practical Examples of IAM

To help you better understand these concepts, here are some practical examples of how IAM works.


  • When a user logs in to your system, IAM checks their login credentials and identity against a database to ensure they match. For instance, if a contributor logs into your organization’s content management system, they can post their work but cannot change other contributors’ work.


  • IAM only allows specific users in your organization to access or handle highly sensitive information. Without IAM, outsiders could use compromised details to access your company’s confidential files, resulting in a breach.


  • An operator could log in to your system to view a work procedure but cannot modify it. However, the operator’s supervisor may have the authority to view and change the work procedure file or create a new one. Anyone could modify the document without IAM, potentially putting your organization at risk.

Microsoft IAM Features: Multi-factor Authentication, Single Sign-On, & Conditional Access

Securing Microsoft environments is a top priority for most organizations, as it is often the center of business productivity and collaboration. While Microsoft’s directory services are commonly referred to as identity and access management solutions, this terminology can be misleading. Microsoft directories are systems that store information about identities, whereas IAM systems are used to automate the process of populating, managing, and securing those identities, which are often the contents of the directory. Microsoft has Active Directory, for on-premises deployments, and Azure Active Directory for cloud.

Active Directory

Microsoft Active Directory (AD) is the world’s top directory service that handles user logins and other admin functions on Windows networks. As a leading identity platform, Active Directory is an excellent choice for IT administrators that need a one-stop-shop for authentication and authorization for their organizations.

Azure Active Directory

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is a cloud-based, multi-tenant access management service by Microsoft. Because it is entirely cloud-based, Azure AD is flexible enough to act as your organization’s only user directory. You can sync it with an on-premises user directory through applications like Azure AD Connect.
Microsoft’s Azure AD grants cloud-based users access to resources and apps and provides organizations with IAM features like multi-factor authentication (MFA), single sign-on (SSO), and conditional access.

Multi-Factor Authentication

  • Multi-factor authentication (also know as MFA or 2FA) adds security to the traditional username and password by adding another verifying factor, such as a code sent to the user’s mobile device. To learn more about multi-factor authentication, check out our blog on enabling vs. enforcing MFA!

Single Sign-On

  • Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to sign-on to Azure AD one time and as that user goes to a specific application or resource, their Azure AD password is automatically used to authenticate the user so they can access the new system without providing their username, password, and MFA confirmation again.

Conditional Access

  • Conditional access allows organizations to configure policies to control what a specific user can access, as well as how and when they have access. Azure AD uses Conditional Access policies (CAP) as the center of its identity-driven access controls.

Implementing IAM Key Concepts: Zero Trust & Least Privileged Access

Setting up a robust identity and access management (IAM) solution is critical to maintaining control over which individuals, systems, or roles have access to your organization’s digital resources. IAM implementation requires the knowledge of the numerous components of identity and access management. To better mitigate the security risks of digital work, understanding these two IAM concepts is key: Zero Trust and least privileged access.
Identity Administration and Zero Trust for IAM

Zero Trust Identity Administration

Traditionally, organizations relied on a castle-and-moat data security model, which focused primarily the internal network security. Zero Trust focuses on moving the perimeter all the way to the user while assuming that a data breach has already happened. This makes a Zero Trust architecture an absolute must for distributed computing environment, where you can no longer count on the legacy network security model, since too many users need to access critical information externally.

Using a Zero Trust architecture in IAM implementations helps secure access by taking every access attempt as untrusted. As a result, identity and access management always verifies every attempt to access your network until the user can demonstrate trust according to your security policy, starting with verifying their identity.

Your journey toward Zero Trust and constant verification using IAM starts by identifying which of the architecture’s foundational elements you already have within your existing system and adding any that may be missing. These elements include multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) solutions, as we mentioned previously, to minimize vulnerability and protect access to your critical IT assets.

Least Privileged Access

The principle of least privileged access refers to an essential security concept wherein a user (identity) in your organization gets only the permissions needed to perform their job functions, no-more, no-less. Least privileged access is a fundamental best practice in cybersecurity and is a crucial step toward protecting access to your high-value assets and digital data. In a nutshell, least privileged access limits the potential impact to your organization if a malicious actor is able to steal user credentials. A real-world example to illustrate least privileged access would be, if someone steals a bank receptionist’s office keys, they will still be unable to access the bank’s vault. Through IAM security automation, you can stop data breaches by automatically detecting irregular access attempts to your systems. These tools can automatically analyze all users, devices and manage identities while matching them to their policies and roles through a continuous lifecycle approach. Cloud IAM security automation tools prevent cloud data breaches by automating the detection of identity and access management risks in public cloud environments, including AWS, GCP, Azure, and Alibaba Cloud. They automatically discover all users and digital identities and analyze their entitlements against their roles and policies, using a continuous lifecycle approach.

Cayosoft’s Comprehensive IAM Solutions for Hybrid Active Directory

IT departments and business leaders now have increased organizational and regulatory pressure to secure access to corporate resources. You can no longer rely on error-prone manual procedures to assign and track your user privileges and access. Access management IAM allows you to automate these tasks while enabling granular control and audit of your corporate assets on-premises and in the cloud.

Cayosoft Administrator is the only unified identity and access solution for hybrid Microsoft environments. Cayosoft Administrator allows you to gain control of day-to-day administration across essential Microsoft platforms, including on-premises Active Directory, hybrid AD, Azure AD, and Office 365 applications like Teams, Exchange, and SharePoint. Cayosoft Administrator was designed to secure and simplify identity administration by automating complex tasks, enabling advanced zero trust management, across on-premises and cloud Microsoft platforms, in a one console.

Want to learn more about IAM solutions for your Microsoft platforms?

Learn more about Cayosoft Administrator, the only unified solution for securing and managing all your Microsoft directories, or schedule a personalized demo to see how Cayosoft can help streamline and secure your identity and access management!

Check out these relevant resources.

New Survey Finds...

Active Directory forest recovery not taken serious enough. See what else your peers had to say.