Dynamic Authorization Management Best Practices

Due to a last minute speaker change I had to prepare a short presentation on „Dynamic Authorization Management – Best Practices from our Advisory“ for EIC 2012. When we found a replacement for the speaker, I didn’t give that presentation. However I will do a webinar on that soon and I want to provide some of the content here, as sort of an appetizer.

Dynamic Authorization Management is about dynamically deciding to approve or not authorization requests provided by services (like applications) based on policies and attributes (roles, application used, context, whatever,…). It includes policy definition and management, the access to sources for these attributes like directory servers, databases, ERP systems, and systems for context- and risk-based authentication and authorization. A key standard is XACML. The role of Dynamic Authorization Management within overall IAM (Identity and Access Management) is defined in the KuppingerCole Scenario Understanding Identity and Access Management.

A key success factor in Dynamic Authorization Management is to bring participants from all the different siloes involved to the table. You need people from the business organization, you need application architects and developers, you need IT Security, and you need others. This is a complex challenge.

Another key success factor is to set the right scope and to start small enough to be successful. The design has to cover coarse-grain and fine-grain authorization. It has to look at all types of applications and users. And thinking about the “Identity Explosion”, that means that it has to cover authorization not only for employees, but for many other types of users.

When planning the environment, the positioning of the Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) and Policy Decision Point ( PDP) (more information on XACML, PEPs, and PDPs here) is one of the challenges. Vendors provide a lot of flexibility – and you need to understand the different options to meet the performance and scalability requirements of your environment. This becomes increasingly complicated in cloud environments given that it is hard to run a large number of queries across long distances in an efficient way. So approaches like providing access controls statically to systems might come into play. Clearly, putting a lot of thought into the concepts is a key success factor, especially given that Dynamic Authorization Management has to cover more or less all of your distributed environment.

Acceptance by developers is directly related to simplicity. Keeping things simple for developers is also one of the key success factors. You should start thinking about applying the paradigms of the Open API Economy here.

The same is true for policy definition. The good thing is that the way policies are described in XACML from a conceptual perspective (so without the XML stuff around) is pretty straightforward, simple to understand, and powerful. Nevertheless you have to educate your business users in expressing their business policies and translate this for the IT level. And you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of auditing and analyzing policies in a dynamic environment.

However, when putting sufficient work into the concepts, you can design a Dynamic Authorization Management environment today which is future-proof. You should also do it because that will help you to become much more efficient in the management of Information Security and much more agile in fulfilling today’s and tomorrow’s audit requirements.


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