Going beyond attestation: Authorization Management is key

There is no doubt that the attestation capabilities which can be found in many of today's IAM-GRC platforms (e.g. GRC platforms with focus on Identity and especially Access Management aspects) are important and helpful. Attestation provides a capability to go through existing entitlements and, in some cases, changes and confirm or revoke them. But: Attestation is mainly sort of a detective approach. There are two other aspects which have to be addressed as well:

  • Preemptive controls which avoid that there is any access right granted which later on has to be revoked
  • Controls in the sense of really managing and not just auditing
That is where active Authorization Management comes into play. In my definition, Authorization Management defines the approaches to centrally manage authorizations in underlying systems. In best case it ends up with the management of specific entitlements (that would really be "Entitlement Management"), in most cases it is only the capability to map users (using roles and so on) to system-level roles or groups or profiles. Better than nothing... In fact, most GRC solutions are limited because the provisioning solutions used are limited as well. There are only few products which can granulary manage entitlements at least for a few target systems.

But at least using higher level policies (and thus rules) and business roles to manage authorizations, e.g. in most cases controlling provisioning systems, is a huge step forward - even more if the GRC system can use the reconciliation capabilities of provisioning solutions to detect issues on the fly and not some weeks or months later when next time going through the attestation process (that might be too late - the money might be at some strange caribeean island at that point of time).

Anyhow, the big gap of provisioning still remains. Provisioning (or GRC) are in control down to the assignment of users to groups/roles/profiles in the target systems. But what these group, roles or profiles are allowed to do is managed by someone else - the operator/administrator of these target systems. You should always keep that in mind, because it is the reason why we will need not only one level of attestation but a multi-layered attestation, starting with the sysadmin who confirms that groups, roles, or profiles still have correct access rights at that level.

There is another interesting aspect of Authorization Management: Dynamic Authorization Management. Most of today's approaches are static, e.g. they use provisioning tools or own interfaces to statically change mappings of users to groups, profiles, or roles in target systems. But there are many business rules which can't be enforced statically. Someone might be allowed to do things up to a defined limit. Some data - for example some financial reports - have access restrictions during a quiet period. And so on. That requires authorization engines which are used as part of an externalization strategy (externalizing authentication, authorization, auditing and so on from applications) which provide the results of a dynamic authorization decision, according to defined rules, on the fly.

Today, in most cases companies rely on a single-layer attestation - which isn't sufficient. They have to move to multi-layered attestation, to static authorization management and to dynamic authorization management. And vendors will have to enhance their products significantly to support every aspect. There is still a long way to go for IAM-GRC vendors, not even talking about extending GRC platforms to SIEM, BSM, and other aspects.



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