Seven Fundamentals for Future Identity and Access Management

Identity and Access Management is changing rapidly. While the traditional focus has been on employees and their access to internal systems, with an emphasis on the HR system as the leading source for identity information, Identity Management has to address a far more complex environment today.

Over the past several years, we have already seen a number of drastic changes triggered by Cloud Computing, Mobile Computing, and Social Computing. Different deployment models and the management of access to Cloud applications, authentication and secure information access of mobile users, and the ever-tighter integration of business partners and customers has, for some time, had a massive impact on the way Identity and Access Management is done.

But these changes are just the tip of the iceberg. Users accessing services through apps, access management for operational IT, and the Internet of Things (or, better, the IoEE as the Internet of Everything and Everyone) with billions of things that all have identities (and belong to someone or something) are three mega-trends that will further change the role of Identity and Access Management.

Traditional concepts for Identity and Access Management that have been focused on the internal IT are no longer sufficient. We still need some of these, but they cover only a fraction of the future scope – and for some organizations already today’s scope – of Identity and Access Management.

Instead of traditional concepts for Identity and Access Management, organizations should define a new view of that topic. The following seven Fundamentals for future Identity and Access Management might help organizations shape their own strategy and roadmap for Identity and Access Management.

Fundamental #1: More than humans - It’s also about Identities of things, devices, services, and apps

Everything has an identity. Whether it is something like a smart meter, one of the various connected elements in connected vehicles, or a device within the realm of wearable computing, everything has an identity. They might require access that has to be managed. They will be accessed from devices through apps, all requiring an identity. Identity and Access Management is no longer about the human accessing a particular system, but about humans, things, devices (which we might consider just being things), services and apps (which again might be considered just a specific type of service) accessing and interfacing with other humans, things, devices, services and apps. That drastically changes the number of identities we have to deal with. It changes authentication. It requires management of relationships between identities. It massively expands the scope of Identity and Access Management.

Fundamental #2: Multiple Identity Providers - We will not manage all identities internally anymore and trust will vary

There is no central directory anymore, neither for humans nor for all the other things and services. We cannot manage millions of customers the same way we manage thousands of employees. Furthermore, many people do not want to re-register again and again with other companies. They want to re-use identities. BYOI (Bring Your Own Identity) is an increasingly established concept. In the future, there will be even more Identity Providers. Trust will vary, and we will need to understand risk and context (see Fundamental #7).

Fundamental #3: Multiple Attribute Providers - There will no longer be a single source of truth and information on identities anymore

There will not only be different Identity Providers, there will also be different Attribute Providers. This is not really new. The HR system never ever was the only source of truth and information about identities. Many attributes never showed up there, and a number of changes always have been triggered by other systems or manually – just think about the process of immediately blocking all access of an employee that has been terminated. This happens first in the Identity and Access Management system, while the lay-off is reflected later in the HR system. But even the “Corporate Directory” that in some organizations is considered as being the single source of truth will not withstand the evolution towards an Identity and Access Management, which not only supports Cloud, Mobile, and Social Computing, but also OT (Operational Technology) security, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, which apps, services and systems interact with each other through and which need to be protected) and the apps, and the Internet of Things. There will be many sources of trust for various attributes.

Fundamental #4: Multiple Identities - Many users will use different identities (or personas) and flexibly switch between these

There is no 1:1 relationship between persons and their digital identities. A person might have different identities. At a higher abstraction level, a person might be an employee, a freelance contractor, and a customer of the same corporation all at the same time. One person, multiple identities. On a more concrete level, a person might switch from their Facebook account to Google+ to self-registration to a type of account we do not even know yet (trends are changing rapidly on the Internet), but it remains the same customer. Organizations have to understand that it is still the same person – otherwise they will lose the former relationship.

Fundamental #5: Multiple Authenticators - There is no single authenticator that works for all

Simply stated, username and password do not work for wearable computing. More generally, there are so many different types of identities and related elements in future Identity and Access Management, that it becomes just too obvious that there is no common denominator for authentication anymore. Username and password have served (but not well…) for this purpose for decades. Many companies tried to standardize on a specific strong authentication technology to overcome their limits. Now, we have to accept that there is no single approach we can rely on. We will have to support different authentication mechanisms, while understanding the risk and making risk-aware access decisions – see Fundamental #7.

Fundamental #6: Identity Relationships - We must map humans to things, devices, and apps

Things belong to humans or organizations. They might be part of bigger things – just think about the connected vehicle. Humans use devices with apps to access services. The apps act on their behalf. What this means is that there are complex relationships between identities. Future Identity and Access Management must understand and manage these relationships in order to make the right decisions.

Fundamental #7: Context - Identity and Access Risk varies in context

A key concept of Future Identity and Access Management is context. Which device is someone using? Which type of authentication? Where is the device used? There are many elements that make up the context. Depending on that context, risk varies. Identity and Access Management has to become risk-based and, with the ever-changing context, dynamic. While today’s static access controls implicitly reflect a risk understanding in a static context, future access controls and decisions must become dynamic to adapt to the current context.

These Fundamentals help defining the scope, strategy, and roadmap for future Identity and Access Management.

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