Automation, automation, automation. As professionals, we all understand the general benefits of incorporating automation into our processes and procedures. But does the time and effort that is spent developing and deploying automation really improve cybersecurity outcomes? When it comes to Identity Lifecycle Management the answer is 100% yes, especially if you leverage an Identity Governance (IGA) Platform with easy to use drag and drop, customizable workflows.

What is the Identity Lifecycle?

Before we dive in, here’s a little refresh on Access Management 101. The Identity Lifecycle is the journey that a user’s identity goes through during its lifetime within an organization’s environment. Identities can be tied to specific end-users, such as employees, or digital entities such as devices or AI. The lifecycle of an identity begins the moment it is created, and it lasts through termination or deletion. Some important aspects of an identity’s lifecycle include when access is assigned, changes in credentials and authentication events. 
For example, Joy is a new Software Engineering Intern at Mega Corp. Her identity is created on her first day of work and she’s assigned all the relevant access she needs as a Software Engineering Intern. After just a few months, Joy is crushing her duties and is offered a full-time job at Mega Corp. With the change in role comes a new event in her identity lifecycle meaning Joy’s access needs to be updated. Joy is later assigned to a special project for a few months. This lifecycle event requires that her identity be granted temporary access to some systems outside of her standard role.

And so on and so forth. You get the gist. Every time Joy gets a change in title, or the scope of her work requires a change in access, an Identity Lifecycle event occurs. Now what happens at the end of an identity’s lifecycle? Well let’s return to our example employee Joy. After several successful years at Mega Corp., Joy accepts a job at another organization and her identity is fully deprovisioned, ensuring the now terminated Joy can’t access Mega Corp. systems and ending her identity’s journey through the lifecycle.

What is Identity Lifecycle Management?

Now that we’ve established what the Identity Lifecycle is, it’s easy to make the jump to Identity Lifecycle Management (LCM). LCM is the process of managing user identities and their evolving access privileges from day one through termination. 

For the sake of this example, know that Mega Corp. doesn’t currently use any automation for Identity Lifecycle Management. Every time Joy’s identity progresses through the lifecycle, a member of the cyber security or IT team has to rely on Joy’s manager to communicate that there’s been a change, in a timely fashion. Then that individual will spend multiple hours logging into every downstream application and manually updating entitlements. A truly mind-numbing task that eats up time and employee bandwidth. Manual provisioning and deprovisioning is also error prone and makes it difficult to maintain RBAC which can negatively impact future audit outcomes.

 What Does it Mean to Automate LCM?

While many organizations manually manage the identity lifecycle via access support requests, it’s possible to fully automate LCM through third-party software or on-prem solutions. This is done by connecting a tool or platform to your HR system and/or Active Directory so that changes within those sources of truth set off a cascade of actions within downstream applications. Rather than waiting to be informed of an event and then manually provisioning or de-provisioning, automated LCM handles the process on your behalf as soon as a change is made in a source of truth.

How Does Automated LCM Improve the Lives of Security and IT Professionals?

While you can, and many teams certainly do, manually manage the Identity Lifecycle this is a time consuming and frustrating process. It’s easy for teams to get buried under access requests or for managers to forget to inform IT and security admins about changes in employee roles or access needs. When processes breakdown within Identity Lifecycle Management it causes a ripple effect within your IT General and Application controls, making RBAC nearly impossible and leaving your organization more vulnerable than ever.

This is just one example of how cybersecurity practices impact successful business outcomes. LCM is an integral part of effective IT General and Application controls; it helps enforce principles of least privilege, maintains RBAC, enforces zero-trust, and much more. These are all very important practices for organizations that must comply with HIPPA, PCI, HiTrust and other regulatory requirements. If you organization is publicly traded, it’s even more essential that you comply with regulatory agencies or you could face massive fines, loss of revenue, or be delisted from the stock exchange.

Reason #1: Significantly Reduce Risk

In a recent study done by Beyond Identity, 83% of former employees said they still had access to company resources after termination. Whether this is from a disjointed offboarding process or a simple breakdown in communication, terminated employees who have access to your resources pose a major threat to your organization. Malicious terminations can lead to loss of IP, destruction of IT services, and failed audits. Automated lifecycle management ensures identities are deprovisioned the moment HR files the termination paperwork. 

It might not seem like a big deal that Sam from Dev. was terminated three weeks ago and still has access to some material applications… that is until Sam deletes every lambda, RDS, and backup and posts all of your product source code on GitHub for the entire internet to enjoy. Legal and GRC would have a field day if that were to happen.

Reason #2: Save Time Managing Access Requests

Manually managing access requests takes up hundreds of hours over the course of a year. If your organization has several hundred or thousands of employees it’s nigh impossible. By leveraging automation, it’s like you’ve hired an employee whose sole focus is keeping up with changes in access. Depending on the platform, you can use customizable workflows to automatically provision or deprovision identities based on their role, department, or whether the identity is tied to an employee, service account, or contractor. Some systems are even capable of highly-granular provisioning and deprovisioning.

Reason #3: Improve Audit Outcomes

We touched on this earlier, but automation goes a long way in ensuring the effectiveness of your IT General and Application Controls. Having an automated system in place that assures the right people have the right access at the right time improves audit outcomes and decreases the likelihood of deficiencies. As you know, cybersecurity best practices like least privilege and RBAC are essential to successful audit and compliance outcomes. But manual processes are error-prone and time-consuming, not to mention manually managing RBAC is a nigh impossible feat. Identity Lifecycle Management systems that use automation services like dynamic role mining ensure that RBAC is less likely to fall into disarray, role creep is contained, and least privilege is easily enforced. This translates to improves audit outcomes and a much improved business relationship with your GRC department.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Life as a security and IT professional is not easy. You’re pulled in a million different directions, your team is likely understaffed or under-resourced, and you’re constantly having to put out fires because end-users still can’t spot phishing attempts. If we could recommend one IGA practice that will significantly improve cybersecurity outcomes within your organization, it would be automation. Automating the Identity Lifecycle reduces risk, saves employee time and effort, and improves audit outcomes. It can even improve onboarding processes, lower IT operational costs, and positively impact business outcomes. 

When you’re ready to explore the ways that automated lifecycle management can transform your identity landscape our team is here to help! Get in touch and we’ll respond to you faster than you can say “NIST Cybersecurity Framework”.