Cybersecurity and risk management are not the same thing. Although they have a close relationship, the two have distinct objectives, and in order for them to work together effectively, one must be resolved first. When determining which security solutions to adopt, organisations need to first assess and quantify the cyber risk they are accepting throughout their whole organisation in order to stay ahead of possible attackers and secure sensitive data.
This is never truer than with Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions, which are used by enterprises to control who has access to what and how they can prove their identity. When choosing the authentication techniques to utilise, the specifics of an IAM plan, etc., it is crucial to understand the amount of cyber risk.
Cybersecurity, and specifically IAM, examines if the appropriate individuals are having access to the appropriate information and resources at the appropriate times for the appropriate purposes. Security can be viewed as tactical, with a specific endpoint and procedures that must be taken to get there. Just being able to authenticate authorised users and preventing access by attackers is the aim of IAM.
On the other hand, risk management is more strategically oriented. It involves trying to understand the threat landscape, the assets being safeguarded, and making educated decisions about what will fend off those threats rather than following a clearly defined path. It necessitates the realisation that nothing is ever really certain, and it is unlikely that we can ever establish a perfect, risk-free environment, regardless of the technologies used to keep hackers out. The framework for how to prioritise and complete tasks in an effective IAM strategy is provided by risk management. Assessing risk determines where and at what level of security is necessary, much like a radar or heat map.
How users are authenticated is one area that organisations should concentrate on when evaluating risk to guide their IAM approach, and more particularly their multi-factor authentication (MFA) strategy. Passwords alone are a simple, low-cost solution that don’t need special training or equipment, but the trade-off is a lack of security and vulnerable networks. MFA is becoming a common practise for layering authentication techniques and can stop up to 90% of threats. If weaker authentication techniques are utilised, or if the implementation is subpar or uneven throughout the company, that percentage falls precipitously. A thorough risk analysis must be done before selecting authentication techniques. When implementing MFA, firms should concentrate on the following two areas to obtain the maximum levels of risk mitigation.
When an organisation expands, its requirements alter, and new scenarios and use cases appear. For instance, not all of your users today may be compatible with the authentication strategy you chose a year ago. Using the incorrect authentication technique runs the danger of limiting corporate expansion and scalability. For instance, distributed hardware tokens that are used for authentication may be effective in small settings, but they become prohibitively expensive and logistically challenging when used with a large number of dispersed users.
Also problematic are phone-based authentication techniques. Despite their rising pervasiveness, smartphones are still not used everywhere. The risk that a set of users won’t be able to or won’t utilise smartphones for authentication increases with user diversity. Those who don’t have smartphones, live in remote places where phones are inaccessible, or recently switched gadgets are thus totally without recourse. It is simple to scale and enables high availability to implement methods that do not rely on tokens or phones, such as centralised biometric methods like identity bound biometrics (IBB), where a unique biometric identity is kept centrally rather than on an intermediary device.
Will users interact properly when MFA is implemented? is another crucial query. We are all aware that with passwords, this rarely occurs. The difficulty of remembering passwords leads many users to forego them entirely, posing higher levels of risk in the process. This can happen when people use weak passwords (1234, password, etc.), use the same password across multiple platforms, or fall for increasingly sophisticated phishing scams.
The friction on the user generated by using any authentication method inherently creates risk – if users aren’t using the system properly, it won’t stay secure. For example, hardware tokens are a great example of where things can go wrong. If a person has forgotten or lost their token, they are unlikely or unable to stop working and wait for the replacement to arrive, so they may borrow a token from another user. And right there the security has been compromised. The organization no longer knows who is being authenticated, merely that an authenticated token is being used. To reduce the friction and create user friendly options, MFA needs to have multiple options to increase flexibility across different use cases. This means having a primary method that is both convenient and secure, as well as auxiliary methods in case users can’t use the primary. In the case of the user who lost their hardware token, giving them the option of using a biometric method or authenticator app instead will allow them to authenticate and not introduce the risks that come with sharing credentials.
We all wish it were possible, but in the current context, there isn’t a flawless “risk-free” result. Hackers create more complex techniques for getting illegal access as cyber experts create stronger encryptions, more layers of authentication, and take the lead in the fight against breaches. Organizations can only try to reduce cyber risk as much as they can by implementing necessary controls, such as an established IAM strategy.
When a company implements essential IAM solutions like MFA, risk assessments show them where their vulnerabilities are and what needs to be prioritised. Therefore, it is crucial for enterprises to ensure that all risks are covered, especially those brought on by using the incorrect authentication techniques.