User Access Management (UAM): From On-Premise to the Cloud
November 11, 2021

What Is User Access Management?

User access management is the capacity for administrators to control user access to a variety of IT resources, including devices, systems, applications, networks, storage systems and SaaS services. It is a central component of all identity and access management (IAM) solutions, specifically directory service tools. 

Managing access control for IT resources is a key security element core to any organization. Administration teams can use access management systems to control a user’s access and to on-board and off-board users to and from IT resources. A directory service then authorizes, audits, and authenticates user access to IT resources according to the specifications of the IT administration.  

In this article:

What Is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

An IAM system offers a framework that helps securely manage identities and the access associated with them. It includes features that let you determine someone’s identity, and subsequently control and define access, as well as policies that can enforce predefined access rules. You can deploy IAM systems either on-premises or in the cloud, with many companies today preferring the latter. 

Most IAM systems offer federated identity management, which lets one identity authenticate itself and get stored across several systems. To further decrease the amount of passwords each user needs to authenticate, you can deploy your IAM system with single sign-on (SSO) technology enabled. SSO requires only a single login and password in order to create an authentication token, reducing password fatigue. Once the token is created, it can be accepted by several applications and systems.

You can significantly reduce access risks by adding multi-factor authentication and access policies. For example, add a policy that enforces the principle of least privilege, which provides users only with the access needed to perform their roles.

User Management Requirements in the Cloud

User authentication and access management services have traditionally been grounded in Windows-based on-prem servers, closed virtual private networks (VPN) and databases. These use an on-prem identity provider (IdP) like Microsoft Active Directory. 

Organizations are increasingly shifting to cloud-based Identity and Access Management (IAM) services, which allow administrators to better control digital assets. These solutions allow for user management over cloud infrastructure, web applications, non-Windows devices and the like, making use of modern protocols including SCIM and SAML JIT and more.

Conventional identity and user management solutions provide a central user identity that can access all the IT resources of a user. However, the transition to the cloud and the arrival of new platforms has necessitated decentralization. There are several requirements that organizations need to consider when looking to implement a centralized user management solution using cloud systems and web-based applications. 

Cloud Delivery

As many organizations keep moving away from on-premises infrastructure, a centralized user management system must be delivered via the cloud and connect users to both the variety of cloud resources, as well as any remaining on-premises resources. 

Next-generation user management solutions, often in the form of Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS), can operate in any environment (cloud, on-premises and hybrid). 

High Security

Digital identities are becoming valuable technological assets. This turns centralized User Management (UM) systems into a high-value target. Thus, central UM systems should leverage the most recent security measures to prevent unwanted users from gaining access. 

UM systems are key to an organization’s efficient functioning and have become the core of identity management. An in-depth analysis of organizational needs is always useful for determining the types of solutions needed.

Related content: Read our guide to access control security (coming soon)

Multiple Protocols

Many systems now use a wide range of protocols from LDAP to SSH, SAML and RADIUS. A UM system in a modern network should be able to deal with different protocols to connect resources and users.  If not, users will need to leverage multiple UM systems, which begins to cause confusion and goes against the goals of UM centralization.

Related content: Read our guide to access control types (coming soon)

What Is Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS)?

IDaaS is an IAM solution offered as a cloud-based service that is managed and hosted by a third party. An IDaaS utilizes all the advantages and functions of an enterprise-class IAM solution along with the operational and economic benefits of a cloud-based service. IDaaS solutions assist businesses with their risk management, help them minimize IT infrastructure complexity and cost, and speed up digital transformation capabilities.  

Organizations use IAM solutions to monitor access to organization resources, and to control user identities. These solutions are a core part of a defense-in-depth security approach and are essential for protecting IT systems against data loss and cyberattacks. Put simply, IAM solutions make sure that the appropriate individual has access to the appropriate resource, for the correct reasons, at the correct time. 

The core features of IAM are: 

  • Single Sign-On—IAM solutions provide users with access to all their organization services and applications via one set of login credentials. Single Sign-On (SSO) increases user satisfaction by minimizing password fatigue and providing smooth access. It makes IT operations simpler by unifying and centralizing administrative functions. It improves security by doing away with risky password management approaches and minimizing attack surfaces and gaps in security.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA)—IAM solutions offer MFA functionality to safeguard against theft of credentials. A user has to show several types of evidence (such as an SMS code, fingerprint or password) to obtain access to a system. Current MFA options support adaptive authentication practices, making use of contextual information (time-of-day, location, device types, IP address and the like).  Most MFA solutions let the business decide which authentication factors are relevant for a specific user in a specific situation.
  • User provisioning and lifecycle management—IAM solutions offer administrative tools used to onboard users and manage their access privileges during their employment. They offer self-service portals that allow a user to request access rights and keep account information up-to-date without the need for a help desk. IAM solutions often include reporting and monitoring abilities to help security teams and corporate IT support forensic investigations and compliance audits.

Tips for Effective User Access Management

You can use the following best practices to improve your access management strategy.

Apply the Principle of Least Privilege

This principle requires that all users in a computing environment may only have access to the resources and information needed to carry out their job functions.  

This principle is the basis of sound user access management. 

Every employee account is set up, to begin with, with a minimum number of privileges. You can subtract or add access privileges as needed. 

For instance, if an employee requires access to a specific file or program to carry out a one-time project, you can provide them with access for the amount of time they need to complete the project and then take back the access once the project is finished.

If you promote an employee, and they adopt new responsibilities, then you can grant an additional layer of access privileges to the employee’s account.

Minimize and Monitor Privileged Users

Privileged users are individuals who have access to nearly all of the information in your system.  These users have the potential to make major changes to system configurations, and view large amounts of sensitive data. 

If you fail to manage privileged users properly, the risks are clear:

  • A malicious insider with privileged access can obtain a lot of information, which can result in a huge amount of damage
  • If a privileged user is exploited by any form of IT security threat, the outside attacker will have access to nearly all of your information

Privileged access could be needed to carry out specific tasks over a certain period of time, though they are typically not required long-term, and generally expose your organization to needless risk. Limit such privileges to the minimum amount of access for the minimum amount of time required, and eliminate them entirely where possible.

Plan Privileges in Advance

The ideal way to start your user access management program is to predefine all responsibilities and roles held by your employees and then to decide what their appropriate access levels will be.

From files to applications to platforms, you must administer user access privileges in keeping with job functions and duties. 

Furthermore, if a user requires additional access, ensure that the request is approved and checked by a manager.

Leverage a Password Manager

You can limit your employees’ knowledge of passwords using a password manager for shared accounts, while also letting employees have privileged access when using those passwords. 

This is how a password manager works:

  • An employee opens an account with your password manager
  • You provide them with a password that only they can use in their account
  • The password manager logs in on the part of the employee without disclosing the password

Here, you don’t run the risk of employees retaining passwords for privileged accounts or sharing information about them with non-privileged users. A common aspect of these solutions is password rotations, so users can only employ a password once to log into a system, before it is reset for the next user. 

Evaluate Access Privileges

Each employee must have their access privileges inspected by their managers on a regular basis.  Failing to do so introduces a risk of users having too much access, or terminated employees continuing to access a system. 

Actively monitor the behavior of your employees via recording logins, logging keystrokes, monitoring behavior, and reporting on tasks performed when employees gain access to core data.

Study this information to see whether or not your employees are making use of the resources they are privileged to use, and whether or not your employees are using the information suitably.  When privileges aren’t being used, they can be removed to continue to enforce the concept of least privileged access.

Access Control with Pathlock

Implementing proper access control solutions can be a stressful, expensive, and time consuming process, but it doesn’t have to be. Pathlock provides an automated, real-time solution to automating access control across all of your business systems. Furthermore, Pathlock’s continuous controls monitoring can ensure that you are always tracking your compliance requirements around access control, so there are no major surprises when the audit season comes around. 

In today’s modern enterprise, nearly 100% of the financially relevant activity happens in modern applications like SAP, Oracle, Workday, and NetSuite. By connecting directly into your business applications, Pathlock can automatically provision and deprovision users in these applications to surface any violations to controls, and pinpoint and quantify the financial impact of any risks.  Internal and external auditors alike trust Pathlock’s reports to prove control enforcement and compliance with regulations like SOX, PCI DSS, and others


User Access Reviews

Pathlock supports automated user access reviews to ensure employees don’t have more access than is required.  The review workflow and reporting is completely automated, to ensure campaigns are completed accurately and on time.

Comprehensive Rulebook

Pathlock’s catalog of over 500+ rules, Pathlock can provide out-of-the-box coverage for compliance mandated access controls related to SOX, GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, NIST, and other leading compliance frameworks. 

Real-time Access Mitigation

Pathlock allows user to quickly investigate and respond to potential risky transactions by reviewing access, deprovisioning users, forcing 2FA, or even allowing Pathlock to respond intelligently in real-time, terminating suspicious sessions and blocking transactions in real time

Out-of-the-Box Integrations

Pathlock’s out of-the-box integrations extend workflows to the other IAM tools you already have in place such as ServiceNow, SailPoint, Okta, Azure AD, SAP GRC, and more

Lateral SOD Correlation

All entitlements and roles are correlated across a user’s behavior, consolidating activities and showing cross application SOD’s between financially relevant applications

Emergency Access Management

Pathlock reduces risk by providing a turnkey solution for granting and revoking elevated privileges on a just-in-time basis.  Furthermore, Pathlock monitors 100% of the activity performed with these elevated privileges, to assist with proving compliance mandates.

Learn more about Pathlock’s access control solution