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What is Identity Security?

Identity security protects users’ and entities’ digital identities from threats by regulating and securing access to enterprise resources.

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What is Identity Security?

What is the meaning of identity security?

Identity security means safeguarding the digital identities of individuals, devices, and organizations. This involves implementing security processes, tools, and policies that control user access to accounts and resources.

The three main goals of identity security are:

  1. Authenticate a user’s identity

  2. Authorize access to appropriate resources

  3. Monitor access activity for weak posture and suspicious activity

These measures help strengthen identity defenses, prevent unauthorized access, detect potential identity-related threats, and limit lateral movement in the event of a breach.

What is a digital identity?

A digital identity is a set of login credentials and data representing an individual, device, or organization. This data set allows individuals to access and create accounts, send emails, open confidential files, send money, and execute other sensitive online actions.

For example, a user’s digital identity data can include:

  • Names

  • Usernames and passwords

  • Digital certificates

  • Email addresses

  • Phone numbers

  • Biometric data

What is a targeted identity?

A targeted identity refers to a specific digital identity that an attacker wants to steal. Typically, hackers choose targets whose identity data can be exploited for espionage, financial gain, sport, or competitor reputation damage.

Hackers are most likely to target individuals who have access to:

  • A broad range of the corporate network

  • Confidential or sensitive data

  • Financial accounts and resources

  • Permissions and access settings

Is identity security the same as identity access management (IAM)?

Identity access management (IAM) is an aspect of identity security and a solution for managing digital identities and controlling user access to resources. Identity security encompasses IAM but also extends beyond internal management to protecting digital identities from external threats, like breaches or identity theft.

Why is identity security so important?

Identity security is important because it helps secure today’s hyperconnected workforce. It enables hybrid and remote work, safeguards data, helps with regulatory compliance, and protects against threats like:

  • Phishing attacks

  • Insider attacks

  • Fraud and financial theft

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks

  • Account takeover

  • Privilege escalation

Attackers want to steal users’ digital identities to exploit their access to valuable accounts—which is why identity security is so important for individuals and organizations alike.

What are the benefits of identity security?

An effective identity security system can:

  • Protect sensitive data from theft

  • Shield against credential compromise and identity-based threats

  • Provide visibility into all identity sources within an organization's environment

  • Secure user access to applications, data, and systems

  • Enable safe remote access for a distributed workforce

  • Help organizations comply with privacy and cybersecurity regulations

  • Lay the groundwork for robust zero trust security

  • Boost operational efficiency and lighten IT workload

  • Streamline user access with simplified authentication

  • Enable faster detection and response capabilities to identity-based threats

  • Save significant costs by minimizing cyber risk

How does identity security work?

Identity security operates through three main functions:

1. Authenticate

Strong authentication is an essential component of identity security. Tools like multi-factor authentication (MFA) verify a user’s identity through multiple secure methods, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

2. Authorize

The goal of authorization in identity security is to ensure that the right users can only access the right information needed for their role. Admins set access control policies that determine users’ roles and the level of permissions needed. The more granular and customizable an access solution’s policies are, the better.

3. Monitor

Monitoring in identity security requires using tools that boost visibility into identity posture and activity. These tools help highlight areas with weak posture, detect abnormalities, potential threats, and security breaches. Monitoring and documenting these activities also aids in compliance with data privacy regulations.

How does identity security help build zero trust?

Identity security is key to zero trust because its tools and processes support the core principle of zero trust security: "Never trust, always verify.” In this model, trust isn’t automatically assumed for any user or device. Zero trust policies mandate verification of every access request, ensuring secure workforce connectivity from any location and on any device.

The following aspects of identity security help organizations build zero trust and improve their security posture.

Robust authentication methods

Requiring strong verification methods aligns with the zero trust principle of not trusting any user or device by default. Authentication tools like MFA, biometrics, or risk-based authentication support this by verifying a user’s identity with rigorous checks before granting access to network resources.

Principle of least privilege

Zero trust heavily emphasizes the least privilege principle, allowing users to only access the resources needed for their roles. Loose permissions could allow an attacker to exploit an account and roam freely throughout the network. Role-based access policies enable admins to set and regularly update permissions to ensure access is granted on a need-to-know basis.

Adaptive access controls

Because trust is never implicit with a zero trust framework, organizations need access controls to regularly confirm logins are trustworthy. Dynamic and context-based access policies enable this by continuously evaluating factors like the user's role, location, device health, and other factors that can signal a potentially malicious login attempt. This means that access is not just a one-time verification but is reassessed with every login attempt.

Consistent policy enforcement and compliance

Zero trust necessitates strict adherence to security policies, a task enforced by identity security at each access attempt. Uniform enforcement of identity security policies also aids in compliance with many data privacy regulations and cyber insurance requirements.

What are the challenges enterprises face with identity security?

Complex IT landscapes

Today's IT landscapes integrate a hybrid of cloud services and third-party apps alongside traditional systems, often supporting employees accessing services on-premises or remotely. Managing user identities and access across these complex networks requires heightened visibility, adaptability, and seamless integration to ensure consistent security controls.

Usability without sacrificing security

Additional security measures can add extra steps that frustrate users, sometimes leading them to disregard security protocols. For instance, password policies requiring employees to regularly update their credentials may push reluctant users to reuse old passwords or use less secure ones. Identity security is only effective when it has user buy-in, which is why finding solutions that balance security and usability can be challenging for organizations.

The human factor

Human error is one of the leading causes of security breaches, presenting a significant challenge for enterprises with a large workforce. Despite advanced security measures, user errors such as weak passwords or susceptibility to phishing can create serious vulnerabilities for organizations still using traditional, password-based logins.

Limited visibility

With so many users and managed and unmanaged devices connected to an organization’s network, gaining deep visibility across the entire environment can seem daunting. The lack of comprehensive monitoring tools limits the security team’s ability to detect and respond to threats, putting digital identities at risk.

Evolving with cyberattacks

The continuous evolution of cyber threats challenges organizations with new exploitation techniques, like sophisticated phishing, credential stuffing, and leveraging zero-day vulnerabilities. Keeping pace with these threats demands identity solutions that are just as dynamic as the threats they face.

Managing expanding digital identities

Organizations’ attack surfaces are expanding. Every added cloud application, device, and employee comes with a new digital identity and potential vulnerabilities for organizations to manage and protect.

Hybrid and remote workforce

Securing access for trusted users to corporate resources from various locations and devices increases the complexity of identity security. The shift to hybrid and remote work requires adaptable security solutions that ensure employees can access the resources they need, regardless of their location or device.

What are best practices for enterprise identity security management?

  1. Use strong authentication, such as MFA, sign-on (SSO), or passwordless authentication.

  2. Implement risk-based authentication to adapt to dynamic threats.

  3. Perform regular risk assessments.

  4. Segment your network.

  5. Set role-based access controls (RBAC).

  6. Deploy Identity Security Posture Management. (ISPM) and Identity Threat Detection and Response (ITDR)

  7. Increase visibility and defense across endpoints with Extended Detection and Response (XDR).

  8. Centralize your identity security tools with a network access control (NAC) solution.

What are identity security solutions for businesses?

Organizations use various identity security solutions to protect digital identities and environments from cyberthreats. These tools manage user access and privileges through IAM and offer comprehensive protection beyond strong authentication. They ensure authenticated and authorized access, defend against identity-based cyber threats, and support a zero trust security framework.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA adds additional identity verification methods to the login process. Users can confirm their identity using a combination of two or more factors, such as:

  • Security tokens and passcodes

  • Biometrics

  • An authenticator app

Requiring multiple forms of reliable verification significantly helps organizations protect their users’ digital identities from compromise.

Single sign-on (SSO)

An SSO product makes MFA even easier for users by enabling one secure login for multiple applications. It addresses employee resistance to complex authentication by streamlining access and minimizing risks associated with weak password habits.

Passwordless authentication

Passwordless authentication eliminates the need for traditional passwords. Instead, it verifies user identities with much more reliable methods like security tokens, biometrics, or mobile authenticator apps. Minimizing an organization’s reliance on passwords mitigates risks to identity security associated with credentials — all while streamlining the login process for users.

Risk-based authentication (RBA)

Risk-based authentication is an advanced MFA and SSO feature that assesses the risk level of a login attempt and adapts authentication requirements accordingly. RBA challenges high-risk scenarios with stronger identity verification while streamlining low-risk logins for trusted users.

Network access control (NAC)

NAC solutions control access to corporate networks by assessing devices against security standards before granting access. These systems integrate various security tools, offering policy management, user and device profiling, guest access, security checks, and incident response in a single solution.

Extended detection and response (XDR)

XDR provides comprehensive security across endpoints, networks, and clouds by unifying visibility and threat data for deeper insight into threats. It enables faster, more effective responses to identity-related incidents which are crucial to securing digital identities.