How to get started with identity and access management for your small business

by | Mar 17, 2022

A small business owner getting started with identity and access management
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No matter how small your business, you probably have issues (whether you know it or not) related to user identity and access management (IAM). Sometimes overlooked, IAM for small businesses can be just as vital as it is for major companies.

First, what is IAM? Identity and access management is a collection of policies and technologies that, together, make sure the users of a system have been given appropriate access rights—and no more. It includes the tools and processes you use to identify, authenticate, and authorize users to access your IT assets while keeping them secure.

To put it most simply, IAM for small businesses ensures only the right users access the right data or systems at the right time using the right devices.

Typically, IAM for small businesses exists as a part of the overall security posture. After all, you want to make sure your people only access the systems, data, and functionality they absolutely need to do their jobs. And you don’t want any outsiders getting into your systems.

Why do you need IAM?

Chances are good that you use multiple applications to run your small business. Every time you subscribe to a new SaaS service or give your employees another technology tool to help them do their jobs better, they have to learn new usernames, passwords, and codes. This can make their lives difficult, so they reuse passwords. They choose ones that are easy to remember. They write them down where anyone can see them. And still, employees forget them, forcing your system administrator to constantly reset their passwords.

Identity access management (IAM) is important for small business.

Simultaneously, you are worried about security. You’ve got on-premises systems, cloud systems, SaaS services, plus the all-important network. You can’t afford to let any malicious outsiders who might potentially steal or compromise your data and systems into this environment. Yet you’re trying to stay secure in a time of rising cybercrime. According to a recent survey, nearly half of small businesses (42 percent) experienced cyberattacks in the past 12 months. Of those, 24 percent experienced phishing attacks, 17 percent were attacked by malware, 15 percent were hit by denial of service (DoS) attacks, and 11 percent were threatened by ransomware. Almost one in five suffered a data breach.

One survey found that 92 percent of small businesses have experienced at least one challenge related to IAM. It also found significant proportions of small businesses saying they struggled with three particular IAM challenges:

  • 47 percent: Balancing ease of use with security
  • 40 percent: Keeping the general security of their environment strong
  • 37 percent: Satisfying demands from employees to not be hamstrung by overly demanding security access rules

And then there’s the question of risk. A whopping 82 percent of respondents said poor IAM practices, such as incorrect access controls and employee and customer data loss have put their business at risk.

Your ability to manage all this, keep your small business safe, and keep users from grumbling is where IAM for small businesses comes in.

IAM functions

Here are the main functions an IAM solution contains.

1. Authentication

Authentication means verifying the person trying to enter the system is who they say they are. Generally, you verify with a password, biometrics, or some combination of the two.

2. Authorization

Authorization is determining what access a particular user possesses. For example, someone from marketing could be authorized to access the CRM system, but not the company’s finance application. Authorizations can be finely tuned so a marketing assistant is permitted much less access than the marketing VP, even within the same system.

3. User management

User management encompasses creating user identities and maintaining identities and privileges. This includes password management and managing the rights of specific roles or groups.

What to look for in an IAM solution

Single sign-on

Usernames and passwords are overwhelming for employees. As a result, they reuse them, write them down, or otherwise cause potential security problems. One way to eliminate these risks is to use single sign-on (SSO). With SSO, employees have a single username and password that acts like a “master” to automatically get them into all their systems. This makes life much easier for users and much safer for your business.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

The most essential IAM technology that companies are adopting today is multi-factor authentication (MFA). This means using two or more technologies to authenticate a user. The most common MFA used is two-factor authentication (2FA).

A small business owner enabling multi-factor authentication.

Small businesses are just as likely to deal with sensitive data and information that needs to be kept secure, much like their larger corporate counterparts. Using SSO with 2FA can ensure much higher levels of security for your business. It’s basically another layer of authentication rigor. Instead of just a username and password, users might also have to enter a biometric factor, such as a thumbprint or facial recognition. This makes doubly sure that the person logging in is who they claim to be.

Self-serve password resets

When users forget their passwords or perhaps enter the wrong one too many times, locking them out of a system, they don’t want to contact a help desk and wait for assistance. And in small businesses, the help desk (should we say help “person”) is not available 24/7.  Manually resetting your passwords eats up your IT administrator’s time, due to the frequency the user must reset. But a self-service password reset capability allows users to do it themselves. In most cases, they simply click a “forgot my password” button and receive an emailed a link with instructions.

IAM is critical for small businesses

Identity access management (IAM) is critical for small business.

IAM helps you make sure your users are who they say they are. It also prevents them from accessing any data or functions they shouldn’t. And with the rise of MFA, it’s harder for outsiders to get into systems.

Given the limited resources of most small businesses, it might make sense to look at cloud based IAM solutions. Cloud-based solutions require little to no upfront investment in hardware and software. Typically, they can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Such IAM solutions can give small businesses easy insight into who accesses what resources from where. This allows them to maintain control over their networks and environments and prevent inevitable cyberattacks from succeeding.

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