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Over the years, organizations put up perimeter defenses like firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS) to defend networks. This security approach establishes a wall between those inside and outside the corporate network, preventing cybercriminals’ external attacks. This traditional network perimeter effectively secures organizations with limited endpoints. Over time, the modern IT environment has grown to feature both on-premise and cloud services with thousands of users and devices and potential failure points outside the classical security protocols. This trend makes the traditional perimeter ineffective in securing the latest IT ecosystems.  

Classical Perimeter Defense is Weak in Modern Businesses 

A typical modern business maintains an IT environment accessed by third-party vendors and other mobile and cloud services. Nonemployee contractors have access to company networks and systems through APIs and other methods. 

At the same time, businesses embrace “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies to enhance employee productivity. Workers are now frequently working from personal devices, including phones and laptops, and companies have limited control over these devices’ security. 

Additionally, months into the global coronavirus pandemic, the remote working arrangements that started as a temporary break from the office has turned into a new mode of life. In response to these new work strategies that companies embrace to curb the spread of COVID-19, security teams deploy firewall and virtual private networks (VPNs) to bring work-from-home employees inside the network and grant them access to various IT resources. 

With cloud computing, business information moves between other services, including the public cloud, meaning that sensitive data resides outside the classical perimeter defense.

Developers are also designing applications for various business operations. The programmers are either employees or vendors contracted to deliver solutions. At times, some newly developed applications touch systems they may never use. In other cases, the software products operate from remotely located servers. 

In the above scenarios where data access is beyond the original internal network, the classical perimeter defense ceases to exist. The decentralized ecosystem lacks clearly-defined network edges or points where a company can install a firewall. It is challenging to ensure that all users, devices, and applications form a coherent secure environment that detects and prevents exploits. With the current digital transformation, identity has become the new perimeter. 

Identity is the New Perimeter 

New technologies like the Internet of Things, mobile devices, and cloud computing have changed the way organizations store and access sensitive information. Unlike the traditional perimeter defense, the increased intersection of people, applications, and devices introduced by new technologies requires identity-based security. 

How does identity security control work? As companies adopt digital transformation to leverage different capabilities, such as improved customer strategy, reduced costs, consolidated operations, product agility and innovation, and accurate marketing planning, they should devise reliable means to identify and verify users, machines, and services. Digital identity is now the concierge, giving access to modern IT environments. The security method enables the deployment of applications and information with enhanced protection than in traditional cloud security. 

A popular form of identity involves using a username and password, commonly referred to as access credentials that a user or device provides to access IT environments. The public key infrastructure (PKI), mainly digital certificates, is another method used in user authentication. A PKI system can assign, track, and manage the lifecycles of certificates for every device. IT personnel and systems use these identity forms to authenticate entities and their access levels. 

Client endpoints, servers, users, IoT devices, cloud services, and business processes can carry unique identities that prevent outsider access to critical resources. Any entity in the network should offer its identity and correct permissions to access other network resources. 

Apart from securing IT resources access, identities and permission sets generate data that security teams use to conduct post-incident investigations. In case of a data breach, organizations can track the activities to the specific user identities that caused the attack. Database monitoring also becomes far less challenging to manage when the security personnel clearly understand the relationship between users and their association with information assets. 

Enhancing Identity Control

Identity authentication was straightforward in the past when insiders shared similar infrastructure and services. However, the process is becoming complicated in present blurred and fluid IT environments composed of many interconnected devices and technologies. 

Besides, stolen access credentials grant the same access to cybercriminals. Hackers seek to steal identities to access resources and other credentials that give them more control over networks. They leverage less sophisticated attacks such as social engineering and phishing emails to trick users into sharing their digital identities. From the stolen credentials, cybercriminals can access systems and endpoints using verified authentications. In most cases, current systems trust verified digital identities, even if it’s a different party using them. 

How can organizations overcome identity risks and associated exploits? Perimeter fluidity and cybersecurity concerns are shaping identity procedures and security.  Some of the approaches organizations can use to improve digital identity as the new perimeter include:  

  • Use of identity standards: organizations can use identity standards to improve security through user and device authentication and authorization. Such frameworks, including the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), OAuth, and Systems for Cross-Domain Identity Management (SCIM), promotes consistent identity authentication by organizations, ensuring robust security 
  • Multi-factor authentication – solutions like multi-factor authentication (MFA) delivers identity proofing by adding another authentication layer in the perimeter
  • IAM and PAM – enterprises can enhance identity through identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management (PAM). IAM focuses on managing general users, controlling the access and experiences granted within an IT environment. PAM maintains administrative and privileged users by defining and enforcing administrative rules of such super users. PAM and IAM ensure that the right people have access to the right resources
  • Zero trust – in identity security, don’t trust, always verify. In most cases, organizations set up identity controls by putting barriers between information assets and the users requesting access. Enterprises can improve identity security by implementing procedures to confirm that users inside the perimeter actually are who they say they are. Such robust access and authentication standards substantially reduce data breach risks caused by hackers with stolen credentials

Organizations can shift from classical perimeter to identity defense to curb cyber risks and secure multiple IT resources, both in the cloud and on-premise. As enterprises leverage identity to protect sensitive data, they should implement controls like MFA, IAM, and PAM to defend the identity perimeter. Enhancing identity security delivers better odds at protecting corporate networks and endpoints while giving end-users the convenience and ease-of-use they seek in IT ecosystems.