Identity Access Management (IAM) solutions and Active Directory (AD) are both critical components of an organization’s security strategy. We define IAM and AD as follows:

  • IAM is responsible for managing identities and controlling access to an organization’s systems, applications, and data
  • AD is a centralised directory service that stores and manages information about users and network assets, such as their role and associated network privileges

IAM solutions interact with the Active Directory to determine if users attempting to access protected assets are authorized to do so.

When a user requests access to a system or application, the IAM solution verifies user credentials and privileges against stored AD information. The IAM solution grants user access if credentials and privileges match, while incorrect credentials or insufficient permissions are denied access.

Why Integrate?

Effective IAM solutions both secure information sources like AD and enhance workforce productivity by streamlining user access to information throughout the IT ecosystem.

While IAM solutions do not require AD to work, operational synergies can significantly improve data security and user productivity. Integration enables features such as Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) that improve authentication procedures and improve user experiences.

It is critical for enterprise cybersecurity to secure IAM credentials without choking user efficiency. Here are 5 best practices to synchronize your IAM solutions and Active Directory, fortify access to vital information, and ensure smooth access experiences for end-users.

Establish AD as a cross-functional Single Source of Truth (SSOT)

Beyond its role as a data repository, the Active Directory also represents the trust relationships between users, applications, and infrastructure. Such relationships are in constant flux across functions as users, permissions, and roles evolve, presenting valuable targets for attackers attempting to map internal systems.

Establishing AD as a cross-functional Single Source of Truth (SSOT) helps mature IAM architectures by tracking and updating enterprise-wide data flow between HR, ticketing, business functions, and IAM solutions in real time.

Centralizing data authentication authority in one place not only prevents credential theft from data siloed in business functions, but also provides comprehensive vision of security endpoints, attack surfaces, and compliance enforcement procedures.

Structure tiered permissions with the principle of least privilege

A key AD security challenge is ensuring users have the access to execute their duties without providing permissions to critical data. A “principle of least privilege” approach can clearly demarcate the two by issuing permissions in accordance with core responsibilities.

In addition to standard authentication challenges, any user attempt to access information beyond their designated scope is automatically logged, monitored, and traced to ensure visibility at all times.

Least privilege models organize permission types using a triple-tiered structure that restricts user access to their designated level:

  • The high-sensitivity tier contains AD domain controllers that can only be accessed by top-level administrators
  • The mid-tier comprises application servers and the supervisor accounts that manage them
  • The lowest tier monitors workstations and other endpoint devices like mobiles and tablets

Users can only access assets in their assigned tiers, ensuring sensitive credentials to high-tier data are cached on the most secure systems. Sensitive data attack surfaces are minimized, dampening the impact of lower tier infiltration and maximizing the time available for security measures to detect and expel intruders.

Reduce sign-in traffic volume with Single Sign On (SSO)

SSO capabilities enable users to access multiple systems and applications with a single set of credentials, reducing the number of times they need to enter usernames and passwords.

Within a least privilege model configuration, SSO can significantly improve user experience and productivity by preventing disrupted workflows as they navigate cross-functional directory resources on their assigned tier.

Deploy layered security with Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA software requires users to provide at least a second form of authentication, such as a biometric fingerprint or one-time code before access can be granted.

Spreading the authentication process over multiple user endpoints and credential types makes it much harder for attackers to mimic registered users. Integrated applications like Microsoft Authenticator can be used to avoid complex and time-consuming synchronization with third-party software.

Synchronize system endpoints to AD for tracking and oversight

Many organizations are failing to keep track of endpoint ecosystems as they expand to accommodate office infrastructure, user devices, cloud services, platforms, and applications.

As the enterprise’s credential command hub, AD should enforce registration of as many virtual and physical endpoints as possible and map them to their assigned users. Endpoints may include:

  • Office infrastructure like printers, smart machines, AV and communications equipment, or keycards
  • Third-party platforms such as Zoom and Slack
  • Employee devices – laptops, tablets, and phones

Comprehensive vision of these endpoints is critical – both to install pre-emptive security measures and accelerate threat detection in the event of a breach.

However, it is important to remember that not all endpoints support AD and cannot be managed there – leaving local, non-AD authentication procedures to take point.

Balancing AD-enabled productivity and effective IAM security is a tricky proposition. Although these measures are useful starting points, not all of them will be appropriate to meet an enterprise’s unique needs. Expert advisory is recommended to formulate and integrate AD-IAM security best-suited to your requirements.

Have a question? Just ask.

Contact a Wavestone expert for end-to-end assistance integrating and optimizing your Active Directory and IAM solutions.

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