We live in a digital age where everyone and everything has a digital identity. And it is that digital identity that allows every managed system to know exactly who it’s communicating with. But the number of people and devices isn’t constant – it grows exponentially on a daily basis, making it increasingly important to make sure digital identities are managed and ensure that only the right person or device can gain the necessary access.
This is a bit more complex than it might appear, which is why digital identity management is extremely important now and will become even more important down the line. As a complete system, it encompasses a couple of things.
- Whether the digital credentials you provide can guarantee your identity
- Whether the system you’re accessing can trust the digital credentials
- And whether you can trust the credentials that a system uses to represent themselves
So, with that in mind, what even is a digital identity, and how does digital identity management work?
What is Digital Identity Management?
If there is one thing that holds true nowadays, it’s that data about you is being collected. What isn’t true (and is a common misconception) is that that data, which can identify you personally, sits somewhere in a centralized database that any service can access. The thing is, there is no single, collective database that contains the digital identities of people and devices worldwide.
When you’re talking about digital identities, you’re talking about a collection of credentials that a service, website or network, can use to authenticate and allow access in your name. And this can be one of a few things, but in a system that’s not overly secure, even a simple password can be enough to assume a form of digital identity.
Digital Identity and Access Management is About More Than Passwords
Another common misconception is that password management is the same thing as identity management. There’s a bit of a difference because password management is exactly that – a system that allows (or restricts) access based on a single item – a password. On the other hand, in digital identity management, a lot more things are managed and used to identify you.
Digital identities are a combination of credentials, and that combination represents you. In its simplest form, it’s just a token that’s made up of data that someone has cleared for access where you should have access. But, let’s take a more detailed look.
Every service, every software you use has some kind of digital identity itself. The software and services need to access resources and databases in order to work, and they do that as if they’re users themselves, using their digital identities to present themselves.
But there is no set of credentials that is widely recognized that would identify you, and in some cases, that’s not good news. This means that if someone has malicious intent and wants to impersonate you, they can do that with enough personally identifiable information to be able to represent themselves as if they were you.
How Does Identity Management Work Alongside Data Loss Prevention?
Most businesses such as enterprises that work with huge amounts of customers, or financial institutions, for example, will store some kind of personally identifiable information for their customers in their databases. There is a whole class of security that’s dedicated to preventing that data from being accessed by third parties, and it’s known as data breach prevention.
In recent years, you have probably noticed that there are quite a lot of data breaches. That’s not in any way a good thing, because some of them are rather severe and access information that might impact things like active investigations, for example. And while they do happen every once in a while, they’re not something that anyone can do easily – they require coordinated effort in order to do any significant damage.
Digital identity management goes a long way towards countering those efforts, but it also puts a strong focus on keeping the managed data you use for identification secure. It does this by identifying you both in-person, with things like ID cards, and online, to prevent anyone trying to impersonate and authenticate as you from succeeding.
The Goal of a Digital Identity Management System is to Establish Trust
When you’re trying to access your enterprise’s data, you start at a condition known as “zero trust.” It is then up to the identity management system to establish whether or not you should be given access to and governance over any information, and what that information is. Considering you’re starting off at zero, if the system fails to authenticate you, no harm has been done because you don’t have access rights to anything.
A modern system operates on such a condition, because in such a system when it’s properly administered, you can’t authenticate any single person or device and give them unrestricted access rights to any resource or database. Of course, in some such systems there is governance with zero restrictions given to a single administrator account, but never to anyone at a lower level.
The main goal, which is what an identity management and governance system are all about, is to build a network of permissions and accessibility for its users within the enterprise, or within the network where those users are considered to be at “zero trust” unless given explicit access rights. This ensures that only people who have been given the right authorization can access a document or service within the enterprise. And, as we mentioned earlier, there isn’t a centralized database, but each system has a single directory of users and protected resources.
The State of Digital Identity Management Today
One thing can be said, digital identity management is something every enterprise needs. It’s a simple and secure way of making sure that every employee or user gets the right permissions, and can access all the information and services they need. And if your enterprise doesn’t have such a system in place, there’s never been a better time to consider implementing one.