Actionable insights from 15 million+ datapoints.

Get the newsletter

What is identity and access management?

Safeguard your data and resources with enhanced security and control.

What is identity and access management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a framework of policies, processes, and technologies that facilitates the management of digital identities and regulates access to resources within a system. In essence, IAM ensures that the right individuals, devices, and applications have access to the right resources at the right time.

Software delivery teams rely on IAM to securely and efficiently manage user identities, access controls, and permissions throughout the software development lifecycle. IAM ensures that only authorized individuals have access to critical resources, safeguarding sensitive data and reducing the risk of security breaches.

By automating user provisioning and deprovisioning, IAM enables efficient onboarding and offboarding of team members, contributing to operational efficiency. Additionally, IAM fosters accountability and compliance through the use of role-based access controls and audit trails.

Why is identity and access management important in software development?

IAM fortifies the security posture of software delivery teams, allowing them to focus on innovation and rapid development without compromising on data protection and access integrity. Although effective IAM systems provide a wide range of benefits, the most important returns for software delivery organizations are in data security, compliance, and risk mitigation.

Data Security: IAM safeguards sensitive data by controlling who can access it. Unauthorized access can lead to data breaches, compromising the confidentiality and integrity of information.

Compliance: Adherence to regulatory requirements is crucial in software development. IAM helps organizations comply with industry standards and regulations by implementing necessary access controls and audit trails.

Risk Mitigation: IAM mitigates the risk of unauthorized access and reduces the likelihood of security incidents, thereby safeguarding the organization’s reputation and customer trust.

How does identity and access management work?

IAM operates through a set of processes that include identification, authentication, authorization, and accountability.

Identification: In this phase, users or entities provide unique identifiers, such as usernames, email addresses, device IDs, or application credentials, to the system. These identifiers are used to distinguish one user from another and initiate the process of verifying their identity.

Authentication: This process verifies the identity of users or entities attempting to access the system. Common methods include passwords, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and biometrics.

Authorization: Once authenticated, IAM determines the level of access a user or entity should have based on predefined access controls. Authorization ensures that users only access the resources necessary for their roles.

Accountability: IAM maintains a record of user activities, creating an audit trail. This accountability is crucial for tracking any unauthorized or suspicious activities within the system.

Types of access controls

Access controls play a pivotal role in regulating and managing user interactions within a system. There are various types of access controls, each serving distinct purposes.

Access control types

Role-based Assigns permissions to users based on their roles within an organization. Users inherit access rights associated with their specific roles, streamlining administration and ensuring a structured approach to authorization.
Attribute-based Evaluates a variety of attributes associated with users, devices, or environmental factors to determine access permissions. This dynamic approach allows for fine-grained control, considering multiple parameters before granting or denying access.
Policy-based Relies on policies defined by administrators to regulate access. Policies articulate the conditions under which access is permitted or denied, providing a flexible and centralized method for managing authorization across the system.
Rule-based Employs predefined rules that dictate access permissions. These rules are created based on conditions such as time of day, location, or specific user actions. Users are granted or denied access based on compliance with these rules.
Mandatory Bases access decisions on labels or classifications. Users and resources are assigned sensitivity labels, and access is granted or denied based on predefined security policies.
Discretionary Allows users to control access to their own resources. The resource owner determines who can access their data or files, providing a more decentralized approach to access management.
Physical Regulates entry to physical spaces, ensuring only authorized individuals can access specific areas. This includes measures such as keycards, biometric scanners, and surveillance systems to secure physical infrastructure.

Identity and access management best practices

To adopt effective IAM practices, start by embracing the principle of least privilege, ensuring that users and entities receive only the minimum access necessary for their specific roles or tasks.

This approach minimizes the potential impact of security breaches and reduces the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information. Policy-based access controls based on business rules and compliance requirements can help teams operationalize the principle of least privilege, providing a dynamic and context-aware framework for managing access permissions.

Automation can help streamline the implementation of least privilege by orchestrating access provisioning, de-provisioning, and adjustments in response to changing roles or requirements. Automated IAM processes not only enhance the accuracy and consistency of access management but also significantly reduce the potential for human error in repetitive and routine tasks.

You can automate IAM best practices throughout your development process by integrating security checks and IAM-related tests into your CI/CD pipeline. This not only gives you a centralized platform for managing and enforcing IAM policies, but it also provides enhanced visibility and traceability to support effective logging and auditing throughout the entire development and deployment lifecycle.

Managing identity and access with CircleCI

CircleCI’s flexible and secure continuous integration and delivery platform provides the essential tools for teams that want to implement robust IAM practices.

With fine-grained access controls and native support for policy as code, CircleCI allows you to specify roles, permissions, and access rules in a human-readable and version-controlled format. This provides transparency and consistency across environments, reducing the risk of misconfigurations that might lead to security vulnerabilities. Extensive audit logging gives you full visibility into who accessed what resources and when, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and enabling swift response to any security incidents.

Additionally, CircleCI aids in IAM-related security by offering secure secrets handling through restricted contexts, seamless integration with third-party secrets managers, and support for OpenID Connect (OIDC) authentication tokens. These features ensure your development jobs adhere to robust authentication standards and maintain a secure, efficient, and auditable environment for continuous integration and deployment.

To get started on fortifying your team’s IAM practices and building a secure, efficient, and auditable CI/CD pipeline, sign up for a free CircleCI account or contact us for a personalized demo.