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IAM & remote access security

Identity access management (IAM) is essential to remote access security. Learn how to protect remote access to both network and cloud environments with an existing Active Directory environment.

Updated Aug 5, 2022
IAM & remote access security

The foreseeable future of IT is hybrid. Some assets will remain in the local data center, and others will migrate to the cloud. This gives organizations more scalability, availability, and flexibility. But it also comes with risks. Here's how IAM is essential to remote access security.

How do I protect remote access to network and cloud environments?

While there are clear benefits, the hybrid model creates big challenges for building a comprehensive, cohesive security strategy within an existing Active Directory environment. Protecting against unwanted or unauthorized access is critically important for businesses wanting to:

To meet these strategic objectives, identity and access management (IAM) is increasingly important.

What are the risks and challenges?

For many organizations, hybrid operations have grown organically. This means that security has often lagged, creating security gaps and weak points that attackers can exploit.

Expansion of remote work

The past few years forced a rapid expansion of remote working provisions in some form for almost all businesses. Work from home or remote-first working is no longer an exception to the rule. And even though some organizations are calling employees back to the office, many are maintaining flexible working arrangements for most if not all employees.

For the business, remote working allows for new, more flexible ways of moving business forward. But for the IT security team, this expansion of remote work increases the number of potential attack surfaces available to hackers.

And securing remote access to on-premise Active Directory environments can be a real pain. There's always a new SaaS app your remote employees need to access, and it can be both expensive and time-consuming to implement an IAM security solution that treats your on-premise Active Directory network as the critical resource it is, even to secure access to SaaS applications.

VPN and RDP connections

Is remote access secure? Yes and no. Secure connections to SaaS services are standard, but access to in-house resources needs to be provided via VPN and RDP connections. While simple and effective for users, RDP is a serious headache for IT teams because these connections may be secured with easy-to-crack security credentials, like simple username and password combinations.

RDP is a particularly popular network ingress method for hackers. Hackers leverage RDP in 95% of attacks, up from 88% in 2022. Criminals will hijack VPN and RDP connections using compromised credentials or brute force attacks because they know they are effective routes into a secure corporate network.

Remote access security is only as strong as your logon process.

Endpoint controls

Many remote work programs rely on personal devices (BYOD) to enable productivity. Employees use their own computers and tablets to access corporate systems, creating a gray area for security controls.

Employers can provide best practices and BYOD security guidance to their remote workers, but they have very little control over employees’ compliance. If hackers can successfully install malware on a compromised endpoint, they can begin harvesting credentials to use in a more targeted attack against network and cloud environments.

Disparate cloud platforms

Most organizations rely on a collection of cloud-based assets and applications. Without an AD-connected identity and access management system offering SSO capabilities, employees find themselves juggling a slew of credentials. In many cases, this will result in duplicated passwords simply because workers cannot remember enough complex passphrases.

Every duplicated password is an access security vulnerability, especially when users have the same credentials across personal and professional accounts.

Password problems

As with all IT systems, the weakest link in security defenses are user credentials. Indeed, the common thread among all these risks is the humble password. It’s not surprising that the 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report found 86% of all successful system breaches stem from stolen passwords.

The reality is simple: your remote employees' AD credentials are no longer enough to protect systems in a hybrid cloud model.

The role of IAM security in remote work

IAM security solutions allow you to implement a zero-trust security model, with a laser focus on putting security at access points.

But preventing unauthorized access means combining both processes and technology. IAM strengthens logon security and standardizes the process to access of all your assets, wherever they are located.

But, there is one significant caveat you will need a single, centralized service capable of delivering single sign-on (SSO). Taking this approach means that you can enforce strong logon protections, including multi-factor authentication (MFA), and simplify the logon process for users.

  1. MFA is a non-negotiable to strengthen your remote security posture. If a user’s credentials are successfully compromised, hackers can’t rely on the password to break in. Instead, they will need a second authentication factor, such as a hardware token or authenticator application, or they'll need to trick the user into accepting a Push notification. All of these level up the security game, making it exponentially harder for a threat actor to get access to your systems vs. swiping a user’s credentials.

  2. Combining MFA and SSO allows the IT security team to regain control of the operating environment across all platforms The traditional concept of the network perimeter may have changed, but on-premise-based IAM allows you to put security on any connection type, from anywhere.

  3. SSO-enabled IAM allows you to protect all network traffic in the same way — whether your employees are remote or in the office — not just the VPN connections. VPN connections to cloud-based resources aren’t common. And with the correct IAM technology, VPN connections become unnecessary. Ideally, AD will remain your go-to access control mechanism serving as the identity provider, but you will need a way to secure access to other systems, too. Advanced IAM mechanisms can be deployed to enforce MFA authentication on all users, including those who are outside the corporate network or using their own devices. This functionality will likely become more important as flexible and remote working continue to become standard practice.

  4. IAM provides granular contextual access controls and helps you better understand how systems are accessed and used. With real-time access monitoring and alerts, your security team can be alerted to suspicious network activity immediately. They can then assess if the accounts have been compromised or if an authenticated account is misusing system resources.

  5. Auditing and forensics helps you prove why and how an attempted breach occurred, so you can identify where to improve security measures. It also allows you to provide proof of MFA and access controls to regulators and cyber insurance companies where required.

Why you need IAM in the age of remote work

It is important to note that IAM is just one aspect of an effective security strategy. Organizations also need to consider complementary approaches, including:

  • Applying the principle of least privilege in how you manage your user accounts

  • Implementing a zero trust framework around how you handle connected accounts

  • Protecting devices and endpoints.

Similarly, cyber awareness training is an important step toward ensuring that employees are properly equipped to protect themselves and corporate IT systems against subtle social engineering attacks.

IAM sits at the heart of secure hybrid cloud computing by helping make remote working safer, more secure, and easier to manage. Passwords remain the biggest security threat to every business, especially those relying on a mix of on-premise and hosted platforms with each requiring different access credentials. With IAM, you can finally address the challenges of SSO, on- and off-line connectivity, and secure corporate resources without making more work for your already-stretched IT team.

How UserLock enables IAM and remote access security

UserLock is an access management solution for on-premise and hybrid AD environments. It's the "AM" to the "I" you already have: your on-premise Active Directory.

UserLock lets you layer flexible access security on on-premise Active Directory identity access to on-prem and cloud resources, thanks to MFA, SSO, contextual access controls, and session management. It's also one of the only solutions that supports your journey to the cloud without pulling the most critical functions (like authentication) to the cloud first. It works from on-premise to the cloud, instead of the other way around.

To close common gaps in remote access security, UserLock offers a web app, UserLock Anywhere, that allows you to protect remote access when users are not connected to a secure VPN ("offline domain access" or "VPNless connections"). It also allows you to maintain MFA, access controls, and full visibility on all access events when your remote employees aren't connected to the domain at all. This app is included in all UserLock subscriptions, and rounds out UserLock's remote access capabilities, alongside UserLock's built-in offline capabilities, which automatically maintains offline MFA and enforces your access policies, even if your users aren't connected to the internet.

Try UserLock for free

Protect remote access to network and cloud environments.

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