Tame Identity Sprawl: Strategies and solutions

Identity Sprawl
Identity Sprawl

How to Tame Identity Sprawl: Strategies and solutions for managing digital identities

If your employees use different usernames and passwords for their computers, applications, other systems and accounts, your organization is experiencing identity sprawl. Identity sprawl is a problem that has increased significantly with the rise of identity-related attacks. As the number of user identities grows, securing those digital identities becomes crucial. According to a 2023 report by the Identity Defined Security Alliance, the factors driving this growth include the adoption of cloud applications (52%), the rise of remote working (50%), IoT and mobile device usage (44%), and an increasing number of third-party relationships (41%).

What is identity sprawl?

Identity sprawl refers to the proliferation and fragmentation of digital identities across various platforms, applications, and systems. Managing and securing these identities becomes challenging as individuals interact with numerous online services and create accounts. Identity sprawl can lead to several issues, including weak security, difficulty maintaining accurate information, and an increased risk of identity theft or data breaches.

Why is identity sprawl a challenge?

Active Directory was an adequate solution for managing passwords and usernames when organizations depended exclusively on firewalls and traditional perimeter defenses for network security. However, a new challenge has emerged with the adoption of cloud technologies and the transition to remote work, such as utilizing cloud services like Slack and Salesforce. Suddenly, employees are required to manage multiple usernames and passwords across various systems. As the number of user identities per employee increases, so does the complexity of managing these identities. The task of synchronizing and integrating new systems with existing central directory services is proving to be a struggle for administrators. Consequently, organizations find themselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of expanding user identities and a lack of a centralized source for complete and accurate user profiles and privileges.

The problem is further compounded by the use of cloud-based applications and services, particularly in hybrid and remote work models. These applications necessitate the use of separate identities, although they typically provide user provisioning processes and systems for managing these identities.

The presence of multiple management systems result in delays in user provisioning, the existence of orphaned accounts, inconsistencies in user privileges, and difficulties in enforcing security and compliance policies. Users who have to manage multiple accounts often fall victim to password fatigue, leading to the reuse of passwords across different applications and services.

As a result, organizations face significant challenges in determining who has access to which resources, thereby introducing complexity in administering access rights. Additionally, the process of effectively provisioning and de-provisioning user accounts during employee onboarding, department changes, or departures has become increasingly intricate.

Top 7 identity management capabilities to contain sprawl

Identity is the new security perimeter, and to tame identity sprawl, your organization should find a comprehensive way to gain full visibility into digital identities and leverage automation to contain their proliferation. Identity governance solutions can significantly manage identity sprawl by providing comprehensive tools and capabilities for identity lifecycle management, access control, and identity compliance. Here's how policy-based identity governance platforms can help your organization manage identity sprawl:

  1. Centralized identity management: You should use identity governance platforms that offer you a centralized hub to manage your user identities across various systems, applications, and directories. This will provide you with a unified view of your user accounts, roles, and entitlements, enabling you to track and control your identities effectively.

  1. Identity lifecycle management: You need to automate the entire identity lifecycle, including user provisioning, modification, and de-provisioning. You should define standardized processes and workflows to ensure consistent creation, modification, and termination of your identities according to your organizational policies.

  2. Access certification reviews: You should regularly review your user entitlements using identity governance platforms. Identify and revoke unnecessary or excessive access to reduce identity sprawl and ensure compliance with your business needs and regulatory requirements.

  1. Policy enforcement and compliance: You must enforce access policies and regulatory requirements using policy-based controls in identity governance platforms. Define policies related to password complexity, segregation of duties (SoD), and access restrictions. Monitor and enforce these policies to reduce the risk of identity sprawl.

  1. Analytics and reporting: You can gain insights into your identity management activities through robust reporting and analytics capabilities offered by identity governance platforms. These platforms monitor your user activity, identify patterns, and generate reports on your access requests, approvals, and violations. These insights will help you detect and mitigate identity sprawl issues effectively.

  1. Self-service capabilities: You should provide self-service portals to manage your identities, reset passwords, and request access. Enabling self-service options will reduce the burden on IT teams and encourage proactive identity maintenance.

  1. Integration and federation: You should leverage the integration capabilities of identity governance platforms to unify your identities across various systems, directories, and applications. 

By leveraging the features and capabilities of policy-based identity governance platforms, you can effectively manage identity sprawl, streamline identity management processes, strengthen access control, ensure compliance, and enhance overall security posture.

Identity sprawl is a growing challenge for organizations as the number of digital identities continues to increase due to factors such as cloud adoption, remote work, IoT, and third-party relationships. This proliferation and fragmentation of identities across platforms and systems pose risks such as weak security, inaccurate information, and the potential for identity theft and data breaches.

By adopting these identity management capabilities, your organization can effectively contain identity sprawl, gain visibility into digital identities, automate processes, enforce policies, ensure compliance, and enhance overall security. Taming identity sprawl is essential in safeguarding digital assets and protecting against identity-related attacks in an increasingly interconnected and complex digital landscape.

Recommended Resources

Third party access risk

Control Third-party Access Risk

Your organization doesn't need another point solution to tackle third-party access risk; they may even complicate your troubles. If you're serious about locking down your third-party access risk, the best solution is a platform to manage all identities: employees, external users, IoT devices, and bots. 

Multi cloud security

Top 3 multi-cloud security and governance challenges

There are many benefits to a multi-cloud strategy, but operating in multiple clouds also introduces complexity. If not managed carefully, a multi-cloud architecture can rob the cost-saving component of the cloud and hinder your performance goals. 

User Access Request Management

Inefficiencies in User Access Request Management

Organizations today are tasked with supporting numerous devices, applications, and systems with key access to data. Security teams struggle to keep up with the complexity of providing correct access in a timely, reliable manner. Managers or application owners often find themselves rubber-stamping approvals or copying access of an existing user because of the extensive time and resources required to review manual requests.