You Can’t Have a Secure Cloud Without an Identity Management Strategy

by | Jul 11, 2024

As companies increasingly migrate to the cloud or rely on hybrid environments, they face mounting security challenges. That’s in large part due to the complexities of identity and access management in the cloud and how, if left unguarded, this will become an organization’s biggest threat vector.

For this reason, cloud security is largely dependent on identity security, and an effective cloud strategy must incorporate comprehensive identity management to prevent breaches and ensure secure access to resources.

Evolution of Identity Governance and Administration

Identity governance and administration (IGA) has evolved significantly over the years. In the early days, identity management was a system-specific issue confined to individual hosts or mainframes. As we transitioned into the networking era, shared authentication services became the norm, allowing for a more holistic approach across enterprises.

The rise of cloud services marked another significant shift. As cloud environments become more complex, identity governance must evolve to keep pace. Traditional identity governance focused primarily on compliance and lifecycle management. However, the dynamic nature of cloud environments demands more sophisticated solutions that can adapt to changing conditions and emerging threats.

Identity as the New Security Perimeter

In the modern cloud era, identity has emerged as the new security perimeter. The majority of data breaches can be traced back to identity and access misconfigurations. So, you need to take an in-depth view of enterprise access controls and, in some sense, cloud security. Much of cloud security is about identity security. It’s all about managing access, monitoring permissions, monitoring, and managing settings that provide access.

Don’t Overlook Credential Management in a Cloud Strategy

Even when organizations implement programs to manage identity and access management as part of their cloud strategy, they often overlook another crucial element – credential management. Effective credential management is crucial in preventing data breaches. Managing permissions, roles, and user groups ensures that only authorized individuals have access to critical resources. A notable example of poor credential management leading to breaches is the case of Snowflake. Customers experienced breaches due to accounts configured with passwords instead of single sign-on and the absence of multi-factor authentication.

Lifecycle Management in the Cloud

Accurate lifecycle management is essential for maintaining a secure cloud environment. Just-in-time entitlements, which provide access only when needed, can significantly reduce the risk of stale credentials.

As your organizations grow and add more employees, applications, and resources, IGA has to grow with you. Today, many legacy applications are only able to deliver static solutions that address compliance concerns. Managing permissions and roles in dynamic cloud environments requires a proactive and dynamic approach to lifecycle management, such as regular reviews that go beyond a compliance checkbox and play a role in security. To accomplish this, enterprises need to move to a holistic solution that monitors access, assigns access, reviews access, remediates access, and becomes a system of record,

Role-Based Access Control and Beyond

While traditional role-based access control has been effective in many scenarios, it has limitations in the cloud. The complexity and scale of cloud environments necessitate more advanced approaches, such as policy-based and attribute-based access control. Continuous access reviews are essential to maintain accurate and up-to-date roles and permissions. Understanding the source of truth for these roles is critical to ensuring that access controls are effectively implemented and managed.

Effective Access and Over-Privileged Accounts

One of the significant challenges in cloud environments is managing effective access. Over-privileged accounts pose a substantial risk, as they can provide unauthorized users with excessive access to critical resources. Tools like access analyzers can help identify over-privileged accounts and reduce permissions to achieve least privilege access. By minimizing unnecessary access, organizations can strengthen their overall security posture.

Non-Human Identities and Service Accounts

The rise of non-human identities in cloud environments introduces new security challenges. Organizations need to consider elements that enforce controls around non-human identities, whether they are APIs servers, tokens, OAuth certificates, keys, or shared secrets. The first step is education across the enterprise, especially for engineers and architects, which might require a reminder that every time you spin up any resource in the cloud, there is some sort of identity, role and policy associated with it. The next step is visibility. For human identities, there’s a directory, but there’s no directory for non-human identities. Enterprises need a process to document the service accounts and other non-human identities being introduced into the system.

Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management (PAM) is a critical element of cloud security strategies. Identifying and securing privileged accounts is essential to protecting sensitive resources. PAM solutions must be integrated into the overall security framework to provide comprehensive protection. By managing privileged access effectively, organizations can prevent unauthorized access to critical systems and data.

Stakeholder Involvement

Don’t overlook people in this process. Understanding the impact of business units on identity and access management is essential for developing a robust security strategy. Everyone from executives to CSOs to VPs and SecOps needs to be part of building strategic plans, and these plans need to start with IGA discussions. That’s starting with asking and answering these fundamental questions.

  • Who is involved in the process around identity governance and administration?
  • Who has final responsibility?
  • Who will be acting in the advisory role?
  • Who serves as the consultant role within the process of selecting an identity governor?

Make Your Cloud More Secure Today

To meet the challenges of the modern cloud landscape, organizations need to embrace automated, security-first identity governance to ensure comprehensive protection.

Get a demo to learn how Zilla Security provides identity governance and security, built for cloud and hybrid environments, that prevents breaches.


  • Johnathan Keith

    Johnathan Keith is the Vice President of the Cloud Security Practice for GuidePoint Security, which specializes in professional services of Cloud Security and SaaS Security platforms, as well as Cloud Security Advisory Services across all Regions within the GuidePoint Security ecosystem. Johnathan is a former Partner & Managing Director of Cloud Security & Cloud Services for a Global Consulting Firm and the former CISO of an industry-leading streaming company.

    He has nearly two decades of experience in Information Security, Cyber Security, Cloud Security, Cloud Migrations, Cloud Operations, and Cloud Security Architecture. He is distinguished as a Subject Matter Expert in the domains mentioned above throughout several industries such as FinTech, Federal Government, Media & Entertainment, Information Technology, and Human Capital Management (HCM).

    His areas of expertise are in Container Security, Infrastructure as Code, Application Security, Product Security, Cloud Security, and Cloud-First initiatives for Identity & Access Management (both workforce IAM and CIAM).

    He has a Master of Science in Information Systems with an emphasis in Cyber Security and several industry-leading certifications like CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner, AWS Migration Ambassador (Business), and AWS Well-Architected (Proficient). Johnathan also excels in the development & management of large teams that primarily focus on Cloud Security Architecture & Cloud Security Engineering with initiatives to advance Cloud Security Posture Management, Cloud Native Application Protection, API Security, Secure SDLC, and DevSecOps workflows.

    Connect with Johnathan via LinkedIn.

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