Securosis Guide: Identity and Access Management

This post is part of a multi-part series about the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference (download the RSAC-G PDF). Please scroll to the bottom for links to other posts in the series.

Who Am I? No Respect
Identity is one of the more difficult topics to cover in our yearly RSAC Guide, because identity issues and trends don't grab headlines. Identity and Access Management vendors tend to be light-years ahead of most customers. You may be thinking "Passwords and Active Directory: What else do I need to know?" which is pretty typical. IAM responsibilities sit in a no-man's land between security, development, and IT... and none of them wants ownership. Most big firms now have a CISO, CIO, and VP of Engineering, but when was the last time you heard of a VP of Identity? Director? No, we haven't either. That means customers—and cloud providers, as we will discuss in a bit—are generally not cognizant of important advancements. But those identity systems are used by every employee and customer. Unfortunately, despite ongoing innovation, much of what gets attention is somewhat backwards.

The Cutting Edge—Role-Based Access Control for the Cloud
Roles, roles, and more roles. You will hear a lot about Role-Based Access Controls from the 'hot' product vendors in cloud, mobile management, and big data. It's ironic—these segments may be cutting-edge in most ways, but they are decidedly backwards for IAM. Kerberos, anyone? The new identity products you will hear most about at this year's RSAC show—Azure Active Directory and AWS Access Control Lists—are things most of the IAM segment have been trying to push past for a decade or more. We are afraid to joke about it, because an "identity wizard" to help you create ACLs "in the cloud" could become a real thing. Despite RBAC being outdated, it keeps popping up unwanted, like that annoying paper clip because customers are comfortable with it and even look for those types of solutions. Attribute Based Access Controls, Policy Based Access Controls, real-time dynamic authorization, and fully cloud-based IDaaS are all impressive advances, available today. Heck, even Jennifer Lawrence knows why these technologies are important—her iCloud account was apparently hacked because there was no brute-force replay checker to protect her. Regardless, these vendors sit unloved, on the outskirts of the convention center floor.

Standard Bearer
We hear it all the time from identity vendors: "Standards-based identity instills confidence in customers," but the vendors cannot seem to agree on a standard. OpenID vs. SAML vs. OAuth, oh my! Customers do indeed want standards-based identity, but they fall asleep when this debate starts. There are dozens of identity standards in the CSA Guidance, but which one is right for you? They all suffer from the same issue: they are all filled with too many options. As a result interoperability is a nightmare, especially for SAML. Getting any two SAML implementations to talk to each other demands engineering time from both product teams. IAM in general, and specifically SAML, beautifully illustrate Tannenbaum's quote: "The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from." Most customers we speak with don't really care which standard is adopted—they just want the industry to pick one and be done with it. Until then they will focus on something more productive, like firewall rules and password resets. They are waiting for it to be over so they can push a button to interoperate—you do have an easy button, right?

Good Dog, Have a Biscuit
We don't like to admit it, but in terms of mobile payments and mobile identity, the U.S. is a laggard. Many countries we consider 'backwards' were using mobile payments as their principal means to move money long before Apple Pay was announced. But these solutions tend to be carrier-specific; U.S. adoption was slowed by turf wars between banks, carriers, and mobile device vendors. Secure elements or HCE? Generic wallets or carrier payment infrastructure? Tokens or credit cards? Who owns the encryption keys? Do we need biometrics, and if so which are acceptable? Each player has a security vision which depends on and only supports and their business model. Other than a shared desire to discontinue the practice of sending credit card numbers to merchants over SSL, there has been little agreement.

For several years now the FIDO Alliance has been working on an open and interoperable set of standards to promote mobile security. This standard does not just establish a level playing field for identity and security vendors—it defines a user experience to make mobile identity and payments easier. So the FIDO standard is becoming a thing. It enables vendors to hook into the framework, and provide their solution as part of the ecosystem. You will notice a huge number of vendors on the show floor touting support for the FIDO standard. Many demos will look pretty similar because they all follow the same privacy, security, and ease of use standards, but all oars are finally pulling in the same direction.

—Adrian Lane and Gunnar Peterson, Securosis

Check out other posts in the series: Introduction
Theme posts: Change; Internet of Things; Professionalism; Compliance; Big Data; Bonk; DevOps
Coverage Area Deep Dives: Overview; Endpoint Security; Network Security; IAM; Cloud Security; Data Security; Security Management;
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