How to Address Third-Party & B2B Access Control Challenges in IAM

Mickey Martin
April 23, 2024

Despite technological advancements in the field, third-party access remains a persistent challenge for many IAM (Identity and Access Management) and security teams. While third-party access contributed to a significant percentage of breaches in recent years, the ongoing issues prompt a closer look at IAM fundamentals, the roles of its components, and the existing gaps in managing external access.

What is Third-Party Access?

Third-party access involves granting external organizations the authorization to perform specific tasks within another business. Common examples include:

  • A supplier updating pricing on a vendor's website
  • A financial planning firm handling transactions on client portfolios
  • An HR firm managing employee benefits
  • A company accessing trading data from another firm's system

Essentially, it encompasses any scenario where individuals outside of an organization need access to its systems to fulfill business-related duties.

Managing these external identities in an identity-centric security environment should theoretically be straightforward. However, practical challenges come up: Where do these identities originate? How do we manage their access permissions within the current tech infrastructure?

Exploring Identity Governance and Administration (IGA)

IGA is often the first consideration in addressing identity access issues. It fundamentally involves provisioning and de-provisioning identity data across systems, controlling access through group memberships in LDAPs, entitlements in databases, and ensuring uniformity in attributes necessary for authorization decisions. Although IGA is essential for recertifying access within an organization, IGA tools primarily cater to workforce identities (e.g. employees and contractors), that typically have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

The difficulty with third-party access lies in the unknown variables: the exact individuals performing tasks and their specific roles are often determined by the third party, not the host organization. Integrating third-party identities into an organization's IGA could lead to complications, such as requiring third-party personnel to have elevated rights within the IGA system, which could introduce risks and inefficiencies.

The Role of Identity Providers

Identity Providers (IDPs) play a crucial role in managing third-party access. While they don't provide a complete solution, IDPs facilitate the establishment of trust, enabling authentication and identity propagation between the host organization and the third-party provider. 

During federated single sign-on (SSO), the third party can relay certain information to the host organization inside the OAUTH or SAML assertions. This information such as roles, titles, and assurance level can then be used by the host organization IDP to make coarse grain authorization decisions about the identity. This coarse-grained access can block the user from going to certain applications or provide a mechanism for step-up authentication. While this mechanism is vital for securing and streamlining access, itdoes not address all aspects of third-party identity management. It’s missing the finer grain controls such as (using the examples from earlier), which products should the supplier be able to update price on or not, which portfolios should the financial company be able to see, etc. 

The Role of an Authorization Platform

PlainID, through its Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC), offers an effective solution to the challenges of third-party access in IAM systems. PBAC centers around using policies, rather than static roles or attributes, to govern access decisions, providing a dynamic, contextual, and flexible approach to access control. Here’s how PlainID addresses access control for third-party identities:

  1. Dynamic Policy Management:

    PlainID allows organizations to define and manage access policies that are responsive to various contexts. This dynamic approach is particularly beneficial for managing third-party access because it can adapt to the specific and often changing conditions under which external entities interact with corporate resources. Policies can be crafted to account for the type of third party, the data they need access to, the time of access, and other contextual factors.
  1. Fine-Grained Authorization:

    PBAC provides more granular control over access rights compared to traditional role-based access control (RBAC) systems. With PlainID, you can specify detailed policies that precisely define what actions a third-party user can perform, on which resources, and under what conditions. This granularity reduces the risk of over-privileged access, a common issue with third-party integrations where the scope of access needs are not always clearly defined or controlled.
  1. Centralized Policy Administration:

    PlainID serves as a centralized platform for policy management, which simplifies the administration of access policies across various systems and services. This centralized approach is crucial when dealing with multiple third parties requiring access to different systems, as it ensures consistent enforcement of security policies across all access points.
  1. Real-Time Decision Making:

    PlainID supports real-time policy evaluation, ensuring that access decisions are made promptly and based on the latest available context. This feature is vital for third-party access scenarios where access requirements can change rapidly—such as varying project needs or different stages of a partnership.
  2. Audit and Compliance:

    With all policies centrally managed and enforced, PlainID also facilitates comprehensive auditing and reporting capabilities. Organizations can track who accessed what, when, and under what policy, enhancing transparency and aiding in compliance with regulatory requirements. This oversight is critical in managing third-party risks and ensuring that all access is appropriately justified and recorded.
  3. Scalability and Flexibility:

    As third-party ecosystems grow, managing access at scale becomes more challenging. PlainID's PBAC framework is designed to scale efficiently, handling an increasing number of users and complex policy scenarios without compromising performance. This scalability ensures that its access management system can keep up as an organization’s third-party interactions expand.

Key Takeaway

By leveraging PlainID and its PBAC approach, organizations can address the inherent complexities of third-party access more effectively, providing secure, compliant, and manageable access control that adapts to the unique and evolving challenges posed by external collaborations.

While IAM systems have evolved significantly, managing third-party access effectively requires more than just advanced tools. It demands a holistic understanding of identity management, thoughtful integration of external entities into existing IAM frameworks, and continuous oversight to mitigate potential security risks. Contact our team to learn more about how PlainID helps with third-party and B2B access control.

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