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Defining Enterprise Identity Management

Identity management is the combination of business process and technology used to manage data on IT systems and applications about users. Managed data includes user objects, identity attributes, security entitlements and authentication factors.

This document defines the components of identity management, starting with the underlying business challenges of managing user identities and entitlements across multiple systems and applications. Identity management functions are defined in the context of these challenges.


Identity management is the combination of business process and technology used to manage data on IT systems and applications about users. Managed data includes user objects, identity attributes, security entitlements and authentication factors.

This document defines the components of identity management, starting with the underlying business challenges of managing user identities and entitlements across multiple systems and applications. Identity management functions are defined in the context of these challenges.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows:

A variety of identity stores

Modern organizations run a complex mix of IT infrastructure, including:

Many kinds of users access these systems, including:

Almost every system and application tracks its own users, how they sign in (i.e., their passwords) and their privileges (i.e., what they can see and do). This data about users must be managed, when users are hired, when their business roles or identifying information change and when they leave.

The diversity of these systems, each with their own security management user interface, administrators and change request processes creates complexity. This complexity impacts the IT operation -- the same human user must be managed by different IT staff on different parts of the infrastructure. The complexity also impacts users -- it can take a long time to make required changes and users are forced to memorize multiple login IDs, passwords and application sign-on processes.

This complexity leads to high IT cost, lower user productivity and security exposures.

Identity management technologies simplify the administration of this distributed, overlapping and sometimes contradictory data about users.

Managing identities and entitlements across applications - the challenge:

In this document, "enterprise" refers simply to medium to large organizations, with thousands of internal users.

Different kinds of users

Enterprises manage identity data about two broad kinds of users:

The difference between insiders and outsiders and how this impacts identity management, may be illustrated by an example:

Consider a bank, with 15,000 employees, 5,000 contractors and 500,000 customers. Insiders at the bank are the 20,000 employees and contractors.

Insiders log into a network operating system, corporate Intranet, line-of-business applications, corporate mainframe, e-mail systems and Internet gateway. Their identity profiles include data relating to their employment and their many login IDs to internal systems. Insiders access components of their identity profile, in particular login IDs to various systems, many times each day.

Outsiders are primarily current and prospective bank customers. Their profiles may include from one to three login IDs and passwords -- for Internet-, telephone- and ATM-based electronic banking. Their profiles also include customer information such as a mailing address and account numbers. Outsiders only access their login IDs occasionally. Personal profile data provided by outsiders, such as full name, home telephone number, or e-mail address may be inaccurate.

Different kinds of identity data

Just as there are different kinds of users whose identity an enterprise must manage, there are different kinds of data about these users that must be managed:

Identity life cycle

As organizations deploy an ever wider array of IT infrastructure, managing that infrastructure and in particular managing users, their identity profiles and their security privileges on those systems becomes increasingly challenging.

Figure [link] illustrates some of the challenges faced by organizations that must manage many users across many systems.


    User Lifecycle Management Challenges (1)

In the figure, there are business challenges at each phase of the user lifecycle:

  1. Onboarding new users:

    1. Delays and productivity:
      New users need to get productive quickly. Any delays in setting up access rights for new users cost money, in terms of lost productivity.

    2. Requests and approvals:
      IT workers need to be certain that newly created accounts are appropriate. This usually means a paper process for requesting, reviewing and approving security changes, such as the creation of new accounts. This approval process may be hard to use, may require excessive effort on the parts of both requesters and authorizers and may introduce delays.

    3. Redundant administration:
      Users typically require access rights that span multiple systems. A new user may need a network login, an e-mail mailbox, firewall access and login rights to multiple applications. These accounts are typically created by different administrators, using different tools. This duplication is expensive and time consuming.

  2. Managing change:

    Users often change roles and responsibilities within an organization. They may also change identity attributes (e.g., changes to a user's surname, contact information, department, manager, etc.). Such changes trigger IT work, to adjust user identity profiles and security rights.

    Organizations face the same challenges in managing existing users that they face when creating new ones:

    1. Delays:
      Reassigned users waste time waiting for IT to catch up with their requirements.
    2. Change requests:
      Can be awkward to submit and may take time to approve.
    3. Redundant administration:
      Similar changes are often required on different systems.

  3. IT support:

    In the context of routine use of systems, users often encounter problems that require technical support:

    1. Forgotten passwords.
    2. Intruder lockouts.
    3. Access denied errors.

    Collectively, these problems typically represent a large part of an IT help desk's call volume. This means both direct cost (support staff) and indirect cost (lost user productivity).

  4. Termination:

    All users leave eventually. When they do, reliable processes are needed to find and remove their security privileges. These processes must be:

    1. Reliable:
      If an organization fails to deactivate the access rights of a departed user, then that user or an intruder impersonating him might abuse the infrastructure or compromise sensitive data.
    2. Timely:
      Access termination must be quick, to minimize the time window available for the aforementioned exploits.
    3. Complete:
      It is not enough to deactivate a departed user's login IDs on major systems. Every access right should be revoked, to eliminate the possibility of abuse by users inside the network.

Key identity challenges

Identity management presents several challenges in most organizations:

Relevant technologies: the solutions

Several types of technologies are available to manage user identity data across the enterprise. In general, these systems focus on streamlining the identity management process and managing data consistently across multiple systems.


The cornerstone of many identity management and access governance infrastructures is a corporate directory.

Directories are network services which manage information about users, the organization and IT assets such as servers and printers. They perform a function similar to white pages or yellow pages phone books do for the public telephone infrastructure -- enabling users of the network to find information about each-other and about network services.

Most modern network directories are accessed using the lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), which is based on the older, more powerful, but more complicated and less popular X.500 protocol.

A directory is just the starting point for identity management and access governance and provides no value in and of itself. To get value organizations must:

Major platform vendors make inexpensive, robust and scalable directory products. These include:

There are also some open source directory products, such as OpenLDAP and Red Hat Directory Server.

Meta Directories

Meta directories are engines that synchronize data about users between different systems. Most modern IAG systems include what amounts to a meta directory, though it may not be labeled as such.

A meta directory works as follows:

Meta directories simplify user administration by propagating changes from systems of record to target systems, eliminating manual updates.

Since meta directories need not not expose a user interface, or interact directly with users, they can be thought of as "plumbing" embedded in the IAG infrastructure.

Web access management / Web single sign-on

A Web access management (WebAM) / Web single sign-on (WebSSO) system is middleware used to manage authentication and authorization of users accessing one or more web-enabled applications. Is supports single sign-on across systems and applications which do not natively support federation.

A WebSSO system intercepts initial contact by the user's web browser to a web application and either verifies that the user had already been authenticated (typically tracking authentication state in a cookie) or else redirects the user to an authentication page, where the user may use a password, token, PKI certificate or other method to authenticate himself.

Once a user is authenticated, the WebAM component of the system controls the user's access to application functions and data. This is done either by filtering what content the user can access (e.g., URL filtering) and by exposing an API that the application can use to make run-time decisions about whether to display certain forms, fields or data elements to the user.

WebSSO / WebAM products typically use an LDAP directory as a back-end repository, to identify all users. They often come tightly integrated with an "identity management and access governance" application, which enables delegated and in some cases self-service administration of the contents of that single directory.

Federation is almost always preferable to WebSSO.

Password management

Password management is a combination of password synchronization between systems and applications and self-service password reset.

Password synchronization is any process or technology that helps users to maintain a single password, subject to a single security policy, across multiple systems.

Password synchronization is an effective mechanism for addressing password management problems on an enterprise network:

There are two ways to implement password synchronization:

Self-service password reset is defined as any process or technology that allows users who have either forgotten their password or triggered an intruder lockout to authenticate with an alternate method and repair their own problem, without calling the help desk.

Users who have forgotten their password or triggered an intruder lockout may launch a self-service application using an extension to their workstation login prompt, using their own or another user's web browser or through a telephone call. Users establish their identity, without using their forgotten or disabled password, by answering a series of personal questions, using a hardware authentication token or by providing a biometric sample. Users can then either specify a new, unlocked password or ask that a randomly generated one be set.

Self-service password reset expedites problem resolution for users after a problem has already occurred and reduces help desk call volume. It can also be used to ensure that password problems are only resolved after strong user authentication, eliminating an important weakness of many help desks: social engineering attacks.

One of the core features of Hitachi ID Password Manager from Hitachi ID Systems is self-service password reset.

Enterprise single sign-on

Users who log into many systems may prefer to sign into one master system and thereafter be able to launch applications having to type their ID or password again.

Most legacy and client/server systems cannot share authentication with modern infrastructures such as Kerberos or SAML. However, it is possible to store user credentials outside of the various applications and automatically enter them into applications when prompted.

Enterprise single sign-on (E-SSO) systems do just that: users sign into the E-SSO application, which stores every user's login ID and password to every supported application. Users launch various applications through the E-SSO client software, which opens the appropriate client program and sends keystrokes to that program simulating the user typing his own login ID and password.

Since they require the installation of client software, E-SSO systems are only appropriate for use by insiders.

E-SSO systems have had limited success in large production environments for a number of reasons:

Note that one E-SSO system does not store user passwords, but instead relies on password synchronization (Hitachi ID Login Manager) -- http://Hitachi-ID.com/login-manager.

User provisioning

A user provisioning system is shared IT infrastructure which is used to pull the management of users, identity attributes and security entitlements out of individual systems and applications, into a shared infrastructure.

User provisioning is intended to make the creation, management and deactivation of login IDs, home directories, mail folders, security entitlements and related items faster, cheaper and more reliable. This is done by automating and codifying business processes such as onboarding and termination and connecting these processes to multiple systems.

User provisioning systems work by automating one or more processes:

As well, a user provisioning system must be able to connect these processes to systems and applications, using connectors that can:

Role Based Access Control

Role-based access control (RBAC) is an approach to managing entitlements, intended to reduce the cost of security administration, ensure that users have only appropriate entitlements and to terminate no-longer-needed entitlements reliably and promptly.

In the context of a single system or application, RBAC means granting privileges directly to roles and attaching users to roles. Users acquire privileges through role membership, rather than directly. Within a single system, roles are sometimes called security groups or user groups.

Single-system RBAC is a time tested and successful strategy, as it allows administrators to group users, group privileges and attach groups of privileges to groups of users, rather than attaching individual privileges to individual users.

Identity management and access governance systems extend RBAC beyond single applications. Roles in an IAM system are sets of entitlements that may span multiple systems and applications. The key element of roles is to replace many technical entitlements with fewer roles that business users can understand. Business users can then a reasonable determination of which users should have which roles. This implicitly specifies which users should have which technical entitlements.

Roles consist of entitlements -- login accounts and security group memberships. Roles are often also nested -- i.e., one role can contain others. Nesting roles can reduce the cost of role administration.

Access Certification

Regulatory compliance requirements and security policies increasingly demand that organizations maintain effective controls over who has access to sensitive corporate information and personal data about employees and customers:

Meeting these requirements can be challenging as users often have unique and changing business responsibilities, thus making their entitlements difficult to model using formal roles and rules.

The difficulty in modeling complex, heterogeneous entitlements is compounded by the fact that although users accumulate entitlements over time, they rarely ask IT to terminate old, unneeded rights. Moreover, it is difficult to predict when, after a change in responsibilities, a user will no longer function as a backup resource for his old job and so old entitlements can be safely deactivated.

These challenges together mean that it is difficult to model all of the entitlements that users need across multiple systems and applications at a single point in time and likely impossible to model those needs for thousands of users, over multiple systems, over an extended period of time.

Access certification is a process where business stake-holders are periodically invited to review entitlements, sign-off on entitlements that appear to be reasonable and flag questionable entitlements for possible removal.

There are several components to access certification:

Identity management: a simple definition

With the above sections in mind, we propose a simple definition to encapsulate the various capabilities of enterprise identity management technologies:

Identity management and access governance is defined as a shared platform and consistent processes for managing information about users: who they are, how they are authenticated and what they can access.

Beyond the enterprise

Identity management can extend beyond a single organization:

Federation enables applications in different domains to share information about users.

There are multiple standards for federation, including the security assertion markup language (SAML -- v1 and v2) and WS*Security.

In order to work, federation requires that software at one site can communicate identity, authentication and authorization site to software at another site:

The problem with standards is that there are so many of them...

Password Manager is intended to help Hitachi ID Systems customer manage user identities and entitlements in a single organizational domain. Password Manager does not (currently) issue federated assertions: it is not an identity provider (IdP).

Password Manager is compatible with a variety of federated access products and protocols:

  1. It can manage identities, entitlements and credentials in directories, which are used by federated IdPs to authenticate users and issue assertions.
  2. Users can sign into Password Manager using a federated assertion (i.e., Password Manager act as a relying party / service provider).


Identity management is a class of technologies intended to streamline the management of user identity information both inside and outside an enterprise. It includes: