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IAM Best Practices for User Provisioning and Deprovisioning. In the rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity, effective Identity and Access Management (IAM) practices are integral for safeguarding organizations against potential threats and vulnerabilities. One crucial aspect of IAM is user provisioning and deprovisioning, which entails granting and revoking access to resources, respectively. For large enterprises, proper organization of user provisioning becomes increasingly critical. It improves the access management process, increases the productivity, and accelerates operational efficiency. On the other hand, inefficient user provisioning/deprovisioning brings: bad user experience, risks of slow deprovisioning, legal risks and many different security risks.

This article delves into best practices for user provisioning and deprovisioning, highlighting key strategies to enhance security, streamline processes, and foster a culture of compliance within an organization. Let’s get to the main part of IAM Best Practices for User Provisioning and Deprovisioning.

Make It Easier - Automate Provision Whenever Possible

The first, and the most important recommendation is to automate the provisioning processes. There are some identity providers, such as Microsoft Entra thatr have built-in automatic user provisioning. Automation of provisioning/deprovision provides the following benefits.

Process Automation benefits

Keep Data Safe - Restrict Access to the resources

  • Follow the principle of least privilege (PoLP). User or entity must solely possess access to the exact data, resources, and applications essential for fulfilling a specific task. Failing to integrate the principle of least privilege results in organizations having over-privileged users or entities, elevating the risk of breaches and misuse of vital systems and data.

Benefits of Principle of Least Privilege

  • Reduces the impact of human error
  • Minimizes the attack surface. 
  • Prevents the spread of malware.
  • Implement Role Based Access Control (RBAC). Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) revolves around allocating user permissions according to their designated roles within an organization. RBAC simplifies this by linking permissions to pre-defined roles. Each role comes with distinct responsibilities and privileges, guaranteeing that users solely access the information and resources pertinent to their job duties. It is usually considered as part of PoLP implementation. RBAC usually consists of three elements, Who, What and Where, and the role assignment that combines these elements.

RBAC elements

  • Who – the principal that needs the role – user, group, service account, etc.
  • What – the role itself – a set of permissions, like access to read, modify or delete the objects or data.
  • Where – the set of resources the role can be applied to, usually referred as “scope”.
  • Role assignment – a configuration entity that attaches the role to the principal at some scope.

Example of RBAC: an organization with offices in 3 different locations uses Active Directory for the identity management. IT engineer executes a wrong PowerShell script, which should cause the lock of all Active Directory users. Because you applied RBAC and PoLP, only the users in one location were affected by the script, because engineer doesn’t have permissions to manage users in other sites.

  • Use Just-in-time (JIT) access. Allows reducing the risks by providing administrative permissions to IT personnel on a temporary basis, instead of giving it permanently. In case the account of IT engineer is stolen, the malicious actor won’t get access to the systems because by default the account doesn’t have any permissions. Usually implemented as a part of Privileged Access Management solution and represented as a streamlined workflow, which contains the steps of approval and centralized logging.

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Everything Has Its Time - Ensure Proper Deprovisioning

Sometimes, companies that have proper and well-defined user provisioning processes disregard the deprovisioning, which causes additional security risks

Examples of Failed Deprovisioning

  • Deferred deprovisioning – user accounts are not deprovisioned during the employee offboarding process. It causes data leak, since the former employee have access to the data until the housekeeping of the identities is performed.
  • Partial deprovisioning – for example, user has two accounts (it is a common practice for IT engineers to have one account for the regular access and another – for privileged access), and only one is deprovisioned during the offboarding.
  • Improper service decommission – in case service decommission doesn’t involve the deprovision of service accounts used by the service, orphaned user objects remain active, increasing the cyber security risks.
  • Lack of user transfer processes – when user is moved from one department to another, they might be provided the new permissions and old permissions are not revoked. For example, an employee is moved from HR to Legal department, and their mailbox wasn’t removed from the HR distribution list – in this case they continue to receive messages addressed to HR employees.

To prevent unauthorized access to corporate data and systems, it’s crucial to integrate deprovisioning into user management procedures. This stage presents an opportunity where routine assessments and automation contribute significantly to improving the security.

Good Deprovision Practices

  • Regular monitoring. Reviewing user access plays a pivotal role in effective deprovisioning. This practice aids in minimizing insider threats, potential data breaches, and compliance breaches. By reviewing permissions regularly, it ensures that users only access apps or data relevant to their designated roles. It is a good practice to delegate the review of the group memberships to the group owners, many tools that streamlines this process are available on the market, examples are found on Gartner portal.
  • Automated deprovisioning. Deprovisioning should have the same level of automation as the provisioning and should be the part of the off-boarding process. Extra attention should be paid to the identities with the privileged access and accounts of users who have access to the sensitive information.

Train the Personnel - Make Sure the Process Is Transparent

Make sure personnel understand what they are doing and why they are doing it

  •  The presence of well-defined policies is instrumental in facilitating swift and accurate user account creation. This eliminates confusion, fosters uniformity, and delineates roles and responsibilities within an organization. Furthermore, these policies contribute to streamlining the subsequent processes of updates and deprovisioning.
  • Deliver trainings for user provisioning/deprovisioning best practices. This cultivates a fundamental step in mitigating security vulnerabilities. Train employees on new applications, offer incentives for adopting best practices and exercise greater diligence when granting permissions. 

Introduce Work instructions

To add the transparency and reduce cases of non-compliance, introduce work instructions:

  • Identification of individuals responsible for provisioning and managing new users.
  • The methodology for granting permissions and defining access levels.
  • Procedures for submitting access requests.
  • Standards, such as naming convention, used during the user provisioning process.
  • The detailed flow diagrams.

Thank you for reading IAM Best Practices for User Provisioning and Deprovisioning. We shall conclude this article topic and thank you for your time. 

IAM Best Practices for User Provisioning and Deprovisioning Conclusion

Robust user provisioning and deprovisioning are vital components of a comprehensive Identity and Access Management strategy. Automation emerges as a cornerstone, offering efficiency, accuracy, and consistency in managing user accounts. Following the PoLP and implementing RBAC contribute to minimizing security risks, preventing unauthorized access, and promoting a secure organizational environment. Moreover, Just-in-time access and meticulous deprovisioning procedures address evolving threats and ensure that access rights align with current roles and responsibilities. Transparency in processes, supported by clear policies and regular training, further fortifies an organization’s security posture, making it resilient in the face of cybersecurity challenges. By embracing these best practices, organizations not only mitigate potential risks but also install security-conscious culture that is adaptive and proactive.

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Marat Mussabekov

Marat Mussabekov

System administrator with 14 years of practical experience. Specializes in Microsoft products such as Exchange Server, Active Directory, Microsoft 365 and Azure.

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