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Why Cloud Identity Is As Important As Cloud Security

When it comes to the cloud and data protection, identity and security is the crux of how you safeguard your hybrid or cloud-first environment.

Planning your migration to the public cloud is never complete without your business becoming familiar with the many powerful security measures the major cloud platforms (AWS, Azure and Google Cloud) offer to safeguard our new highly scalable environments - and being able to efficiently manage identities of all staff and access rights to resources is just as critical to ensure secure access to the resources your staff need, when they need it.

To properly leverage cloud-based security solutions, it’s critical your organisation – both key decision-makers and your IT team – first understand what identity management encompasses in the context of cloud security, to begin establishing the right plan and developing a strategy, framework, checklist and procedures to secure your data.

In a previous post, we covered the security of and in the cloud - here we focus more on how identity fits.

How is cloud identity linked with cloud security?

Identity management is the ability of a company to effectively identify, authenticate and authorise individual users or groups and their access to specific information – namely, applications, data, networks and systems.

User permissions and restrictions on what our staff can access and perform are associated with established identities an organisation creates, which ideally can be controlled and configured in an efficient manner.

Identity as an enterprise concept falls under Identity and Access Management (IAM), defined as the security discipline that enables the right people to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons.

With digital transformation via cloud computing making it possible to have flexible access to apps and data anywhere at any time, it's crucial that identity is on the same level as security – which is why it is so closely linked.

Having the right capabilities to safeguard your new adoption of cloud technology and protecting information confidentiality should be a business-critical objective for every organisation, no matter the industry, and the first order of business is to leverage solutions that manage both.

How the public cloud provides full cloud-based identity and security

Cloud-based identity management benefits


Identity has been considered the main boundary layer for security since the widespread adoption of the cloud in the past decade, representing a paradigm shift away from traditional network-centric business considerations.

While network security is still important, the advent of cloud-based applications you can access anywhere in the form of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and the rise of mobile workplace devices means solely focusing on network strength isn’t enough to maintain proper access, control and protection over your data and cloud environment.

Currently, all three major public cloud providers offer stellar identity and access management capabilities natively in their respective platforms, and each cater to different types of businesses. 

For enterprises facing a growing number of SaaS-based applications, systems and staff working remotely, it's important that the cloud platform itself not only has the right IAM services to build a strong foundation for identity, but that it also integrates well with third-party Identity as a Service (IDaaS) vendors like Okta to further strengthen your identity management capabilities and ensure user access, permissions and provisioning is seamless. 

Azure is one of the top recommended public clouds to help businesses implement best practices in the area of identity and security in a single platform. Whether you migrate to Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) for a cloud-first future or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for a hybrid setup, natively integrated tools like Azure Active Directory (AAD), an identity management service which helps staff sign in securely and access apps and resources in both cloud and external sources seamlessly - is one of the best tools available for building stronger identity.

Combined with built-in authentication, Single Sign-On (SSO), role-based access controls (RBAC) and powerful monitoring tools such as Azure Monitor - and integration with specialist identity services like Okta, the Azure Cloud is an ideal platform to overcome modern security challenges and protect day-to-day business operations.

Why use cloud services for identity management?

Think about all of the applications - SaaS, third-party, and those unique to your business - staff need to access as part of their regular workflow.

Combine that with factors such as staff departures, necessary role-based access upgrades and so forth, and it becomes a highly complex process to continue to manage manually without an efficient solution to automate, control and monitor identity. Established identity is crucial to ensure security is upheld across all work devices.

We recommend the following two options for enterprises seeking to begin their journey towards modern identity.

#1 - Azure Active Directory

As a completely in-built identity management service, Azure Active Directory is one of the most best identity management tools to achieve best practices in the area if your business is using Microsoft Azure Cloud. AAD is a multi-tenant cloud-based directory and identity management service that combines all core directory services, application access management and identity protection into one platform. It also provides the broadest range of functionality required from any cloud-based identity solution to-date. Considering the number of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications modern businesses need to access securely, the value it provides is immense.

Okta is a cloud-based identity service that helps large-scale businesses with identity lifecycle management, user access administration, application integration, user provisioning, meta-directory, and reporting - all in one platform.

# 2 - Okta

As an enterprise-grade identity solution, Okta is a third-party Identity as a Service (IDaaS) focused on modernising workforce identity and customer identity with accessible SSO, MFA, Lifecycle Management and User Management.  

Okta Single Sign-On, Okta Adaptive Single Sign-On, Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication, API Access Management and Universal Directory cater to many digital business scenarios for bolstering and improving our identity and access management capabilities. Okta also has its own Access Gateway technology for on-premise integrations.

Okta's biggest advantage as the current market leader is as a platform-agnostic identity tool. It integrates all apps, regardless of the platform, with thousands of pre-built integrations, and streamlines the process of monitoring and control over user access rights, while proactively handling authentication, authorisation and user provisioning.


5 benefits to modern identity cloud tools 

Below, we breakdown the top benefits identity tools like Azure AD and Okta boast, and how they are essential in providing better overall cloud security, identity management and data protection for your organisation.

Centralised identity management: Azure AD and Okta helps businesses with hybrid infrastructure (on-premises and cloud) to integrate their local and cloud directories seamlessly and helps admins manage accounts from one location, irrespective of where an account is created. This benefit makes it both easier for admins to manage, and helps users be more productive as they can use a common identity to access resources in both the cloud and on-premises without authentication roadblocks, with features such as password hash synchronisation. Without this level of integration between on-premises and cloud identity in other outdated tools, the likelihood of mistakes, security breaches and costly overhead in managing accounts increases.

Conditional Access (CA): Conditional Access via Azure AD helps balance productivity and security by automating access control decisions for accessing cloud apps based on preset conditions. An example; if your IP address comes from corporate network, you’re trusted, whereas if your IP address is external, you’ll be prompted by CA for an additional layer of authentication, which leads into 2-Factor Authentication.

Role-based access control (RBAC): With Azure AD and Okta, you can utilise built-in RBAC roles to assign privileges to users, groups and applications at specific scopes, such as a subscription or single resource. This allows better enforcement of data and resource access control by not giving more privileges than necessary to users.

Single Sign-On (SSO): Azure AD and Okta allows businesses to enable SSO to all apps, devices and services so users can use the same credentials to access the resources they need across cloud and on-premises, and work from any location without worrying about juggling multiple passwords. Admins also don’t have to spent time learning and working with more than one identity solution to achieve SSO. Without SSO, organisations more likely face scenarios with users having multiple weak passwords, leading to unnecessary security risks in the future.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML): Azure D and Okta lets you configure applications to use it as a SAML-based identity provider, meaning your users can sign into third-party applications once the service issues a token to sign into the application once granted access directly or through a group a user is assigned to.

The importance of cloud identity management - key takeways

In summary, identity should be the main security layer for any organisation, and cloud-based, in-built services such as Azure Active Directory and IDaaS solutions like Okta have the features to help businesses achieve best practices in both spaces (identity and security) more efficiently within one unified, user streamlined IAM interface.

For a more in-depth dive into the best identity capabilities available to enterprises today. download our free Modern Identity White Paper.

Tags: Azure Active Directory, Azure Cloud, Identity Management