What Is Isolated Identity Management, and Do You Need It For Federal Compliance?

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Identity management is one of the more essential aspects of cybersecurity. Attackers will regularly target Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems to find ways to secure them, and security experts must implement new countermeasures to protect against these incursions. One of these is isolated identity management.

In this article, we’ll cover the practice of isolated identity management and how it works to protect identity information, mitigating potential threats against secure systems. 


What Is Isolated Identity Management?

Some of the more troubling security challenges come directly from attacks on user identities, typically to infiltrate system resources. Attacks, especially Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), can leverage compromised user accounts to move throughout a system without detection. 

Isolated Identity Management (IIM) addresses this issue by providing an extra layer of security around user identities. It is a cybersecurity approach where identity and access management (IAM) processes are separated or isolated from the main network. This strategy enhances security, particularly in protecting sensitive identity data and access credentials. 

Some of the key aspects of an IIM system include:

  • Separation of Identity Data: In isolated identity systems, information, such as user credentials and access rights, is stored and managed in a separate, secure environment. This isolation prevents unauthorized access from the primary network. Additionally, by isolating the management of credentials, the risk of credential theft or misuse is significantly reduced. This is crucial as compromised credentials are a common attack vector in cybersecurity breaches.
  • Access Control and Authentication: IIM involves robust mechanisms for controlling resource access and authenticating users. This often includes multi-factor authentication (MFA), biometric verification, and stringent access policies. This essentially means adding another layer of access control around this critical information.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have regulations mandating the protection of identity data and access management. While isolated identity management is rarely an explicit requirement, it helps organizations comply with these regulations by providing a secure and dedicated environment for identity data.
  • Regular Monitoring and Auditing: The isolated system is subject to continuous monitoring and regular audits to ensure its integrity and the effectiveness of its security measures.
  • Disaster Recovery and Continuity: IIM systems usually include robust disaster recovery plans. In case of a breach or failure in the main network, the isolated system can ensure that identity management functions continue uninterrupted.


How Is Isolated Identity Management Different from Traditional Identity Management?

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At its most basic, an IIM system will differ from more traditional IAM systems by focusing on isolated identity management systems and their security. But, as with any system component interaction, even isolating that component fundamentally alters how it is used, managed, and monitored. 

Some of the key differences between traditional and isolated identity management include: 


Traditional IAM

  • Integrated Network: In traditional IAM, identity and access management systems are typically integrated within the primary network infrastructure of the organization.
  • Centralized Management: IAM systems often centrally manage identities and access rights, which can include credentials, roles, and permissions, within the organization’s primary IT environment.
  • Security Focus: While traditional IAM focuses on securing access to resources, its integration with the leading network means it shares the same security perimeter and vulnerabilities. Since IAM is part of the primary network, identity data, and access controls could also be at risk if compromised.


Isolated Identity Management

  • Separate Environment: IIM stores and manages identity data in a separate, secure environment isolated from the leading network.
  • Enhanced Security for Identity Data: By isolating identity management, IIM provides an additional layer of security, protecting against compromising sensitive identity data even if the leading network is breached. The isolation also creates a smaller surface for identity data, as attackers must breach multiple layers to access it.
  • Focused Compliance: IIM can more directly address regulatory requirements for protecting identity information, as the isolated environment can be tailored to specific compliance needs.


What Are the Challenges and Benefits of Implementing IIM Systems?

Implementing an IIM system, like any other technology,  offers several benefits but presents unique challenges. These are explicitly related to an organization’s security capabilities, compliance with regulations, and how users (typically) can access system resources efficiently without compromising security.

Some of the benefits of IIM include:

  • Enhanced Security: IIM reduces the attack surface of an identity system, which means fewer issues with credential theft, stuffing, etc. It also means you can better ensure access controls in the main network through security approaches like zero trust. 
  • Regulatory Compliance: IIM can help organizations meet stringent compliance requirements for data protection and privacy by ensuring that identity and access management are highly secure.
  • Reduced Impact of Breaches: If your main systems are breached, there is less chance that the attacker will use compromised credentials to propagate through the system or undermine access controls.
  • Improved Control and Monitoring: IIM allows for more controlled and monitored access to resources, enhancing governance over who accesses what, when, and how.
  • Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity: Isolated systems often include robust disaster recovery capabilities, ensuring the continuity of identity management functions even during a network compromise.

Conversely, some of the challenges of implementing IIM include:

  • Implementation Complexity: Setting up an isolated identity management system can be complex and resource-intensive, requiring specialized knowledge and technology.
  • Costs: Implementing and maintaining an isolated system can be significant, particularly for small to medium-sized organizations.
  • Integration Issues: Ensuring the isolated system effectively communicates and integrates with other IT systems and security measures can be challenging.
  • User Experience Impact: Implementing stringent security measures might affect end users’ ease of use and efficiency, potentially reducing productivity or user resistance.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Scaling an isolated identity management system to accommodate organizational growth or changes can be more challenging than integrating systems.
  • Maintaining Currency with Threats: Keeping the isolated system updated against the latest security threats requires ongoing attention and resources.
  • Vendor Dependence: If relying on third-party solutions for IIM, organizations may face issues of vendor lock-in, where they become dependent on a specific provider for updates and support.


Federal Requirements for Isolated Identity Management

Federal agencies often have stringent security requirements for contractors, especially when they handle sensitive or classified information. These requirements are typically guided by federal standards and regulations such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines, and the Department of Defense’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC).

Currently, IIM isn’t a requirement of these frameworks. However, IIM can help contractors and agencies better secure identity information, especially when facing challenges related to sensitive or classified projects, stringent IAM controls, or defense against APTs.


Get Your Identity Management Processes in Line with Lazarus Alliance

Identity management is a core component of any security and compliance plan, whether traditional or isolated. Work with a team that has been supporting clients’ needs in cybersecurity and compliance for years to ensure that your identity systems are up to the task of even the most rigorous compliance requirements on the market.

Lazarus Alliance