Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a marathon rather than a sprint. Most enterprises begin their IAM journey by strengthening authentication, implementing single-sign on, and enabling automated provisioning. These are excellent starting points for an enterprise IAM foundation, but what happens next? Once users are provisioned, authenticated, and signed on to multiple systems, how are they authorized? Enterprises need to very quickly answer crucial questions: How is access managed for large groups of users? How will you map business roles to technology and applications? How is access reviewed for security and auditing? What level of access granularity is appropriate?

Many enterprises have gotten over the first hurdle for IAM programs with sufficient initial capabilities in authentication, single sign-on, and provisioning. But focusing on access is only half the challenge; the key to establishing a durable IAM program for the long haul is tying it to an effective authorization strategy. Roles are not just a management concept to make IT management easier; they are also fundamental to defining how work in an enterprise gets done.

Role based access control (RBAC) has been around for a while and has a proven track record, but key questions remain for enterprise practitioners. How can roles make management easier? Where is the IAM industry going? What pitfalls exist with current role practices? How should an organization get started setting up a role based system? This series will explore these questions in detail.

Roles are special to IAM. They can answer certain critical access management problems, but they require careful consideration. Their value is easy to see, but there are essential to realize value. These include identifying authoritative sources, managing the business-to-technology mapping, integration with applications, and the art and science of access granularity. The paper will provide context, explore each of these questions in detail, and provide the critical bits enterprises need to choose between role-based access control products:

  • The role lifecycle in a real world enterprise – how to use roles to make management easier: This post will focus on three areas: defining roles and how they work, enforcing access control policies with roles, and using roles in real-world systems. We will also cover identification of sources, integration, and access reviews.
  • Advanced concepts – where is the industry going? This section will talk about role engineering – rolling up your sleeves to get work done. But we will also cover more advanced concepts such as using attributes with roles, dynamic ‘risk-based’ assess, scalability, and dealing with legacy systems.
  • Role management: This is the section many of you will be most interested in: how to manage roles. We will examine access control reviews, scaling across the enterprise, metrics, logging, error handling, and handling key audit & compliance chores.
  • Buyer’s guide: As with most of our series, not all vendors and services are equal, so we will offer a buyer’s guide. We will examine the criteria for the major use cases, help you plan and run the evaluation, and decide on a product. We will offer a set of steps to ensure success, and finally, a buyer’s checklist for features and proofs-of-concept.

Our goal is to address the common questions from enterprises regarding role-based access controls, with a focus on techniques and technologies that address these concerns. The content for this paper will be developed and posted to the Securosis blog, and as always we welcome community feedback on the blog and via Twitter.