User and Non-User Identities in Your Network: Securing Both is the Key

User and Non-User Identities in Your Network: Securing Both is the Key

What really differentiates user and non-user identities in your network security and identity management? What tools can you deploy to keep both user and non-user identities safe? 

The majority of discourse surrounding identity management and cybersecurity focuses on user identities. This makes sense; your employees represent your enterprise both internally and externally. Further, their actions form the foundation of everyday workflows and modern cybersecurity. It’s not for nothing that employees often receive the title of “businesses’ largest attack vector.” 

However, focusing only on user identities leaves non-user identities out of the conversation. This can prove a significant problem. Hackers always try to subvert or manipulate whatever accounts they can; there is no such thing as an “insignificant component” to your IT environment. Any non-user identities could also provide attackers with the path they need to their nefarious goals. 

But what are user identities and non-user identities, really? How can you use identity management to secure them? 

User and Non-User Identities 

User Identities 

Obviously, your employees form the bulk of the user identities you should worry about…right? 

Yes and no. Sure, your employees can give hackers access to your most sensitive databases, and without the right tools hackers can transform even minor accounts into vulnerabilities; privilege escalation can occur at any time without the right monitoring. 

However, focusing on only employees obscures other potential attack vectors and other human participants in your IT environment. First, you may have customer accounts as they participate in your business; this could include making purchases, or reviewing their information, or updating their service subscriptions. All of these require authentication and personalization tied to verified identities to function properly; hackers stealing this information could do long term damage to your bottom line and brand. 

Additionally, you need to consider the permissions and privileges of your third-party IT participants. These can include partners but also other services necessary to your business; more than one hack began as hackers compromised an HVAC account and used it to reach their real target. 

So your human users actually comprise a much larger swatch of the population than you might have imagined. 

Non-User Identities

Now we come to the real challenge: what is a non-user? In short, it can be any participant in your IT environment based on artificial intelligence instead of human intelligence. These can include applications, email systems, HR programs, databases, device firmware, and other solutions. 

All of these programs and AI systems possess their own permissions in your network, and all of those permissions could be exploited. For example, without proper monitoring and regulation, a hacker could commandeer an application and use those permissions to steal data. 

Obviously, this could prove a serious challenge to your cybersecurity. What can you do? 

How Identity Management Helps

The good news here is user and non-user identities operate in a similar manner from an identity management perspective. Both can benefit from privileged access management, authentication, identity governance, and other tools equally. 

Both users and non-user identities benefit from strong authentication regulations. Both should be subjected to their own form of multifactor authentication, with both passive and active components. This ensures that non-user identities remain consistent and that copycat programs don’t infiltrate your environment. 

Privileged Access Management (PAM) can offer session management, providing another layer of monitoring to all of your identities. Further, PAM solutions frequently offer a password vault to encourage strong and unique passwords among human users. 

Meanwhile, Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) can limit the permissions of both human and non-user identities. This ensures that they only possess the permissions they absolutely need to do their roles, and can’t escalate their permissions independently. 

In short, the important part is recognizing that user and non-user identities alike need identity management protections. Once you realize that, you need to ensure your IAM solution can monitor and protect both. If it can’t, it’s time for an update. Consult our Identity Management Buyer’s Guide for more.  

Ben Canner

Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
Ben Canner