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Getting Started with Risk-Based Authentication
October 30, 2020
In June of this year Gartner noted that by 2023, 60% of large and global enterprises and 80% of mid-sized enterprises (an increase from 10% and 25% respectively over today) will deploy multi-factor authentication (MFA) capabilities consolidated with access management or similar tools. Diverse requirements, as well as varying user preferences from employees, partners, contractors and customers, are driving organizations to reevaluate their current identity and access management (IAM) solutions to ensure the strongest available security and best user experience (UX) – especially for customer-facing revenue generating applications.
Managing risk is also important to an IAM solution, a critical function for every organization and an absolute business requirement. Most of us would agree that not all risk is the same and therefore should be properly evaluated and assessed.
Every login request submitted by a user to access valuable company assets inherently has some level of risk. Just because you recognize the username and password doesn’t necessarily mean the individual behind the credentials is the actual user.
Over 80% of breaches, according to the 2020 Verizon DBIR study, involve brute force or the use of lost or stolen credentials. While protecting the business is essential, maintaining business continuity and a good user experience is just as important for the overall health of the organization.
The challenge for IT Security and Risk professionals is building a model to efficiently assess the risk each access request presents – and implementing it in a way that doesn’t cause friction for valued customers, partners or associates.
Risk Scoring provides a pragmatic approach to assessing each access request's risk without introducing unnecessary friction to the user UX as the users are trying to single sign-on (SSO) into the portal or mobile app. The user risk score then serves as a critical signal in access decisions made by the IAM system. In practice, IAM professionals can implement unique login workflows to support different types of users and take the correct actions based on the resulting risk scoring to grant the appropriate access.
Verizon’s 2019 DBIR report advised us to “2FA everything. Use strong authentication on your customer facing applications, any remote access, and any cloud-based email.” The underlying message was clear: a basic username/password combo isn’t sufficient to secure valuable resources.
Simply put, multi-factor authentication is a security system that verifies a user’s identity by requiring multiple credentials (or factors) in order to access to resources. MFA should be considered an absolute must for any SaaS app, website or SSO portal.
Here’s what you, as an IAM professional, should consider in common authentication scenarios:
It’s important to understand that no single second factor authentication method is perfect – each comes with its own weaknesses. Let’s look at several popular 2FA methods:
Adaptive authentication, or risk-based authentication, provides the highest level of security and user verification when deployed in conjunction with MFA.
A modern IAM system deployed in 2020 and beyond should meet the following criteria:
The contextual risk checks help build a profile of user behavior over an extended period. When the user is first created the risk scoring system has no information on “usual behavior.” However, as the risk engine ingests information about when, what the user does (and how), the profile becomes more accurate and the engine is able to spot anomalies. In human language, the risk engine looks at characteristics like this:
Based on results from contextual risk-checks, the IAM system can take appropriate actions based on the workflow policies enabled – deny access outright, prompt user for MFA or let user sign in without MFA. Enabling risk scoring as part of the authentication process exponentially increases an organization’s security profile.
Malicious actors will continue to break corporate cybersecurity defenses, leveraging methods like brute force, password spraying and credential stuffing attacks. By layering multi-factor authentication capabilities and functionality with contextual risk-checks, organizations can mitigate these threats and better focus on digital initiatives and business outcomes.
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