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Machine Identity Management (MIM)

What is Machine Identity Management?

Machine Identity Management (MIM) defines the approach organizations take to manage credentials and keys that secure access to IoT devices. This contrasts with the more common term of Identity Management (IM), focused on managing human users.

According to Forrester, machine identities are growing at twice the rate of human identities due to digital transformation and the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). As machine devices from refrigerators to medical equipment become digitally connected, there is a concurrent proliferation of service accounts, bots, and robotic processes that need access to privileged information. As these automated connections and processes multiply, they become integrated into just about every aspect of our lives. Machine identities are heavily integrated into our critical infrastructure, including utilities such as transportation, water, and our power grid.

The move to cloud computing has also spurred a major uptick in machine identities that encompass virtual machines (VMs), containers, and infrastructure as code. In addition, many companies have had to rely on remote workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the number of remote access and cloud-based applications has expanded exponentially. The pandemic has also forced IT and security teams to work remotely, making it far more difficult to manage machine identities.

What are the risks to machine identities?

Because machines exist everywhere in the IT environment, they may be unidentified or unprotected from easy access and are thus one of the most vulnerable targets to compromise by attackers or malicious insiders. Once a machine is compromised, attackers can create encrypted communication tunnels on enterprise networks and gain privileged access to confidential data. Attackers pose as legitimate machines and thus remain undetected by conventional cybersecurity safeguards.

Recent high-profile ransomware attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure, for example, have focused on exploiting machine identities that were unsecured. This demonstrates that a simple machine identity compromise can result in a major cybersecurity disaster with significant consequences.

To keep up with the growing number of machines and their associated identities, organizations must automate the management of a complex, rapidly changing set of machine identity data with software tools. These tools help set policies and facilitate controls that orchestrate machine identities to improve the organization’s security posture, reduce risks, and meet regulatory, legal, and operational requirements.

Developing a Machine Identity Management strategy

The adoption of newer identity management tools, including Privileged Access Management software, has traditionally focused on securing human identities. However, these solutions may not always be the best for reducing risks from the growth of machine identities and IoT.

A survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute sponsored by Keyfactor indicated that 60 percent of organizations have only a limited strategy (42 percent), or none at all(18 percent), for governing and managing machine identities.

A robust MIM strategy needs to manage the discovery and automation of machine credentials and scale to meet the complex demands of evolving IoT and DevOps technologies.  The goal is to protect machine identities from exploitation, ensure consistent oversight of machine identity creation and access, and provide visibility into all aspects of the machine environment. Because so many IT security teams have limited staff resources, a MIM strategy must contain tools that automate tasks needed to properly govern the complete lifecycle of machine identities from deployment through revocation or renewal.

More Machine Identity Resources:

Blog Posts

Protecting IoT and Machine Identities (IDs) with Automated PAM Tools

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