Why Machine Identity Management is Enterprise Critical


Companies need an intelligent system to orchestrate the management of identities and verifications, keeping information and processes flowing without opening weaknesses.

How many machines does it take to keep a company running in the digital age? The number varies but generally speaking, a lot. Each of these solutions requires maintenance and someone in the company who’s an expert. These machines connect, creating potential weaknesses and loopholes for hackers to exploit. Companies must protect machine access without creating unnecessary obstacles in machine-to-machine communication. It’s time to adopt machine identity management solutions. Let’s explore what this means and how it can bring companies further along in their digital transformations.

What is machine identity management?

While humans use usernames and passwords to establish trust, machines leverage unique cryptographic keys and digital certificates to talk to one another. They verify a machine is a trusted agent before initiating or granting an action.

Companies need an intelligent system to orchestrate the management of identities and verifications, keeping information and processes flowing without opening weaknesses. These policies and controls make up a company’s machine identity management.

See also: How Digital Trust Can Overcome Fraud’s Impact on the CX

Why must companies leverage machine identity management?

Threat actors can misuse machine identities to conceal hidden codes and encrypted communication tunnels that lead to privileged information. The more machine identities a company has, the easier it is for these hidden gateways to remain undetected.

In the beginning stages of digital transformation, companies managed hundreds of these machine interactions. Today, that number reaches in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of machines. This number will continue to grow.

In addition, machine lifecycles have been shortened. Machine identity certificates used to last five years, but in 2020, that number was shortened to about thirteen months. We can expect an average of three to six months in the coming years. Companies must also account for rapidly changing market conditions, forcing developers to create machines and solutions in smaller chunks.

Protecting machine identities in two different vulnerable states

At rest: Storing private keys at rest in system files is one vulnerability. Although they’re protected through access controls, any hacker could exploit other weaknesses to gain access.

In memory (in use): Information remains available in use through web apps. Businesses that move workloads to the cloud through third part apps also place in-use machine identities at risk. Even more significant, data in-use must go through human users, increasing the potential for human error to expose weaknesses.

What are the current challenges?

Most efforts to implement effective Transport Layer Security (TLS) machine identity management fall into one of these buckets.

Distributed responsibility

Because each department of a company relies on digital systems to operate, managing security becomes a departmental responsibility. Each team decides its own goals and brings different skills to the table for managing these machine identities. Companies end up with a fragmented approach.

Limited visibility and intelligence

This fragmentation makes it difficult for companies to gain a bird’s eye view into their cybersecurity. They don’t know how many machines are present on the network or how they’re used. As a result, irregular activity (an early threat indication) can go unnoticed for a long time. It can also make response more difficult and cause further damage because security teams can’t identify the full extent of a breach and respond too slowly to mitigate damage.

Continuous development

The push for continuous development shortens digital certificate lifecycles. The increase can make it challenging for companies to understand how many machine identities it manages and who is responsible for them all. While many companies have adopted some measure of continuous intelligence, the “move fast and break things” maxim can lead to just that—breaking things.

Lack of expertise

The sharp increase in machine identities plus relatively new tools to manage them all can leave system administrators in a bind. Companies need smart automation to ensure that identity management happens across the entire network, with encryption experts left to handle higher-order tasks.

Challenges with tools

These challenges lie on just the people’s side, but tools also present some obstacles. Many current tools rely heavily on manual tracking, a recipe for human error and disaster. Departments take security into their own hands and invest in shadow IT or scripts designed by non-expert team members. In addition, these tools, ranging from effective but too complex to simple yet weak, don’t communicate with each other.

Starting a machine identity management protocol

Companies must gather a full picture of all machine identities used across the network. Extensive, enterprise-wide discovery comes first so that companies gain a reckoning of everything at play. From there, solutions must create a central repository to create complete visibility. Full reporting makes these initiatives data-driven. These components, along with automation capabilities, ensure that companies may finally get closure in their cybersecurity.

Elizabeth Wallace

About Elizabeth Wallace

Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do.

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