Identity access management helps prevent internal threats and credential abuse. In this post, we’ll compare the IAM features of two of the largest cloud providers: AWS and Azure.
What Is IAM?
The term Identity and access management (IAM) refers to defining and managing roles and access permissions of users and devices to the enterprise’s applications, both in the cloud and on-premises.
Organizations use IAM systems to set a single digital identity per person or device, which can then be managed and monitored. The goal is to prevent unauthorized access to applications and data, increasing security.
Identity Access Management tools and features usually cover:
- Managing passwords
- Onboarding users
- Change roles
- Track activities
- Create reports
- User repository
- Role definition and authorization
Major cloud providers like AWS and Azure include IAM policies as part of their security offering for their cloud environment’s clients. Let’s check out what each of them has to offer:
Identity Access Management Is a free feature of AWS accounts. AWS IAM allows the client to manage the access to AWS resources securely. Users can create and remove users and groups, add conditions, and enable multi-factor authentication.
Pricing and Availability
It is free. Is available globally and it can be scaled subject to IAM quotas. These quotas limit the number of objects you can create, name requirements, and how many characters you can use for an object.
- Logical organization – Access limits fall inside a single account. Companies with multiple AWS accounts group them under a management account. However, access and authorization policies apply to the resources within each account.
- Roles – the role is essential as identity in AWS. IAM policies control which users can assume which roles. However, the roles are limited to use resources.
- Groups – IAM users are tied to a specific account. It offers groups for user accounts so specific permissions can be granted to access resources in another AWS account.
- Policy configuration – Provides JSON for policy configuration and it allows multiple policy types. You can define identity-based policies, resource-based policies, permissions, and session policies, among others.
- Access to AWS resources – you can control access to AWS APIs and to specific resources. You can add specific conditions, the IP address, and if they use MFA.
- Enable multi-factor authentication – users with an MFA-enabled mobile device can augment the security of user credentials.
- Monitor access in real-time – track who is accessing the AWS environment. You can refine your policies to allow users to access only the services in use.
Microsoft’s Azure Identity and Access Management solutions are part of the Azure account. This feature allows the administrator of the Azure account to manage and control users’ identities and permissions. Admin can also track and monitor access activity.
MS offers three different IAM products:
- Azure Active Directory – for cloud and hybrid environments
- Azure Active Directory External Identities – for consumer identity and access management in the cloud
- Azure Active Directory Domain Services – to add virtual machines to a domain without deploying domain controllers.
It is free with a subscription to specific services.
- Logical organization – Active Directory is based on end-user computing. Therefore, the Azure cloud still relies on a functioning Active Directory system that gives access to users and other entities.
- Roles – Azure provides pre-defined roles and you can create custom ones. Pre-defined roles come with built-in policies. You can define the policies for custom roles. It doesn’t limit role session duration either for users that have an Azure AD Premium License.
- Groups – Allows groups but relies on the Active Directory to manage permissions inside the groups.
- Policy configuration – Azure defines policies in line with a role. Then you can assign the role directly to a user, group, or service principal. In Azure, the policies can fall in four levels from broad to specific access: Management group, subscription, resource group, and resource.
- Control and monitor users’ permissions and activity – AD is a user management solution for Azure, therefore you can use Azure AD Connect to bridge between AD and Azure AD.
- Federate identities to web applications – users can leverage Azure with their on-prem AD instance. Customers can manage Azure users, federating their identities to MS365.
AWS and Azure IAM Pros and Cons
Why do you need an Identity Access Management Policy?
Enhances IT security
Unauthorized users gaining access to sensitive data can have disastrous consequences. Knowing that only certain users have access to critical applications strengthens the security posture of the organization against data breaches and social engineering threats.
IAM helps organizations protect against different security incidents like internal threats, credential theft, and data breaches. Methods like single-sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and role-based access control (RBAC) reduce the risk of credential abuse.
In addition, following IAM policies helps organizations meet compliance regulations by limiting user interaction with applications to the minimum.
The system helps keep track of employee activity. By implementing the principle of least privilege, it ensures that the user only gets access to what they need for the job.
Security methods of identity management like SSO, MFA, and RBAC ensure employees get quick access to the resources they need. No more time wasted in finding the right password. By automating user provisioning, it simplifies requesting authorized access to resources.
The automation in IAM standardizes authentication and identity management tasks. That means they are off the hands of IT administrators, saving time and costs. If you use an IAM as part of a cloud service, you can save the cost of setting up and maintaining an on-premises infrastructure.
The Bottom Line: Who’s the winner?
In reality, there is no winner since each one is geared to companies’ specific needs. Corporate environments already working with MS products will find it easier to adopt Azure. Organizations that require highly available serverless offerings may likely choose AWS. In the end, it will depend on which provider’s services meet your infrastructure and scaling goals.