Following the trend of modern cloud computing in the 1990s, the 2000s witnessed an explosion of cloud applications, with Software as a Service spend rising from about 10% in 2010 to over 80% today. Cloud-based Identity & Access Management (IAM) vendors started to gain traction in the market and provide identity services. IT teams were no longer required to host these services on-premises. More importantly, these IAM vendors could meet the needs of a more interconnected world–one where users are accessing business resources via corporate or personal devices, like laptops and mobile phones.

Today, many enterprises have already adopted a cloud IAM solution for their workforce, but are still working with legacy, homegrown systems to store and manage their customer identities. Unlike traditional workforce IAM, Customer Identity & Access Management (CIAM) handles all the registration and login processes for customers accessing a business’ web portal or online services. So why do these homegrown methods no longer serve the needs of today’s businesses and how do CIAM solutions solve for this today?

For starters, CIAM has evolved over recent years to encompass a broad range of functionality from securing customer accounts to providing intelligent analytics for targeted marketing. The focus of this blog, however, is the most critical piece–providing secure and seamless authentication to your web and mobile apps.

The first major problem with a homegrown system is the issue of scale. What may have worked in the past doesn’t cut it anymore when you have a massive amount of customers in the tens of thousands, perhaps millions, accessing your digital site each and every day. A cloud-based CIAM provider can confidently handle the load to ensure uptime and high availability of your login portal because every failed login attempt from a legitimate user means potential lost revenue.

Cloud IAM solution benefits

Equally important to making sure your customer identity system can support a massive user base is the ability to effectively collect and protect customer data, whether it is a username and password or a credit card number or some other sensitive information. Brute force and password spray attacks are a favorite among hackers to break into a customer account and steal valuable data. The fact that customers frequently reuse their passwords across multiple sites, means businesses face even more difficulty protecting their own web portals anytime a password is involved. These types of attacks will never go away, but there is something you can do about it.

Modern authentication methods utilizing biometrics, such as Touch ID, are some of the most secure factors for authenticating customers. At the same time, the user benefits from not having to remember an additional password. Also popular is the use of existing social media credentials, like Facebook and LinkedIn, which eliminates a separate username and password entirely. And because this leverages a trust relationship with a 3rd party identity provider, this added convenience does not mean you have to compromise on security.

For even more protection, the most advanced CIAM offerings incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to adjust security requirements when the risk is high. Admins can set up automated workflows to increase or decrease authentication requirements, such as submitting an additional factor or blocking access entirely if the risk is extremely high. For instance, if a customer needs to retrieve medical records and habitually uses their laptop from their home to access their online portal, the system learns that user’s behavior and eventually does not require the user to provide additional authentication at all.

Conversely, if the user then goes to a coffee shop in another country and tries to perform the same action on their mobile device, the system will automatically prompt them for multi-factor authentication (MFA) or an additional authentication factor, like Face ID, to verify their identity. This vastly improves the speed and accuracy of blocking threats before they happen, so you can protect customer data and remove painful authentication experiences when not necessary.

Biometric authentication in cloud identity and access management

Another popular option to incorporate best-in-class authentication into a customer website or application is to leverage a CIAM provider’s APIs. This allows you to leverage just the piece you need, such as adding adaptive MFA to your mobile application, so you can leverage what you already have, yet drastically improve your security posture at the same time. Regardless of your specific needs, a modern CIAM solution ensures you are using security best practices like the above to protect all your applications and customer data.

With increased demand for cloud-based CIAM solutions and emergence of innovative authentication methods leveraging ML, biometrics, as well as social login, businesses today have even more options for providing easy and convenient access that customers demand and the security needed to protect them.

In the next blog to this series, we will look at the future of digital identities and how CIAM vendors will evolve to bring even stronger data protection and improve customer engagement and experience. In the meantime, catch up with the first blog and check out our webinar with Forrester Research on “What You Need to Know about Customer Identity Access Management.”

About the Author

Ariel Zommer

Ariel Zommer is a Product Marketing Manager at OneLogin. Ariel is passionate about cloud technology and how it is transforming the way we work, live, and collaborate every day. Prior to OneLogin, Ariel has held strategic marketing roles at Signifyd, IXYS Corporation, and TIE Kinetix.

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