Identity Governance Blog

IGA vs IAM: Understanding the Difference Is Critical to Cybersecurity

By Stephen Lowing, VP Marketing at Omada

April 18, 2024

What is the difference between IAM and IGA?

Few cybersecurity-related terms are confused so readily as IAM and IGA. As identity governance and administration software providers and practitioners, identity security professionals frequently ask us to explain identity governance vs identity access management. It is an important question; knowing the difference between IAM and IGA provides the clarity required to ensure that users of an organization’s IT infrastructures have access to the systems and applications they need to fulfill their roles and that they are satisfying compliance requirements. In this post, we’ll look at IGA vs IAM and explain how modern IGA drives the effectiveness of IAM. We’ll also discuss how identity governance enables organizations to connect their IGA software to other best-in-breed solutions in their stack and create a truly optimized identity and access management infrastructure that can improve compliance and mitigate risks in just a few weeks.


What is IAM?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a technology framework of identity management policies and business processes that enable organizations to manage human and digital identities in a way that ensures security without impeding efficiency. An effective IAM solution makes it possible for the people responsible for identity security in any organization to manage user access to assets and applications across their environment. Multifactor authentication (MFA), privileged access management (PAM), and single sign-on are components of a comprehensive IAM strategy. In addition to ensuring identity authentication, the components of an IAM solution enable IT teams to store identity and profile data securely and ensure that users have access only to the data they require to fulfill their roles. Many organizations host IAM systems they have developed on-premises, others use cloud-hosted third-party SaaS solutions, some deploy a hybrid model that uses both. In any case, an IAM solution should enable identity managers to see how their system identifies users, on-board and off-board users as their roles change, secure sensitive data, and protect data in the event of a security breach.


What is IGA?

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) makes it possible for identity security professionals to manage the identities of system users and control their access to data and applications. IGA enables security teams to gain insight and visibility into how users access data and apply policies and controls to ensure data and applications are accessed securely and prevent unnecessary privileges. It improves their visibility into identities and access privileges and helps them implement the necessary controls to prevent inappropriate or risky access. In addition to visibility, IGA enables effective role and entitlement management, provisioning, separation of duties, and analytics and reporting to facilitate compliance with data protection.


IGA vs IAM is really IGA in IAM

IAM is a security and business discipline that includes multiple technologies and business processes to help the right people or machines get access to the right assets at the right time for the right reasons. IAM allows an organization to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems, applications, and data. It is the enabler mechanism for compliance with regulatory requirements and helps to mitigate the risk from cyber threats such as attacks on privilege.

By comparison, IGA manages digital identity and access rights across all systems, applications, files, and data. To accomplish this, IGA solutions will aggregate and correlate disparate identities, accounts, and access rights to control user access. With this aggregated data an IGA solution can provide:

  1. Identity life cycle management including joiner, mover, and leaver functionality
  2. Provisioning of user access and accounts in systems and applications via built-in connectivity
  3. Access requests, approvals, and delegation
  4. Entitlement management
  5. Access certification/recertifications
  6. Workflow orchestration and automation to remove manual steps and empower faster decision-making
  7. Reporting and analytics to help provide proof of compliance

IGA many times also provides ancillary functions, including role and policy management, password management, and auditing. IGA solutions will leverage data sources such as HR and Directory services. IGA functionality allows organizations to save costs, ensure compliance, and minimize the risk of data theft by malicious insiders and hackers; providing the backbone of an effective IAM infrastructure.

A key element of managing digital identities is controlling access rights when users join an organization, move departments or change roles, and eventually leave. IGA automates identity management through each of these stages. IGA improves the efficiency of identity management by ensuring end users can request access and managers can approve access to digital resources needed as quickly and efficiently as possible. IGA also accurately models roles, contexts, and policies to the needs of the organization to make the process as relevant and easy to use as possible. These functions not only deliver good IGA, but they also enable PAM, CIEM, IDTR, and other IAM-related solutions to make a greater positive impact on an overall IAM strategy.


When IGA vs. IAM goes wrong

As we can see, IGA is an essential layer that drives an effective identity access strategy. This is where the differences between IGA vs IAM come into play. While both aid in managing access and provision identities and accounts, IGA processes ensure the right level of access is maintained over time. As users move around an organization and take on new responsibilities, change responsibilities, or leave an organization altogether, their level of access or what they have access to will change. Without a proper governance layer that can aid attestation through certification, user permissions can remain for past projects beyond an acceptable timeframe. This is where the average users can become targets for identity compromise. Even in cases where a zero-trust architecture is in place, without the automation of deprovisioning users and removal of access, an organization will fail to ensure the principle of least privilege is in place making any access verification ineffective in stopping an attack on identity.

Further enhancement to managing identity within the context of IGA can take the form of role-mining to ensure that the right level of account access for individuals joining an organization helps to enable onboarding. Identities need to have the right level of access and with an IGA role defined this becomes something that can happen quite easily. But this is more than just mapping accounts and permissions for groups of users. It requires continuous focus and analysis to ensure the right level of access is maintained.


How Governance for Identity Fabric overcomes the confusion of IGA vs. IAM

Organizations must be sure their identity management tools and services work together as elements of a connected environment that operates as a smarter, flexible, and scalable identity fabric to stop identity-based attacks. A Governance for Identity Fabric approach overcomes IGA vs. IAM by providing IGA as part of an organization’s IAM infrastructure and connecting it to a blend of modular IAM tools for hybrid and multi-cloud environments. A Governance for Identity Fabric amplifies the value of good IAM by enabling the programmatic sharing of information with other IAM-related solutions, providing advanced analytics, and sharing it to improve decision-making and support standards-based identity integrations. A great example of this is when an identity is compromised through a credential leak. When this happens, the attacker can be operating in a geographically challenging location for the normal location where the user typically would be working/interacting with applications and systems. There are tools within the larger IAM infrastructure that can help to detect this compromise but determining what to do about it is best enabled through workflow and response to lockdown the impacted accounts for this identity.

A Governance for Identity Fabric uses connectivity and interoperability to eliminate the challenge of needing to understand multiple vendors’ architectures and identity frameworks and reduces complexities in technology environments. This enables organizations to extend identity governance to any application including third-party applications and mobile devices to create a frictionless experience. Centralized identity access management and governance unifies information from the security landscape through bi-directional context exchange to improve the visibility of risk and compliance and create an identity-first security posture that meets stricter privacy and security requirements, even as business needs evolve.

A full-featured, SaaS-based IGA solution like Omada Identity Cloud provides the building block infrastructure for implementing a Governance for Identity Fabric that turns confusion of IGA vs. IAM into “IGA drives IAM infrastructure.” Omada Identity Cloud features highly configurable connectivity with powerful workflows and IGA automation options without the need to develop custom code. It provides full visibility into your environment, making overall IAM simpler and easier to manage. Organizations can deploy Omada Identity Cloud in as little as 12 weeks, guaranteeing fast time-to-value that leverages an industry-leading best-practice IGA framework IdentityPROCESS+.

Contact Omada to learn more

Let's Get

Let us show you how Omada can enable your business.