Resolving trust issues in collaborative work ecosystems

Contextual access-control solutions grant access to resources according to context-based security policies.

The recent convergence of the cloud, internet of things and mobility applications have created the perfect storm for data-sharing in collaborative work ecosystems. The ability to safely share information across departmental and organizational boundaries is critical to efficient and productive workflows. As organizations grow increasingly extended with onsite and remote employees, constituents, suppliers, vendors and partners, a collaborative, connected effort is critical to ensuring  trust exists.

Enterprise-grade tools and tactics allow IT managers to make these smarter access decisions and resolve trust issues. The trick remains in making these tools secure enough for the most sensitive government work.

The limits of IAM

Many organizations limit themselves to identity and access management (IAM) solutions that use centralized and provisioned identities as the root of trust. This approach requires IT departments to complete the resource-intensive task of provisioning and managing the lifecycle of each and every user.

Built for an era when servers were located in-house, IAM solutions are not designed for today’s sophisticated cloud environment. Due to an overwhelming amount of data, a multitude of access points and the ongoing task of actively managing identities across departments and agencies, the error-prone process IAM solutions seek to address can be impossible to scale in today’s collaborative ecosystem.

How contextual access works

Contextual access-control solutions provide secure management by granting access to resources according to context-based security policies. This means that a policy-driven, workflow engine discovers, organizes and resolves information or attributes to provide the necessary context for more informed decision making about access. This newer technology allows organizations to securely connect, share and collaborate with external organizations and individuals by removing the trust obstacle.

Implemented as a collection of network services typically deployed in a cloud environment with failover and load-balancing support, contextual access control solutions feature a network-based architecture that scales to cover an organization's reach over its entire ecosystem of customers, partners and facilities. It responds to policy workflow requests (obtained using existing application references to points as SAML, OAUTH2/OpenID exchanges or Relying Party API) from applications, either directly or through vendor-supplied templates.

How to use it with IAM

While contextual access-control solutions can provide complete identity and access management, multi-factor authentication, single sign-on and advanced policy workflow management capabilities if needed, this type of technology is designed to be integrated as middleware or a microservice into an organization’s existing system. The concept is to extend, augment and enhance an agency's existing systems to help it leverage its current investments, while simultaneously providing for a very low-hurdle adoption experience.

Integrating with a large variety of authoritative sources using access protocols and contextual control preserves organization and application investments and increases value by employing investments in cross-organizational contexts. Current policies, authentication factors and authorities available within an agency's enterprise can be immediately configured with additional new and external information through a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Usability and performance  

Performance gains of contextual access-control policies depend upon the ability to form and continue beneficial collaborative relationships. While a network architecture provides flexibility and scale, it is also requires additional education. Generally speaking, contextual access control solutions are straightforward and easy to use from both the user and administrator perspective.

With online attacks and breaches increasing in sophistication and intensity in today’s cloud-leaning environment,  contextual access management is the only way forward. Taking a decentralized and network-based approach that involves internal and external authoritative sources in real-time to resolve access queries and rights helps workplace ecosystems interface across organizations and agencies securely. Protecting privacy and data in today’s threat landscape is critical, and with access layer protection, agencies can manage access guided by attributes that enable performance with peace of mind.  

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