User management functions in the cloud

Cloud identity administrative functions should focus on lifecycle management of user identities in the cloud—provisioning, de-provisioning, identity federation, SSO, password or credentials management, profile management, and administrative management. Organizations that are not capable of supporting federation should explore cloud-based identity management services. This new breed of services usually synchronizes an organization’s internal directories with its directory (usually multitenant) and acts as a proxy IdP for the organization.
By federating identities using either an internal Internet-facing IdP or a cloud identity management service provider, organizations can avoid duplicating identities and attributes and storing them with the CSP. Given the inconsistent and sparse support for identity standards among CSPs, customers may have to devise custom methods to address user management functions in the cloud. Provisioning users when federation is not supported can be complex and laborious. It is not unusual for organizations to employ manual processes, web-based administration, outsourced (delegated) administration that involves uploading of spreadsheets, and execution of custom scripts at both the customer and CSP locations. The latter model is not desirable as it is not scalable across multiple CSPs and will be costly to manage in the long run.

Federated Identity (SSO)

Organizations planning to implement identity federation that enables SSO for users can take one of the following two paths (architectures):
  • Implement an enterprise IdP within an organization perimeter.
  • Integrate with a trusted cloud-based identity management service provider.
Both architectures have its own pros and cons.

Enterprise identity provider

In this architecture, cloud services will delegate authentication to an organization’s IdP. In this delegated authentication architecture, the organization federates identities within a trusted circle of CSP domains. A circle of trust can be created with all the domains that are authorized to delegate authentication to the IdP. In this deployment architecture, where the organization will provide and support an IdP, greater control can be exercised over user identities, attributes, credentials, and policies for authenticating and authorizing users to a cloud service.

Identity management-as-a-service

In this architecture, cloud services can delegate authentication to an identity management-as-a-service (IDaaS) provider. In this model, organizations outsource the federated identity management technology and user management processes to a third-party service provider, such as Ping Identity, TriCipher’s Myonelogin.com, or Symplified.com.
When federating identities to the cloud, organizations may need to manage the identity lifecycle using their IAM system and processes. However, the organization might benefit from an outsourced multiprotocol federation gateway (identity federation service) if it has to interface with many different partners and cloud service federation schemes. For example, as of this writing, Salesforce.com supports SAML 1.1 and Google Apps supports SAML 2.0. Enterprises accessing Google Apps and Salesforce.com may benefit from a multiprotocol federation gateway hosted by an identity management CSP such as Symplified or TriCipher.
In cases where credentialing is difficult and costly, an enterprise might also outsource credential issuance (and background investigations) to a service provider, such as the GSA Managed Service Organization (MSO) that issues personal identity verification (PIV) cards and, optionally, the certificates on the cards. The GSA MSO† is offering the USAccess management end-to-end solution as a shared service to federal civilian agencies.

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