CIAM and Zero Trust
What is CIAM?
CIAM or customer identity and access management is a form of authentication software used with an organization’s customer-facing websites, applications and other digital services that require some form of login. The software integrates with a company’s digital tools to enhance the user experience by creating a frictionless and highly secure access environment. CIAM solutions reduce data breach risks while meeting customer experience demands.

Strong CIAM solutions usually provide a combination of features including customer registration, self-service account management, consent and preference management, single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), access management, directory services and data access governance. The best CIAM solutions ensure a secure, seamless customer experience at extreme scale and performance, no matter which channels (web, mobile, etc.) customers use to engage with a brand.
Why is CIAM Important?
CIAM is a holistic approach to your customers identity management. It continues to grow in importance in how enterprises create and manage the identities of their customers. This increases the customer experience by allowing your customers more self service style onboarding and management of their accounts. With the use of social logins (using social media account credentials as a factor for login authentication), users have the ability to regain access to their locked accounts or reset passwords quicker. This improves the user experience which in turn increases retention. Enterprises continue to invest in the area of access management as they shift to improve their digital transformation.

CIAM should be the backbone to your enterprise data security. A robust CIAM solution has enhanced security features to safeguard against fraud, hacks, and misused data. With a vast array of hacks being executed, it is important to implement solutions using MFA coupled with CIAM. MFA will prevent hackers from getting immediate access to your users’ accounts while CIAM will stop hackers from flooding applications with login attempts. Little damage can be performed with customer credentials being that they do not have access to back end systems, but the attacks can impact enterprises reputation with their customer base.

CIAM solutions also help to protect customer data on the back end by allowing you to govern how data is encrypted, making it useless to hackers. CIAM solutions also provide insight into who within your organization is accessing customer data and applications that host personal data, and can alert administrators of any suspicious behavior.
What are the benefits of a CIAM Solution?
CIAM is becoming more of a need as companies seek to keep their users' data secure and provide seamless access. App based solutions provide the following benefits:
  1. Better Customer Registration experience
  2. Self-Service
  3. Faster access to support
  4. Personalization of accounts
  5. Privacy
  6. Full sign on analytics to track user access
  7. Supports multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  8. Automatic updates to protect against new threats
CIAM provides scalable performance to ensure users an uninterrupted experience during peak times of usage. By offering multiple authentication methods, users are able to maintain their interactions with organizations and have a smooth experience when gaining access. Passwordless CIAM solutions ensure an even greater experience by eliminating the need for passwords and often highly frustrating password resets.

Legacy solutions often lead to user fatigue, with a percentage of users taking their business elsewhere versus creating a new identity. The more concerning part is the increased risks associated with legacy solutions. These solutions have proven to be exploitable and insecure due to easily forged credentials, passwords and sign-on tokens.
How does CIAM differ from IAM?
The simplest way to put it, IAM is internally facing, whereas CIAM is externally facing. IAM’s core functionality is to protect and secure users’ identities from being accessed and used inappropriately by internal or external threat actors, and to prevent security breaches or compromising data. IAM focuses on authentication and monitoring employee access and behavior. This allows organizations to create strong authentication policies and helps to provide the correct permissions and privileges to employees to perform their respective job functions.

CIAM is not as simple. Even though security continues to be extremely important, it isn’t as focused as in IAM. Securing customer data and preventing identities from being compromised is necessary for customer retention. There has to be a delicate balance of security and customer experience during transactions. CIAM needs to support customers entering through your website or mobile application, so the interface must be simple to use throughout the entire customer experience - from registration and login to individual account management. Pushing customers to a third-party portal or increasing the number of logins can drive customers away.

The biggest difference between the two is the convenience of CIAM. As nice as it would be to have more convenience features in an IAM solution, it is not necessary and could pose more security risks for organizations. Convenience is crucial in providing a smooth and seamless experience to customers in a CIAM solution. CIAM also supports social sign on - using social media account credentials as a factor for login authentication or “passwordless” authentication. Both methods offer convenience but are not considered secure at the IAM level.