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The marriage of identity yin and security yang

Now more than ever, organizations need to make sure these two things are working in harmony, or they will either hold back the business or greatly increase security risk.

In just two weeks, the annual RSA Conference takes place in San Francisco. What can we expect as the "hot topics" at this annual security love fest? I'm sure there will be plenty of buzz about securing virtual servers and cloud computing infrastructure, but this topic will likely focus on blue sky vision describing the safeguards we will need in 2012 or so. Rather than this hyperbole, I am looking forward to discussions focused on the marriage of identity and security.

Haven't these two areas been linked forever? Well, yes and no. Security folks think of identity in terms of authentication issues like password management, role-based access controls, or biometrics. But other aspects of identity like user provisioning, fine-grained entitlement management, and single sign-on usually live elsewhere in IT. When network access was restricted to internal employees, this division made sense, but identity and security can no longer remain apart. The marriage of these two IT disciplines will take place for a simple reason--identity and security must work together to enable modern business processes.

Identity is all about who gets access to applications and data so in theory, strong identity skills let organizations get users more productive sooner than the competition. Think of identity management as the magical formula to unleash Metcalf's Law. More users come with a cost, however--a greater number of security threats from hackers, malicious code attacks, and data breaches. Thus IT executives must balance their ability to let users into the network with proportional safeguards to keep bad things from happening.

Call it social networking, the consumerization of IT, Web 2.0, or any other market-speak term you want. To me, it is all about information sharing, collaboration, and business process improvement. IT must create an environment where users can access what they need and come and go as they please as long as they add business value while they are around. Public and private sector organizations headed down this path had better have their identity yin and security yang working together in harmony or they will either hold back the business or greatly increase security risk.