What Is Identity Governance?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Identity governance makes sure your business’s sensitive data is safe and protected. Learn more about identity governance, its role in keeping data secure, and how to best implement identity administration and cybersecurity policies.

[Featured image] A group of employees attends a seminar on their company's new identity governance policies.

Many businesses rely on digital technology to store, transfer, and work with data, and if you own a business, you need identity governance to secure your data. While data transfer benefits employees who might not work in the same location or a company with global reach, the fact remains that more people with access to a business’s sensitive data means increased exposure to hacking and chances for data to be misused. 

Businesses must successfully balance the need for access with the need to be secure, which is where identity governance becomes a valuable tool. These policies and processes help businesses successfully provide access to sensitive data while preserving that data’s security and integrity.  

Business owners, leaders, and security professionals must collaborate to develop effective strategies and systems to safeguard data and create a more robust defense against cybercrime.  Discover identity governance, its role in securing data, and how to best implement identity administration and cybersecurity policies.

Read more: Cybersecurity Terms: A to Z Glossary

What is identity governance?

Identity governance and administration (IGA) is a policy framework that allows a business to reduce its risk of access-related data hacks through set processes and security protocols. For many organizations, identity governance includes required steps for employees, clients, or learners to access sensitive information by entering a username and password. Identity governance manages data access through its entire lifecycle, ensuring the data remains protected during its use phases.

Identity governance is vital for businesses to allow automated access without increasing the risk of that access, which can result in data exposure or hacks. Like identity access management, identity governance focuses on processes that help enhance compliance with federal rules and regulations concerning protecting sensitive data. At its core, identity governance encompasses the following components:

  • Separating duties

  • Role management

  • Logging

  • Analysis

  • Sharing insights

  • Techniques for detecting suspicious activity

Components of identity governance

Identity governance handles user access, managing who has access to your business’s data and who does not, it often includes a variety of processes and rules to ensure proper handling of data. These processes might include:

  • Password management: Using a single sign-on or a password manager helps employees avoid the temptation of an easily-remembered, weak password used across many applications.

  • Workflow automation: Automated workflows make it more convenient for authorized users to request access. These workflows are also helpful in onboarding and offboarding employees and managing guest access.

  • Permissions: Businesses use permissions to streamline who gets what access to each application. Permissions allow businesses to tailor each user’s access to help provide maximum protection.

  • Reporting: Reporting allows security personnel and other leaders to track users and their access attempts, making identifying potential security risks or unusual behavior easier.

  • Access lifecycle: By managing the user-access lifecycle, your business or educational organization can ensure that an employee or learner, whether internal or external, has access to the correct applications depending on their role and position in the institution.

What is identity governance used for?

Identity governance’s primary use is to ensure the right people have access to your organization’s data at the appropriate time, thereby reducing the risk of data exposure, security hacks, or incorrect usage. It achieves this by carefully monitoring the creation, maintenance, and destruction of digital identities. Identity governance and administration often use automated tools and interfaces to streamline digital access management, making it much simpler for a company to protect sensitive data as its workforce changes and evolves.

Read more: 9 Cybersecurity Best Practices for Businesses

Who uses identity governance?

Businesses and organizations that deal with digital identity and access use identity governance to safeguard their digital assets. These businesses exist across various industries, including those requiring compliance with federal regulations on handling sensitive data, including the financial and health care sectors. IT departments, compliance officers, risk managers, and business executives are all professionals who find value in implementing identity governance policies.

Read more: What Is Risk Assessment in Business Intelligence?

Examples of identity governance

Identity governance policies cover many methods to keep your company in compliance and protect sensitive data. Some examples of identity governance include:

  • Multi-factor identification: Businesses use multi-factor identification, which means users must prove their identities through several steps before receiving access. It might include entering a password and receiving a secondary personal identification number (PIN) on a registered phone number.

  • Account management: Businesses use software to streamline and manage creating, maintaining, and removing various user identities.

  • Cloud access management: Identity governance software can manage user access on-premises and in the cloud, improving safety for your workers who might not come into the office or work from home.

Read more: Cloud Data Security: Dangers, Safeguards, and More

Pros and cons of using identity governance

The pros and cons of identity governance vary and depend on your goals as a business or organization. Regarding the benefits, identity governance helps companies reduce the risk of access-related security breaches or data exposure. In turn, it can help mitigate the costs associated with a data breach, which were $4.45 million per incident in 2023, according to data from IBM [1].

Identity governance also helps streamline onboarding for new employees by making the steps for the new employee to gain access simple and efficient. Because of its supportive, secure framework for adding and removing new users, identity governance supports a business through growth, staff changes, mergers, and other evolutions. Perhaps most importantly, identity governance keeps your business in federal compliance, which helps it avoid fines or other negative consequences of poorly handled user access.

Some cons of identity governance include that it is complex to set up. You must thoroughly examine the different aspects of your security and user protocols to identify specific needs. Another potential issue occurs if an employee with access compromises your data for personal gain. Additionally, if you implement an identity governance system, you need to make sure to comply with all federal regulations regarding data privacy, which have become increasingly complex. Not following the regulations can carry massive fines for your business.

How to get started with identity governance

Working within identity governance requires a knowledge base and skills in IT and compliance. Coding is an essential skill in these and other IT roles. An excellent option to build and practice these skills on your own is using an open-source platform to develop your projects or to contribute to someone else’s. This approach is also a productive way to meet other coders with whom you can share knowledge and possibly build your portfolio. You might consider additional strategies for learning to code, such as earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, boot camps, or self-guided courses.

For some positions within identity governance, such as compliance analyst, you’ll likely need to gain a bachelor’s degree in an area of study such as accounting or business administration. Once you’ve gained an entry-level role, you’ll have the chance to develop your skills further and advance through your career with training on the job. 

Read more: 10 Entry-Level IT Jobs and What You Need to Get Started

Learn more with Coursera.

Identity governance is critical for businesses of all sizes that want a proactive solution to risk management. Sharpen your compliance skills and gain foundational identity governance knowledge with courses like Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Digital Governance on Coursera. This course explores this exciting field with topics ranging from law in the digital age to data ownership. (ISC)2’s Risk Management: Use of Access Controls to Protect Assets is another beginner-friendly course to sharpen your skills and build a robust knowledge base.

Article sources

  1. IBM. “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, https://www.ibm.com/reports/data-breach.” Accessed March 15, 2024.

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