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Digital Transformation Fails without Machine Identity Management

Digital Transformation Fails without Machine Identity Management

September 13, 2021 | Anastasios Arampatzis

The accelerated digital transformation of businesses over the past 18 months has forced workforces, customers, and business processes to adapt to a new operating model. In this new model, remote access, untrusted networks, and data security are more complex than ever before. The role of digital identities—especially the increasingly the role of machine identities—is pervasive in this effort and underpins many of the aspects of enterprise digital transformation.

What do you know about machine identities? Read our Dummies Guide.
Every machine has an identity

The term "digital identity" does not only refer to a mechanism that identifies humans; rather it is a system that also identifies any non-human entity, any device connected to a network, even something as abstract as containers or microservices.

An identity could therefore refer to a person or to their car, and the association of these identities may imply ownership. If we drill deeper, every component within the vehicle can have its own machine identity too. The connected car example is far from hypothetical: many of the hundreds of connected components in a modern vehicle already use machine identities to communicate with each other and deliver telemetry and maintenance data.

Machine identities go well beyond physical devices. For example, an API used to integrate disparate systems has an identity to refer to. In other words, successfully integrating systems, becomes an exercise of effective machine identity management. An identity-centric approach to digital and cyber-enabled infrastructure can enable businesses to scale and support new services and capabilities easily and, most importantly, securely. Machine identities facilitate secure communications and transactions, both within an enterprise environment as well as with partners, customers, and other stakeholders.


Figure 1: Everything is an identity. Source: Huawei

Protecting machine identities is essential

The expansion of digital identities, and the interactions and transactions between these identities go beyond simply authenticating users or machines. All types of digital identities provide an essential capability: they can be used to demonstrate that a transaction was valid, as well as revoking access to any entity that may be compromised or acting suspiciously.

Digital identities are the foundations for securing the digital transformation initiatives of businesses. They allow the creation of networks of trust, the management of risk, and the protection of privacy as well as enabling security policies and incident detection.

Hence, machine identities have become high-value assets, which need to be managed carefully. These digital identities must be protected from tampering, impersonation, and disruption, which could expose a business to fraud, disrupt services, and damage trust. For example, a fraudulent or compromised identity in a healthcare setting could be used to obtain high-risk drugs or interfere in a patient's health program.

Protection of machine identities is therefore essential, but so is oversight and monitoring. One of the core tenets of such an identity-first approach is that all interactions between identities should be audited to detect, identify and mitigate any suspicious behavior.

Zero Trust and machine identities

Zero Trust is a term used to describe a secure operating environment, where implicit trust is considered to be a vulnerability. It is not a specific technology, but a strategic approach to security. It enables a more granular approach than traditional perimeter security.

The key ingredients of a Zero Trust security model are digitally enforced trust, security, and integrity. Trust enables interactions, security protects them, and integrity manages them. All three of these functions leverage machine identities to interact and enable a truly transformed digital business.

Following a machine identity-centric approach is the most effective component for securing the success of digital transformation strategies. A Zero Trust identity-centric architecture, like the one defined in NIST’s blueprint for Zero Trust, enables secure business interactions between services, people, hardware, software, and cloud resources. Machine identities enable organizations to become flexible and scalable to realign those interactions in response to changing business needs and goals without unnecessary overheads.

To build this level of digital trust and integrate Zero Trust with operational technology and infrastructure, businesses need to invest on a machine identity management platform, like Venafi’s Trust Protection Platform which gives you the visibility, intelligence and automation to protect machine identities throughout your organization. Plus, you can extend your protection through an ecosystem of hundreds of out-of-the-box integrations with applications and certificate authorities (CAs).

Want to learn more about Venafi’s Trust Protection Platform? Contact the experts.

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About the author

Anastasios Arampatzis
Anastasios Arampatzis

Anastasios Arampatzis is a retired Hellenic Air Force officer with over 20 years of experience in evaluating cybersecurity and managing IT projects. He works as an informatics instructor at AKMI Educational Institute, while his interests include exploring the human side of cybersecurity.

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