Why identity security is the cornerstone of ASEAN’s digital economy (Opinion)

Written by Aaron Tan, senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific at SailPoint.

Southeast Asia has been heralded as the up-and-coming region, and with good reason. Over the past decade, rapid adoption of digital technologies has propelled innovation and economic growth at an unprecedented rate. With over 50 tech unicorns across e-commerce, fintech and software-as-a-service (SaaS), the emergence of disruptive start-ups have significantly boosted its digital economy.

As millions of new users continue to form a formidable digital customer base for online shopping and food delivery services, it is unsurprising that Southeast Asia’s internet economy is forecasted to reach $1tn by 2030. Governments here are aware of all that the internet economy has to offer and have been key proponents for digitalisation. Authorities in Singapore, for instance, have funnelled millions into boosting the digital capabilities of small and medium-sized businesses.

There, then, is no doubt that digital transformation in recent years has enabled Southeast Asia to uncover new heights. However, here comes the zinger: digitalisation has also unveiled new identity-related threats, as the number of connected devices and identities that need to be authenticated grows. Without plugging these gaps, the road forward for Southeast Asia’s digital economy will be a precarious one.

Today, businesses, technology and identities are inseparable. With increased digitalisation of everything from the platforms employees use, to the ways consumers interact with businesses – thousands to hundreds of thousands, or even millions of identities are born. These identities extend from employees, contractors and customers to even non-human identities in the form of internet-of-things (IoT) devices and robotic process automation (RPA) bots. They then connect to upwards of billions of technology access points, all with varying levels of access requirements that change constantly as businesses evolve.

While digital identities play a critical role in enabling greater efficiency, such as allowing employees to work in both physical and distributed environments, these access routes present significant risks to organisations. Wrongfully granted access can have far-reaching consequences – data breaches, reputational damage, and hefty compliance fees. This is the reality businesses face today: in fact, 84% of organisations globally have experienced an identity-related breach last year.

With that, the challenge companies face is in protecting the connection between technology and identities without compromising the power that this pairing provides. Businesses are forced to evaluate how they can empower everyone from employees to contractors, and non-human identities, to do their best work – so that technology can indeed be an enabler, and not an inhibitor of growth. It is this complex dynamic that has brought identity security to the forefront of conversations on IT security, in today’s digital landscape.

While business leaders may often mistakenly limit identity security to access management practices such as single sign-on (SSO) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) alone, these authentication tools are but one piece of the puzzle. Authentication helps to verify identities but is unable to determine if access to resources is rightful and adherent to access policies. SSO and MFA tools are also unable to manage or govern the boundaries of access, which is becoming increasingly more important as stricter data privacy regulations are putting more accountability on organisations to protect sensitive information.

Identity security instead helps solve the bigger picture. It helps to grant, secure, and manage access, working off of the principle of least privilege. It ensures that every single identity within a network only has the least amount of access needed to fulfil the task at hand. By restricting permissions based on job function and user role, the right identity security tools reduce risk of users having access to information they should not have access to, and inadvertently or maliciously repurposing that information in a manner that can be detrimental to the business.

With the business climate today vastly different from what it was just three years ago before the pandemic, identity security has become business-critical. Before, businesses had just one priority: digitalising to stay afloat. Now, organisations have accelerated along their digital transformation journeys and are instead focused on adopting emerging technologies to keep them competitive. With the groundwork laid, this is taking place at an even faster pace than before and the number and variety of identities that need access to these technologies have consequently skyrocketed.

At the same time, rapid digitalisation also means that businesses are generating data faster than ever before. Many organisations have been responding to this influx of data by tunnel-visioning on data optimisation strategies and neglecting the need to incorporate data and access protection tools to ensure valuable information is in the right hands.

In order to succeed in an increasingly digital environment, businesses need to understand how identity governance can complement their digital strategies and make the right investments. However, in actuality, many businesses are in the nascent stages of implementing identity security.

Thankfully, gaining identity maturity is not an arduous undertaking. The right forward-looking strategy, technology and identity management tools can get companies there. By leveraging autonomous and intelligent identity security solutions, enterprises can develop a resilient and adaptable identity strategy for their evolving business needs.

After all, with the sheer volume of access points available within the business ecosystem, the troves of data generated each day, and the identities to be managed, manual processes simply cannot provide the visibility and rapid response times required today. With AI (artificial intelligence)-powered identity solutions, organisations can get deep visibility and understanding of all user access, roles and relationships, and easily discover, manage, and secure all identities and their access to technology resources. Enterprises can also automate user access and alleviate the manpower load on IT security personnel so they can instead pivot resources towards facilitating digital transformation efforts.

An AI-driven identity solution automates the discovery, management, and control of all user access, allowing enterprises to not only make better and faster access decisions, but also to quickly spot and respond to potential threats. It empowers every employee with correct and timely access when they need it, proactively engages business users to identify risky access, and helps security professionals intelligently create and maintain access models in today’s dynamic IT environment.

With that, there is no question that placing identity security at the core of a cyber security strategy pays the utmost dividend for Southeast Asia’s digital economy: freeing businesses to focus on innovation, collaboration, and efficiency, while reducing overall security risks and maximising investments in technology.

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