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Accenture’s Zoran Tackles Digital Identity Failings


NelsonHall recently visited Accenture at its Cyber Fusion Center in Washington D.C. to discuss innovations in its cyber resiliency offerings and the recent launch of its new digital identity tool, Zoran.

Failings of existing role-based access (RBA)

Typical identity and access management (IAM) systems control users’ access to data based on their role, i.e. position, competency, authority and responsibility within the enterprise. It’s a standard best practice to keep access to systems/information at a minimum, segmenting access to prevent one user, even a C-level user, from having carte blanche to traverse the organization's operations. Not only does this reduce the risk from a single user being compromised, it also reduces the potential insider threat posed by that user.

While these IAM solutions can match user provisioning requests to a directory of employee job titles to automate a lot of these processes, there can be a breakdown in the setup of these RBA IAM tools, with roles defined too widely as a catch-all, which in turn reduces the segmentation of the access. For example, if a member of your team works in the R&D department developing widget A, should they receive access to data related to widget B?

Likewise, another issue with these solutions is privilege creep, which is where an employee who has had several roles or responsibilities has retained previous permission sets when they have moved role. These and many more issues result in RBA systems being ineffective, as they are implemented as a static picture of the organization’s employees at a single point in time. In addition, recertification is a time-consuming and wasteful exercise.

Enter Zoran

Accenture developed Zoran in The Dock in Dublin, a multidisciplinary research and incubation hub. It brought in five companies to discuss the problem of identity management, two of which stayed on for the full development, handing over data to Accenture to be used in the development of Zoran.

Zoran analyses user access and privileges across the organization and performs data analytics to look for patterns in their access, entitlements, and assignments. The trends found in this patent pending analytics algorithm are used to generate confidence scores to determine whether users should have those privileges. These confidence scores can then be used to perform automatic operations such as recertification, for example, if a user’s details change after a specified period of time.

Zoran is not using machine learning to continuously improve confidence scores – i.e. if, for a group of users, an entitlement is always recertified, the confidence scoring algorithm is not updated to increase the confidence score. Accenture’s reason for this is that it runs the risk of being self-perpetuating, with digital identity analysts being more likely to recertify users because the confidence score has risen.

Currently, Zoran does not store which security analyst approved which certification for which user, although Accenture is in the process of adding this feature.

Will Zoran be the silver bullet for IAM?

IAM tools have been relatively slow to develop from simple automation to an ML/AI state, and this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, there will have to be some reskilling and change management around the recertification process.

While Zoran aims to reduce the uncertainty in recertifying permissions for a user, there is still a very limited risk of ‘false positive’ confidence scores being given which could automatically recertify a user, or that a security analyst could certify a user in something akin to a box-ticking exercise due to trust in the confidence score provided.

Accenture also needs to improve on developing the Zoran technologies with its other technologies; for example, its work with Ripjar’s Labyrinth security data analytics platform could yield some interesting results.

NelsonHall believes tools such as Zoran, combined with more traditional IAM solutions, are likely to be the current trajectory of the IAM market, with ML further segmenting groups/roles and providing increased trust in recertification processes.

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