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What is Identity Segmentation?

More than just IP addresses or VLANs, identity segmentation is recognized best practice for business segmentation protection 

Identity segmentation focuses on segmenting access to network resources and applications based on the identity of users or devices. Instead of relying solely on traditional network parameters like IP addresses or VLANs to determine access, identity segmentation uses attributes of an entity’s identity, such as user roles, device type, or other specific attributes, to control and restrict access.  

Understanding Identity Segmentation 

Here are some key points to understand:  

  • User-Centric Security: Traditional network segmentation often relies on physical or virtual perimeters to define boundaries. In contrast, identity segmentation centers on the user or device, determining access based on their individual identity and role within the organization. 
  • Dynamic Access Control: As a user or application’s roles or working requirements change, the permissions and access associated with that entity can dynamically adapt, ensuring that they always have the right level of access (and no more) at the right time.  
  • Reduced Attack Surface: By limiting access to only what’s necessary for a particular user or administrator, identity segmentation minimizes the potential pathways an attacker can use. If an attacker compromises a user account or device, they’re limited to the access that specific identity has, rather than having carte blanche across the network, essentially creating a micro-perimeter for any attack.  
  • Enhanced Visibility: Implementing identity segmentation often involves gaining a clearer view of who is on the network and what they’re accessing, of what applications are doing, and what calls they are making. This improved visibility aids in monitoring and swiftly detecting any anomalous behavior.  
  • Granularity: Identity segmentation allows for granular control over resources – known as microsegmentation, but the best possible approach to the problem. For instance, two users with the same job title might have different access rights based on other attributes, such as department, location, or project involvement. Two applications may have a similar purpose, or be used by the same department, but may need access to different data or should only be accessible to an organization’s management. 
  • Supporting Zero Trust: The zero trust model operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” Identity segmentation aligns well with this model, as it does not implicitly trust any user or device based solely on its network location.  
  • Compatibility with Modern Work Environments: With the rise of remote work, BYOD (bring your own device) policies, and cloud applications, the traditional network perimeter has become diffused. Identity segmentation caters to these modern work environments by focusing on user, application, and device identities rather than fixed network locations.  

Identity Segmentation for Enterprise Applications 

From an enterprise application perspective, identity segmentation refers to the practice of defining and controlling access to specific application functions, data, or components based on the identity of the user or device interacting with the application. It ensures that users and devices only interact with the parts of the application they’re authorized to access, based on their unique identity attributes. This concept is particularly critical in multi-user environments or applications that handle sensitive data. A key distinction in this environment compared to others is the widespread use of service accounts. Developers require these accounts, which have special privileges, to automate commands on the operating system. 

Here’s a closer look at identity segmentation from an application perspective:  

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): One of the most common implementations of identity segmentation in applications is RBAC. Users are assigned roles, and these roles dictate what parts of the application they can access and what actions they can perform. For example, in a financial application, a regular employee might only view transaction data, while a manager can authorize transactions.  
  • Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC): ABAC is more granular than RBAC. Access is determined based on various attributes, such as user department, the sensitivity of the data being accessed, time of access, etc. For instance, a healthcare application might allow doctors to access medical records, but only if the patient is currently admitted to the doctor’s department.  
  • Data Segmentation: Apart from application functions, identity segmentation can also be applied to the data within the application. A user might have access to an application but can only see specific datasets or database entries based on their identity.  
  • Multi-Tenancy: In multi-tenant applications, identity segmentation ensures that each tenant (or client) can only access their data and configurations. This is especially common in cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) applications.  
  • Dynamic Policy Enforcement: Modern applications can adjust in real-time based on dynamic attributes. For instance, a user might typically have access to certain data. Still, if their access comes from a new location or outside of regular business hours, the application might restrict access, seeking additional authentication.  
  • Microservices and Identity: With applications increasingly being developed as collections of microservices, identity segmentation becomes critical. Each microservice might have its access controls, and users or other services must authenticate and be authorized correctly to interact with it.  
  • Audit and Compliance: When applications have a clear identity segmentation mechanism in place, it’s easier to audit who accessed what and when. This granularity is often required for compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI-DSS.  
  • Enhanced User Experience: By tailoring the application experience based on the user’s identity, you can present the most relevant functions and data to them, streamlining their interactions and making the application more user-friendly.  
  • Reducing Attack Surface: If a malicious actor manages to compromise a user’s credentials – or worse, a service account—, identity segmentation ensures they can only access what the legitimate user can. They can’t, for instance, elevate their privileges or access other parts of the application not intended for that identity. 

Identity segmentation, from an application perspective, is about ensuring the right access to the right individuals at the right time. As applications become more complex and handle increasingly sensitive data, this nuanced, identity-based approach to access control becomes essential for both security and functionality. 

Segmentation for the Future 

As organizations grapple with ever-evolving cyber threats and a more complex cybersecurity environment battlefield, identity segmentation offers a way to provide secure, controlled access tailored to each individual user, application, or device. It signifies a shift from broad, perimeter-based security models to more nuanced, identity-driven approaches – an approach worthy of cybersecurity’s future. 

If you would like to know more about how the TrueFort® Platform facilitates identity segmentation for granular best practices, please call us for a no-obligation demonstration. 

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