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13 min read
Identity overview
Want to learn how Customer Identity and Access Management works? Discover the benefits of CIAM and how it compares to IAM.

CIAM: What is Customer Identity and Access Management?

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Customer Identity and Access Management (or CIAM for short) is an approach to integrating authentication and authorization protocols for customers accessing apps, platforms, or digital resources belonging to organizations.

The goal of CIAM is to handle outward authentication and access for an organization while boosting conversion rates by keeping the sign-in process as frictionless as possible. CIAM works to keep the digital data and IDs of customers safe while providing real-time data to organizations.

As an approach, CIAM can be used both for B2B and B2C companies and works to improve user experience, boost sign-ups, and reduce cybersecurity threats.

What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

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With increasing threats of identity fraud and rising cybersecurity risks, companies are tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding PII (a.k.a. Personally Identifiable Information) that is, any information that could expose the identity of a user.

Keeping this information safe is at the heart of Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM).

It’s a type of Identity and Access Management (IAM) that utilizes protocols of authentication and authorization on customer-facing platforms. CIAM’s key responsibilities center around usability, flexibility, and scalability.

CIAM, on one hand, is the system that a customer or user directly interacts with. It’s where and how a user signs up and signs in to a platform, securely streamlining this helps to boost conversion and improve customer experience.

On the back end, CIAM is an authentication process that utilizes context-driven data to provide companies with a fuller understanding of their customers. As a management protocol, it helps keep the data and digital IDs of customers safe by preventing data breaches.

Its main purpose is to balance usability with security. It allows companies to securely store and analyze data as well as provide a safe way for customers to access their digital platform or application. Security and customer experience are at the core of CIAM.

Key elements of CIAM

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If you’re familiar with IAM solutions then your initial thought might be around the internal management of a company’s employees. But CIAM deals specifically with online customer data or data from external users, whether that’s a customer, supplier, partner, or contractor.

For this reason, the user experience of CIAM will slightly differ from that of traditional IAM.

Below are four common features of IAM that are specific to CIAM. While no two approaches will be the same, considering these features before implementing CIAM will help you figure out the best way to implement this approach in a way that balances CX with cybersecurity best practices.

Unlike typical IAM protocols, where an approach to scalability isn’t generally necessary, in CIAM this becomes one of the key factors that need to be considered and adapted for optimal security during the authentication and authorization process.

While companies won’t generally be thinking about onboarding employees at significantly increased rates, a customer-facing platform will need to remain secure during influxes of new users. This could be during sales campaigns, busy periods, or even over major holidays.

IAM is required to support hundreds to thousands of users (employees) over the single identity of the company itself. While CIAM needs to be secure, even when being utilized by millions of users, some of who may even have multiple identities across many different platforms.

Single sign-on (SSO)

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Single sign-on (SSO) is a common tool that allows users to sign-up for or sign in to multiple platforms using one set of sign-in credentials.

An example of SSO that you’re probably familiar with is using your Google log-in to access platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Using SSO streamlines the process for users and also creates an additional layer of protection for the third-party app.

SSO is a prime example of creating what’s known as a federated identity. This is a way of linking a person or user’s digital ID across multiple systems, apps, or platforms. SSO has become a basic protocol in the execution of IAM, and therefore CIAM.

The biggest benefit of using SSO as a tool in CIAM is its ability to increase conversions. Because SSO essentially streamlines the input of data from a customer, it can be used to get the customer from the product page to sign up as quickly as possible, while still utilizing the data storage and analytics capabilities that become possible when a customer creates an account.

Multi-Factor authentication (MFA)

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Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, is an authentication tool that boosts security by adding additional steps to the traditional login process of entering a username and password combination. As passwords are increasingly easy to hack or compromise, the additional step of MFA has become more commonplace.

The traditional username and password method often relies on the user’s memory, meaning it’s common for a user to use the same username-password combination across multiple sites. This poses even more risk to the security of their digital ID, as a hacker can then gain access to multiple sites using the same credentials.

MFA requires more than just one type of authentication factor. Consider the example of combining a knowledge factor with a possession factor.

The knowledge factor is typically something the user knows, which might be the usual username-password combination, used alongside the possession factor (a.k.a. something the user has) to send a verification code as an SMS to a number already associated with the initial log-in credentials. Alternatively, the above might run alongside the inherence factor (a.k.a. something the user is) like a fingerprint or face ID scan.

This combination of authentication factors is becoming a standard requirement for cybersecurity and data protection.

MFA becomes applicable in the context of CIAM when considering employing the highest level of security with the least amount of user friction. Because MFA is increasingly commonplace, having it as a part of your API boosts trust with users and increases a customer’s confidence when handing over their personal information.

In some cases, to create the least possible amount of friction for the end-user or customer, MFA is only triggered when a user logs in from a new device or a transaction appears suspicious. CIAM will provide the intel and insights to make this possible.

Centralized user management

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Centralized user management helps to consolidate the data that CIAM produces. The data produced by CIAM can provide a competitive edge to a company, but only if that data is easily accessible, accurate, and easy to understand.

All information on a user is kept in one place, meaning that permissions can be granted or revoked relatively quickly by an admin user.

The data privacy reporting that’s required of companies can also be made simpler by having a centralized user management system. Profile data becomes accessible and portable, creating a quick and easy analytics tool.

This process also helps companies create more personalized experiences for the user, enabling higher retention rates, too.

Exploring CIAM solutions

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With so many providers offering CIAM solutions, it can be helpful to understand your options to pick the right tool for your company.

Okta is a leading name in security and management. Their CIAM uses the Okta Customer Identity Cloud, which provides solutions to complex digital identity challenges, and has an integrated system of over 5000 different apps and platforms.

The Okta Customer Identity Cloud offers features like MFA, SSO, universal authentication log-ins, company federation options, biometrics, and a visual management board that includes “drag and drop” options.

Ping’s CIAM cloud solution is easy to implement with no-code identity and authentication management.

Hosted in the cloud, it enables access to any application in any situation. Offering SSO and risk-based MFA through token code SMS and OTPs and implementing Zero Trust.


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SAP helps to identify the user across multiple platforms and provides an individualized experience based on user surfing behavior.

Features of SAP include SSO, risk-based MFA, biometrics, and authentication through OTPs. SAP supports authentication via 35 social networks, and ensures constant monitoring of and protection of customers’ digital IDs, alerting customers about any suspicious activity. Identity federation is supported by SAML and OpenID Connect.

Here at Kinde, we offer CIAM solutions that simplify the process of user migration with a strong focus on UX. We’ve simplified accessing and collating customer data with a single-dashboard view for the internal team.

With a simple approach to roles and permissions, protocols and approaches can be quickly managed and assigned, increasing usability and accessibility. Implementing software with an SDK or API reduces the friction of the integration process, too.

Security in CIAM

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CIAM operates in two main ways: to consolidate user data and as a cybersecurity mitigation method. CIAM works to keep data and digital assets safe in a variety of ways.

Consumer identity management puts the security of customers’ digital information at the forefront. With more users reusing their passwords across platforms, this information is easier for bad actors to access.

CIAM allows the user or consumer to opt into MFA, as well as implement it when data analytics suggest that a bad actor may be attempting to corrupt the login credentials through the use of risk scoring.

Risk scoring is a process of adaptive authentication. A calculation is made, generally based on the location, time, and frequency of the attempted log-in to determine whether MFA is required.

CIAM also makes it possible to customize a secure portal with multiple authentication options. An IT department works behind the scenes on the CIAM software to ensure that checks and protocols are working properly and that adequate protections are in place against viruses and hackers.

All of these processes of CIAM work together to ensure that customer data remains safe. Creating robust CIAM protocol involves implementing security measures to mitigate hacks and bad actors looking to compromise data.

MFA becomes significantly more important when considering how to protect data from a process referred to as credential stuffing. This is when information, particularly log-in details, is taken from broken authentication hacks and then used across multiple platforms. According to one study, this type of attack is costing businesses an average of $4 million per year.

Another defense mechanism utilized by CIAM is brute force protection.

Brute force protections essentially prevent hackers from flooding the platform with repeated sign-in attempts. This often results in the platform, app, or webpage crashing. Brute force works in that it limits the login attempts of a user, making it impossible for an attacker to make limitless attempts at guessing the sign-in credentials of a user.

Because the back end of CIAM is responsible for the mitigation of data breaches, it’s important that CIAM can effectively manage the encryption and anonymizing of customer data. The encryption tools of a CIAM protocol are one of the biggest factors when it comes to minimizing the extent of any attempted breach.

CIAM can also be used to alert admin users of any suspicious activity that comes from within the organization. This protects customers from both outside and inside potential threats.

Benefits of CIAM

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Customer identity management is a means of securing the digital information of your customers.

Breaches can be expensive and can happen to companies of any size. Not having a mitigation process in place can affect your bottom line.

An IBM Security study revealed that when a breach occurred that compromised the customer’s PII, the cost of a breach averaged out to around $150 per customer.

While this might be the most immediate benefit of implementing CIAM, the list goes on:

  • IAM in itself is a means of managing access to platforms and systems while keeping digital IDs secure. With CIAM, the same safety protocols are in place but geared toward customers and not the workforce.
  • Optimal execution of CIAM creates a seamless UX by reducing the friction of signing in, boosting the security of the digital identity while offering a better customer experience means that increases conversion rates.
  • It’s possible to integrate multiple platforms and applications through one CIAM solution. The effect here is to create a single point of entry to multiple platforms.
  • When successfully implemented, CIAM works to improve your existing system without affecting customer experience. The migration for CIAM is designed to be smooth.
  • Customization and flexibility of APIs through CIAM can improve UX. CIAM allows customers to access digital platforms seamlessly, improving their customer experience. APIs can provide the flexibility that’s required to create customizable authentication, which can move and grow as the platform develops.
  • CIAM allows customers to get involved with their authentication process. This empowers the user to problem-solve and puts less pressure on the IT department.
  • CIAM solutions can help manage products across multiple platforms, meaning that a single approach can be used even when a company begins to develop and offer products across multiple platforms.
  • The extensive reporting and analytics that are available through the use of CIAM can help inform operational decisions.
  • Compliance and privacy standards can be improved.

Implementing CIAM into an existing platform is a seamless process and can be used to benefit the company in a range of ways. From boosting conversion rates to increased cybersecurity to data collection to inform internal and external decisions.

Comparing IAM vs CIAM

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The functions of CIAM and IAM are similar particularly when it comes to scalability, security, and accessibility.

To ensure usability and user experience then these functions are key, regardless of whether the platform will be used for internal employees or external customers. However, there are some differences between the two.

Provides data on customers to inform business decisions, compliance, and security.Data is collected from employees to inform internal company decisions.
Built for scalability. Its purpose is to be able to support peaks in users, both in volume and frequency.Less equipped to handle rapid spikes in users, generally built to support a limited amount of log-ins.
Users may have multiple digital IDs.Users will be assigned one identity.
Manage external customers, citizens, partners, APIs, or contractors.Manage internal employees.
Users will self-create their identity.An outside source, the company, will create the digital identity.
Usability and consistent user experience.Closed system.
Authentication can be executed by/with external sources, passwordless authentication can also occur to keep the barrier of entry low.Robust policies around internal authentication.

Authentication at Kinde

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CIAM is a complex protocol. It offers scalability and flexibility, all while requiring the least amount of user friction possible. Kinde’s approach to CIAM is to build progressive profiling to ensure that the data collected from customers is relevant and ever-increasing.

The self-registration system also allows customers to have direct say in their approach to cyber-security, opting in and out of SSO, MFA, and adaptive authentication to keep accessibility high and the demand on your IT department low.

Kinde has an innovative approach to consent and privacy management that boosts conversion rates, keeps integration easy, and most importantly, keeps your user’s data safe.

See how Kinde compares to other authentication providers.

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