The Impending Identity Crisis Of Machines: Why We Need To Secure All Non-Human Identities, From Genai To Microservices And IOT

The digital landscape is no longer solely populated by human actors. Lurking beneath the surface is a silent legion – non-human or machine identities . These non-human identities encompass computers, mobile devices, servers, workloads, service accounts, application programming interfaces (APIs), machine learning models, and the ever-expanding internet of things (IoT) devices. They are the backbone of our interconnected world, providing trust, silently automating tasks, facilitating data exchange, and keeping critical systems running efficiently. However, a hidden identity crisis plagues these machines, posing a significant security challenge. Traditional identity and access management (IAM) and off-the-shelf cybersecurity solutions, designed for the human realm, are ill-equipped to handle the unique threats posed by non-human identities.

The world of non-human identities is a diverse one, with each type requiring specific security considerations. Service accounts, the automated workhorses managing background services on servers and applications, often wield high privileges. A compromised service account can be a skeleton key for attackers, granting them access to critical systems and sensitive data. Application programming interfaces (APIs) act as digital intermediaries, allowing applications to talk to each other. Poorly secured APIs riddled with vulnerabilities act as open doors for unauthorized access and data breaches.

The rise of artificial intelligence has introduced another layer of complexity. Machine learning models and algorithms require access to vast amounts of data to function and train. Securing non-human identities that support machine learning processes is paramount to prevent manipulation of the models or misuse of sensitive training data. The ever-expanding world of IoT devices, from smart speakers to wearables to industrial control systems to manufacturing equipment and much more, also creates a vast network of non-human identities. These devices, often with limited security capabilities, are easy targets for attackers seeking to disrupt operations or steal data. Modern applications frequently leverage microservices architectures, where each microservice may have its own assigned non-human identity. Securing these microservices requires trust and granular access control to prevent a single breach from compromising the entire application.

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Unlike human users, non-human identities are often created and managed with less oversight and granted lifecycles that exceed their useful lives, leading to several inherent security weaknesses. Misconfigurations can leave non-human identities provisioned with excessive privileges or deployed with insecure configurations, creating easy exploitation points for attackers. The principle of least privilege, granting only the minimum access required, is often neglected with non-human identities. This over-privileged access creates a wider attack surface for adversaries to exploit. The exponential growth of interconnected devices and systems creates a vast and ever-evolving attack surface. Legacy security solutions struggle to keep pace with this dynamic landscape, leaving poorly managed non-human identities vulnerable and exposed.

The traditional security approach of assuming trust and granting broad access is no longer tenable in the non-human identity era. A shift towards an identity first security approach is now essential to achieving Zero Trust. This approach mandates continuous verification, where every non-human identity, from service accounts to IoT devices and others, must be constantly verified and authenticated before granting access to resources. Additionally, just-in-time access ensures non-human identities are only granted access to the specific resources they need, and only for the duration required. This minimizes the potential damage if a non-human identity is compromised. Continuous monitoring of non-human identity activity for anomalies is crucial. Unusual access times, data exfiltration attempts, or sudden spikes in activity can be indicative of malicious behavior. Enriching security solutions with threat intelligence feeds allows for the identification of compromised credentials, known malicious bot activity, and emerging non-human identity specific vulnerabilities.

As identity security stands at a crossroads, ignoring the identity crisis of machines, workloads, applications and cloud services leaves organizations vulnerable to a new wave of attacks. However, by embracing non-human identities and implementing Zero Trust security principles, we can create a more secure digital world for everyone. Let’s acknowledge the critical role non-human identities play and take steps to manage and secure them. Here are some thought-provoking questions to consider:

  • How can we leverage automation for secure non-human identity lifecycle management, encompassing provisioning, renewals, access control, and de-provisioning?
  • What role can emerging standards and best practices play in bolstering non-human identity security?
  • How can we conduct regular non-human identity security audits to identify and address any vulnerabilities within our complex hybrid multi-cloud infrastructures?

By fostering open dialogue and actively addressing the non-human identity security challenge, we can build a more secure and resilient digital ecosystem for the future.

Talk to an Expert to know how AppViewX can help you automate machine identity management.


  • API
  • application programming interfaces
  • artificial intelligence
  • IAM
  • Identity and Access Management
  • identity first security
  • IoT
  • machine identity management
  • Machine learning
  • non-human identity

About the Author

Ravishankar Chamarajnagar

Chief Product Officer

Ravishankar oversees product strategy and vision including technical direction, GTM and enablement functions, commercialization and launch aspects, and leads all product functions globally at AppViewX.

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