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Everything in the modern age is digital—and of course you all know that. However, most people rarely contemplate what data is circulating around out there in the ether. Take one step further down the rabbit hole and apply that to personal data and, again, many still don’t internalize the importance or magnitude of what they create, share, and what is ultimately stolen for nefarious purposes.

From social media accounts, software-as-a-service accounts, eCommerce, digital media, the list goes on and on—every single one of those and more contain data about end users. Some may simply have names and addresses, some may only contain credit card numbers, others may contain commonly used personal passwords. And in all of those cases, few are dangerous. But combined, these data points come together to create a terrifyingly accurate picture of one’s identity—one that can be used to infiltrate everything personal and work related. And cyber criminals have access to it all.

This is why the general population should be far more worried than they are, while simultaneously realizing that their own IT department has been freaking out about this for years. Here’s why. It’s a frightening scenario when you consider the growing trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Internet of Things (IoT), mobility and remote employees—all generating data and all heightening the vulnerability of the company to being breached.

Now I realize that in today’s environment ubiquitous access to information and data is expected. Therefore, when you have many employees, contractors, consultants, and others, coming and going without their access to data being revoked, then the vulnerability of your company to data loss or a breach greatly increases.

When you don’t know who has access to your network, when you don’t know what they can access, and when you don’t even know who they are, your company is teetering on the brink of non-compliance and is exposed to the high risk of a cyber attack that can potentially put you out of business—the repercussions of cleaning up after a breach can be considerable. And this is all due to that same personal data that is accessible for criminals to use to infiltrate companies. Because the real John Smith versus the stolen digital credentials and information of John Smith look surprisingly the same.

This means that the ability to manage and control access to your ever-increasing volume of highly sensitive data is the primary action that you can take to prevent a costly attack. Breaches don’t occur because cyber criminals are attempting to penetrate your super secure firewalls and perimeter protection, they occur primarily because it’s ridiculously easy for them to rob your employees of their credentials. Then they can walk right in—even though you have implemented every security measure available.

One of the most effective ways to close the door to cyber criminals is to follow the practice of Identity Access Management (IAM), which is a system that secures, stores, and manages user identities and access privileges. First, it protects your company by ensuring that users are who they say they are and, second, grants access only to those who have permission to access application resources.

It’s critical, therefore, that you implement a sound IAM approach to manage the complexity and volume of data and to bolster your company’s ability to protect intellectual property and individual privacy from both internal and external threats. IAM protects your company through password-management tools, multi-factor authentication, security-policy enforcement, provisioning software, reporting and monitoring apps, identity repositories, and more.

IAM systems should be a critical part of your organization’s security framework. If they aren’t, then your company is a lucrative target for cyber criminals.