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What is CIAM?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) Defined

Customer identity and access management (CIAM) ensures that customers are allowed to access certain areas of your network or an application and manages their identification information within your system. With CIAM, you can analyze the behavior of customers to discover ways you can improve your services or applications.

Why is CIAM Important?

CIAM, like regular identity and access management (IAM), is important because it keeps your network, systems, and applications safe while simultaneously providing the access users need to perform tasks essential to your business’ success. In addition, CIAM addresses specific issues that have plagued organizations in the past.

For example, CIAM combines back-end systems that used to exist in silos into one solution. This gives customers access to all the services they have to engage with. At the same time, keeping all these systems unified under a single umbrella reduces security risks for the organization. 

Some of the otherwise disparate components include user management, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and basic authentication. In this way, customers can enjoy a single sign-on (SSO) experience without compromising their own security or that of the organization.

How Does CIAM Protect Customer Data?

CIAM protects customer data by both requiring stringent access controls and putting the power to adjust settings and authentication requirements in the hands of customers. Even though customers can adjust their login information, a CIAM system balances this freedom by ensuring the authentication procedures are stringent, maintaining the security of customer data.


During the registration process, the steps are simplified by giving users the opportunity to use social accounts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Google. Customers can also connect specific devices in the registration process.


In the authentication process, CIAM gives you the freedom to streamline the customer experience by allowing them access without having to manually enter a username or password. Because their identity is authenticated using information that would be extremely difficult to forge, their data is still protected. This enables them to have an SSO experience whether they are using a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.


With CIAM’s self-service features, the customer can perform their own registration, request access without assistance, and reset their own passwords. Not only does this enhance customer convenience but it also better protects their data, specifically because they can make changes to their login credentials anytime they feel changing them would make their information more secure. 

You can also prompt customers—or require them—to change their access credentials periodically or anytime you see the potential for a security breach resulting from old credentials.


If you have multiple applications, you can allow customers to use the same profile information, photos, and contact information for each application. In this way, they can have a similar experience regardless of the digital channel they are using without sacrificing security.


With CIAM, you can give customers a single portal they can use to manage their data, as well as profiles and account settings. This allows you to conform to data privacy regulations and minimizes the number of eyes their data gets exposed to.

What Are the Benefits of CIAM?

Better Customer Acquisition, Retention, and Experience

When you have a streamlined customer experience, your organization shows that it cares about the convenience of customers. You also signal to them that you are up-to-date with recent security and technological advancements. This makes it easier to attract and retain customers because they may be drawn to the convenience and security you provide, particularly because they may feel your competition may not provide the same.

Customer Data Protection

CIAM shields customer data by securing it with various access requirements. Further, CIAM puts customers in control of the information used to protect their data. If they need to make changes, they can do so, enhancing their security according to their comfort level.

Build Customer Trust

Tight security controls make it easier for customers to trust you with their data and payment information. As they go through the steps necessary to log in, they are reminded of the fact that a thief would have to undergo the same steps if they wanted to steal their data.

Account Self-service

Not only do CIAM’s self-service features save customers time and make for a more convenient experience but they also reduce the time investments of your IT team. In most cases, there is no need to track down customers and guide them through the process of changing their access credentials because they can easily do it themselves.

Customer Behavior Analytics (CBA)

CIAM also gives you the opportunity to examine the behavior of customers as they interact with your applications. You can see which sections they access, when they gain access, and how much time they spend there. This is because a CIAM system can also incorporate a privileged access management (PAM) system that enables you to control where customers can go within an app or network. Their access information can be combined with your customer relationship management (CRM) system, allowing you to categorize customers according to their levels and types of engagement.

Application Life-cycle Management

With a CIAM system, you have the power to control various elements of the identity management process, including registering, providing identities to new customers, activating identities, and tracking, unlocking, deleting, resetting, and suspending them. As your application grows, you can use CIAM to delete duplicate identities and easily manage an increasing number of customers and sign-ons.

What Are the Essential Elements in CIAM?

High Scalability

Because your business can grow quickly, a CIAM solution needs to be scalable to meet the needs of millions of users. If the workload is too much due to a system with limited scalability, customers may experience lags and delays, and they may go elsewhere as a result.

Single Sign-on (SSO)

Customer identity management solutions enable customers to have an SSO experience, giving them access to a variety of your organization’s digital properties. This is accomplished using Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS), which enables you to control how users are authenticated and their levels of access to all your organization's applications.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

CIAM solutions with MFA are able to confirm the identity of a user and make sure that only approved individuals are granted access. This is accomplished using security questions, biometric data, physical keys, one-time passwords, or codes. CIAM can also incorporate adaptive authentication, which includes parameters like the runtime during a customer login, their behavior, or that of their device. These can be adjusted according to the acceptable risk parameters of your organization.

Centralized User Management

Because there are strict rules in place in various jurisdictions around the world regarding who can see customer data, using CIAM technology may be necessary to limit who can see customer information. Also, leaving customer identity management up to the customer reduces the number of admins or IT staff that have access to customer information.


CIAM and IAM are both used to manage which people can access certain systems and applications. Further, both CIAM and IAM utilize authentication measures, such as passwords, usernames, and MFA, in their processes. However, CIAM and IAM are by no means interchangeable.

In most situations, IAM has far fewer challenges to meet when it comes to securing the information of the people it grants access to. For example, if an employee has to log in to an area of the company’s network, an IAM system may have to merely provide a structure for the requirement of a username, password, and a biometric feature, such as a fingerprint. Once the user is inside, they have access to the resources they need, but they do not have to store much, if any, of their personal information in the system.

When providing customers access, the stakes are higher. Customers frequently have payment information or sensitive personal data that needs to be stored within your system. This may range from credit card information to medical records to Social Security numbers. Therefore, a CIAM system may have to have more stringent security measures in place. Also, to conform to legislative regulations, a CIAM solution may have to allow customers access while prohibiting others, including admins, from seeing sensitive information.

How Fortinet Can Help

The Fortinet identity and access management (IAM) system is a flexible solution that can meet the needs of a wide variety of CIAM architectures. Fortinet IAM provides you with multi-factor authentication, an SSO experience for customers, as well as straightforward, user-friendly authorization and authentication services. 

Fortinet IAM gives users the opportunity to control their own login experience and credentials with its self-service capabilities. As a cloud solution, Fortinet IAM can interface with cloud-based identity systems, as well as those on-premises. You get a centralized identity management service that provides you with granular control over which customers have access privileges.

The Fortinet IAM solution incorporates:

  1. FortiAuthenticator to prevent unauthorized access
  2. FortiToken to confirm the identities of users
  3. FortiToken Cloud to provide you with multi-factor authentication