Chapter 2.2: Building Houses: Demystifying Associations in the IAM Game

Unlock the power of associations in the exciting IAM Monopoly game! Explore the basics of associations in IAM, their hierarchy, and their role in implementing the Principle of Least Privilege. Discover how associations enhance security and efficiency, while navigating the risks and challenges they present. Dive into best practices for implementing associations and gain valuable insights for your IAM strategy. Roll the dice and let the game begin!



6/21/202313 min read

a toy car on a board game board
a toy car on a board game board

Introduction: Game Token Moves

Understanding the Role of Associations in IAM

Welcome back, fellow IAM Monopoly enthusiasts! As we dust off our game tokens for this round, we prepare to delve deeper into one of the crucial elements that can make or break our gameplay - Associations. Imagine this: you've just rolled the dice and your trusty top hat lands on an unclaimed property. What's the next step? To buy, of course! This buying action is an essential strategy, akin to creating associations in the IAM landscape.

In the vibrant world of Identity and Access Management, Associations are the strategic property purchases that form the bedrock of your digital identity empire. They connect the unique facets of an individual's digital identity, linking users to their respective roles, access rights, permissions, and much more.

In this chapter, we'll be placing our hotels on the deep understanding of Associations in IAM, exploring their importance, their role in effective identity management, and the best practices for implementing them. So, ready your game tokens and roll the dice, as we take a thrilling journey into the world of Associations in IAM!

4 playing cards with LUCK spelled out4 playing cards with LUCK spelled out

Section 1: Property Cards in Hand

The Basics of Associations in IAM

Just as no Monopoly game can start without the players picking their properties, no IAM system can be functional without creating Associations. Associations in IAM are the connections that tie together various elements of a digital identity. Picture this: you're the owner of both Boardwalk and Park Place - a force to be reckoned with, indeed! This ownership is established through an association between you, the player, and your property cards.

Just as how the dynamic twists and turns of Monopoly require players to continuously adapt their strategies, the world of IAM demands similar flexibility, especially when we consider associations through the lens of Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) models.

In Monopoly, your strategy might change based on various factors such as your current cash flow, the properties you own, or even the number of 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards at your disposal. These factors are similar to the attributes in an ABAC model, where access control decisions are driven by a multitude of contextual data about the user, resources, environment, and more.

Just as you wouldn't permanently assign all your cash to a single property in Monopoly, associations in ABAC models are not permanently fixed. They can be created, modified, and revoked based on changes in attributes or contextual factors. For instance, a user might be granted access to sensitive data during a specific project (an association created), which is then revoked once the project concludes (association revoked).

This flexibility in the management of associations is the strength of ABAC models, enabling a more granular, dynamic, and context-aware approach to access control. It ensures that access rights always align with the current attributes, similar to how your gameplay aligns with your current position on the Monopoly board. Keep this in mind as we continue to navigate the IAM landscape. Stay tuned as we roll the dice for the next move!

a man in a suit and tie drawing a hierarchya man in a suit and tie drawing a hierarchy

Section 2: The Game's Hierarchy

Nested Associations in IAM

Think back to your Monopoly games. As you've strategically acquired properties, you've probably noticed how the board mirrors a hierarchy. Owning a color-set allows you to build houses and hotels, increasing your rent value. Similarly, a hierarchy of associations plays a pivotal role in an ABAC model of IAM.

In IAM, associations can be layered or nested, reflecting the structural and functional realities of an organization. These layers can be defined by various attributes such as a user's department, project, location, time of access, type of device used, and more. An employee could be associated with a specific department (say, the "Electric Company"), which itself is associated with a larger organizational unit (the "Utilities" color group).

Just as how in Monopoly, owning all the properties in a color group (a nested association) grants you the power to build houses and hotels, in IAM, nested associations can empower organizations with finer control over access management.

For instance, an engineer might have access to a server when working on a specific project, during certain hours, and only when connected from the office network. These are multiple attributes creating a nested association, which gives the user access rights under very specific conditions.

This flexible, attribute-based approach allows IAM systems to adapt to complex and dynamic organizational structures, granting or revoking access based on contextual changes. It's much like adjusting your Monopoly strategy depending on your current cash flow, the properties you own, and your opponents' positions on the board.

Remember, as we roll the dice and navigate through the intricate lanes of our IAM Monopoly, nested associations are the key to building a resilient and adaptable IAM strategy. Stay tuned as we dive into the next turn - the power play of associations and the principle of least privilege.

a toy car on a board game boarda toy car on a board game board

Section 3: Power Play

Associations and the Principle of Least Privilege

As we advance in our IAM Monopoly, let's take a closer look at one of the most strategic moves in the game - Power Play! This is where we leverage the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP), a crucial strategy to maintain a secure and efficient IAM system. It's akin to the calculated risks and decisive moves in Monopoly that help us gain an upper hand.

In Monopoly, the power play could be building houses and hotels on a property, thus limiting other players' opportunities. However, to avoid chaos and bankruptcy, you restrict your building spree to what is necessary and profitable. You don't build hotels on every property you own, right?

In IAM, this selective and necessary approach reflects the Principle of Least Privilege. Users should be granted just enough access - no more, no less - to perform their job roles effectively. Here, associations play a pivotal role, tying users to the specific resources and permissions they require based on their attributes.

Now, let's bring Privileged Access Management (PAM) into the picture. If the PoLP is about building houses and hotels wisely, PAM is about holding the keys to these buildings. PAM ensures that elevated access rights - or 'keys to the kingdom' - are given to the right users at the right time and then promptly revoked when no longer needed.

Think of it this way: in Monopoly, you wouldn't give all your opponents free access to your hotels, would you? Similarly, in IAM, elevated privileges are closely guarded and carefully managed. Associations in a PAM context link a user's identity with these privileged access rights, but only when necessary, and only for as long as required.

This tactical approach enhances security by minimizing the attack surface and reducing the risk of unauthorized access or privilege escalation. So, as we continue to navigate through the intricate world of IAM, remember to use your power plays wisely! Be strategic with your associations, apply the Principle of Least Privilege diligently, and manage your privileged access like a Monopoly champ. Now, let's roll the dice for the next move! Stay tuned as we explore more IAM strategies.

a monopoly board game with 3 houses and a hotela monopoly board game with 3 houses and a hotel

Section 4: Acquiring Properties

Role of Associations in Identity Management

In the IAM Monopoly, acquiring properties is a strategic move, and those properties can change the course of the game, right? The same goes for managing digital identities in an IAM system. The process of "acquiring" identities - or more precisely, validating and federating identities across systems - relies heavily on the strength of associations.

Imagine your game token landing on a property that's up for sale. To make a purchase, you need to verify your available funds and perhaps even your other assets. This verification step is akin to identity federation, where an IAM system must validate a user's identity against a Source of Truth (SoT) before granting access.

Here's where the concept of associations comes into play. In an ABAC model, the SoT could hold various attributes about a user - their role, location, project, device, etc. As a user attempts to access a resource, the IAM system creates an association between the user's request and their attributes stored in the SoT. It's much like associating the cost of a property with your current cash flow to decide if you can make a purchase.

Once this association validates the user's request - i.e., their attributes align with the access policies - the IAM system can federate the user's identity across systems or services. It's like owning the coveted 'Park Place' and 'Boardwalk' properties, granting you substantial power and control in the game.

However, remember that just as Monopoly requires constant strategizing and adaptation to changing game dynamics, the associations in an ABAC model must also continuously adapt to reflect changes in the SoT. Whether it's a new role assignment or change in location, the associations must update in real-time, ensuring that the IAM system always reflects the most accurate and up-to-date attributes.

So, as we continue rolling the dice in the exciting game of IAM, remember - the strategic acquisition of properties in Monopoly and the clever handling of associations in identity management can both lead us to victory. Stay tuned as we advance towards the next move - enhancing security and efficiency through associations.

monopoly houses and hotels on top of stacks of coinsmonopoly houses and hotels on top of stacks of coins

Section 5: The Power of Monopolies

How Associations Enhance Security and Efficiency

As we continue our journey in IAM Monopoly, we start seeing the power of owning a series of properties - in this case, associations - that function together seamlessly, enhancing both security and efficiency.

Let's take a look at the birthright access controls in the realm of IAM, which is like starting with a set amount of cash in Monopoly. This is the automatic access that is granted based on predefined associations between user attributes and access rights. For instance, every new sales employee in an organization might automatically get access to the CRM system, just like every Monopoly player gets $1500 to kickstart the game.

In the world of IAM, this predefined, attribute-based access control helps streamline the onboarding process, eliminates manual provisioning errors, and ensures that users have the right access from day one. It's just as satisfying as landing on Free Parking and collecting the cash in the middle of the board!

Next, let's talk about Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), two critical components in IAM that help strengthen security. In our Monopoly analogy, SSO is like having a monopoly - owning all properties of a color group. With just one login (or property purchase), you gain access to a range of resources (or the power to build houses and hotels).

On the other hand, MFA is the added security layer, akin to the sturdy hotels built on your properties. It ensures that the identity of the user is thoroughly verified through multiple validation mechanisms before granting access.

The power of associations in these processes is undeniable. Associations connect a user's login credentials to all the services they can access through SSO. Simultaneously, MFA systems can also use associations to verify the user's identity through multiple independent categories of credentials.

In summary, associations are like owning a color-coded monopoly in the game of IAM - they help streamline access, bolster security, and optimize the management of digital identities. So, as we continue to navigate our game board, let's remember to leverage the power of associations and the security efficiencies they bring to the table. Let's roll the dice and see what the next move holds for us! Stay tuned.

a monopoly board game with a horse piece on chance square
a monopoly board game with a horse piece on chance square

Section 6: Chance Cards

The Risks and Challenges of Associations

Our journey in IAM Monopoly has been quite a ride so far, but just like any board game, it's not all about owning properties and building houses. There are also Chance cards, those unexpected elements that introduce risks and challenges. In our IAM game, managing associations, especially in the context of a Source of Truth (SoT) and Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC), also has its share of challenges.

  1. Accuracy of the Source of Truth: Like drawing a Chance card and moving your token accordingly, an IAM system heavily relies on the accuracy of its SoT. When associations are defined based on attributes derived from an inaccurate SoT, it can lead to misaligned access rights, security risks, and compliance issues. It's akin to having a misprint on a Monopoly card, sending players to the wrong spot on the board.

  2. Complexity of Attribute-Based Controls: Just as Monopoly gets more complex as you accumulate properties, money, and cards, managing associations in an ABAC model can also grow complex over time. The dynamism and context-sensitivity of ABAC, while advantageous, can introduce complexity in defining, managing, and enforcing access controls based on numerous attributes.

  3. Risk of Over-Privilege: In Monopoly, a well-played Chance card can sometimes give a player an unexpected advantage, potentially upsetting the game's balance. In IAM, improperly managed associations can lead to similar imbalance, causing over-privilege. If a user's attributes are associated with more access rights than necessary for their role, it presents a security risk. It's like mistakenly being allowed to build hotels without owning all properties in a color group.

  4. Need for Continuous Adaptation: The changing landscape of Monopoly requires players to continually adapt their strategies. Similarly, associations in an IAM system require regular reviews and updates to adapt to changes in user attributes, roles, and access requirements. Failure to keep up can lead to stale or inappropriate access, similar to sticking with an outdated Monopoly strategy.

  5. Scalability Challenges: As the number of users, resources, and attributes grows in an organization, managing associations can become increasingly difficult. Maintaining performance while ensuring accurate, efficient access control across a vast array of users and resources can be a major challenge.

  6. Integration with Existing Systems: ABAC models and SoT methodologies may not always integrate seamlessly with existing systems, requiring additional configuration or even system overhauls. This process can be complex and costly.

  7. Privacy and Consent: Associations often involve the handling of personal data. Balancing security needs with privacy regulations and consent requirements can be tricky. This is especially true under laws like GDPR, where users have the right to know, limit, and even revoke the use of their personal data.

  8. Audit and Compliance: The complexity of associations and the dynamic nature of ABAC models can make audit and compliance activities challenging. It might be difficult to track and verify all access rights, especially when they are constantly changing based on user attributes and contexts.

The roll of the dice in Monopoly can sometimes be unpredictable, just as the journey in managing associations can be. But, understanding these risks and challenges can equip us with the strategies needed to navigate the board effectively, leading us towards a more secure and efficient IAM approach. So, let's keep these challenges in mind as we prepare for our next move in IAM Monopoly! Stay tuned.

Section 7: Building Houses and Hotels

Best Practices for Implementing Associations

Remember how your chances of winning Monopoly substantially improve when you strategically build houses and hotels? Well, it's time we talk about building solid structures in the world of IAM. And just like Monopoly, the foundation of these structures rests on several best practices that ensure your associations are as robust, efficient, and reliable as possible.

  • The Cleanliness of Data: Just like you would ensure that your game board is clean and clear before you start building houses and hotels, it's imperative to ensure that your data is clean and free from inaccuracies. The quality of associations in IAM systems is only as good as the quality of data you're working with. Regular data cleansing exercises can help you weed out any inaccuracies, redundancies, or inconsistencies that could compromise the effectiveness of your associations.

  • Data Validation: In Monopoly, you wouldn't blindly trust another player who claims to own Mayfair without seeing the property card, right? In the same way, it's crucial to validate the data used in associations. Employ rigorous validation procedures to ensure the information in your IAM system is accurate and up-to-date. This can help prevent unauthorized access and improve the overall security of your system.

  • Sourcing Available Data: In IAM, as in Monopoly, making the most of what you have can often be a winning strategy. Look at the data you already have and determine how it can be used to form effective associations. This can be particularly important when adopting an ABAC model, where a wide range of attributes can be used to make access decisions.

  • Building New Data: Sometimes, in the race to build your Monopoly empire, you might need to buy new properties or even draw a lucky Chance card. In the world of IAM, this translates into recognizing when you need to create or gather new data to support your associations. This could include data that gives you more insight into user behavior, risk levels, or other attributes relevant to access control.

  • Implementing ABAC with a Source of Truth (SoT): When implementing ABAC, it's crucial to have a reliable SoT, just like how every Monopoly game relies on a rule book. An SoT ensures that all attributes used to define access controls are accurate, consistent, and up-to-date. It provides a trusted reference point and contributes to the effectiveness and security of your IAM strategy.

Building solid associations in IAM is akin to strategic gameplay in Monopoly. By implementing these best practices, you can be well on your way to securing your IAM 'properties,' building your houses and hotels, and ultimately, winning the game. Now, let's roll the dice and see where our next move takes us!


Just as a game of Monopoly is far more than just buying and trading properties, Identity and Access Management is more than assigning roles and granting access. It's about making strategic decisions, managing resources effectively, and adapting to changing scenarios.

In this chapter, we've explored the realm of associations in IAM, using the attribute-based access control model. We've discovered how associations work, their flexibility, and the hierarchy they can form. We've also explored the role of associations in implementing the principle of least privilege and identity management, specifically in the context of using a Source of Truth. We've seen how associations enhance security and efficiency, considered the risks and challenges they bring, and shared best practices for implementing them.

However, this is only a part of the bigger IAM game. Up next, we will delve into the intriguing concept of correlations in IAM and how it forms the bedrock of Identity Governance and Administration (IGA). Just as you strategize your Monopoly game based on the actions of other players and the cards you draw, correlations allow us to build complex, effective, and efficient IAM systems. They help us understand the interconnectedness of different IAM components and how they influence each other.

Just like drawing the 'Advance to Mayfair' card could change your Monopoly game, understanding correlations could revolutionize your IAM strategy. So, stay tuned for our next chapter as we continue to navigate this complex, fascinating game of IAM. Roll the dice, and let's keep advancing!

-Guy, Chief Identity GameMaster at IAM Gatekeepers

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