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Cigna Goes on a Role

Health benefits provider automates upkeep of its role-based user access control

Even the big boys sometimes struggle to get their user access control into compliance. Take Cigna, which is about to automate the management of user-access entitlement for its 27,000 employees and over 1,000 applications.

Cigna started building its role-based access control (RBAC) infrastructure in 2001, which includes IBM's ITIN identity management system and a homegrown tool that handles user requests for application access. Without the tools to automate the upkeep of its RBAC system, most of its access control work was done manually.

Getting all of the roles and access rules set up took the $16.5 billion health benefits provider nearly five years to complete.

"I used to have a lot more hair," says Craig Shumard, chief information security officer at Cigna. "It was a laborious and complex undertaking, and back then, there weren't any tools to assist [you]. Excel spreadsheets were the tool du jour."

But the spreadsheets will soon get tossed: Cigna is now starting to deploy Aveksa 's Linux-based Aveksa 3 appliance to automate the management of its user roles and access to its systems and data. The Apache Web-based tool builds, changes, tests, authorizes, and certifies a particular user's "role," and thus his access to the appropriate Cigna applications for his job. It will help define employees' access needs, and ensure that they receive access only to what they really use, Shumard says.

RBAC is basically a process that groups system resources that users need to do their jobs. The "roles" grant the user access to specific apps when a user is hired or changes jobs.

Shumard says the tool will eliminate spreadsheets as Cigna's sole tracking tool and, ultimately, the company's in-house, mainframe-based System Communication Request (SCR) app, which lets users request access to applications and systems based on their job roles and locations. "They will be able to instead make their requests through the Web-based Aveksa interface," as part of the entire system, he says.

That tool also will immediately revoke any access to users who leave the company -- a high-profile requirement in an audit. The appliance also provides an audit trail of all of the changes and provisioning of user access, Shumard says, and will work hand-in-hand with the ITIN identity management system.

The decision to add the Aveksa tool was both for business and regulatory reasons, Shumard says. "One reason was the fact that it [the RBAC architecture] wasn't sustainable given the volume and activity and number of people in the roles we have now. And two, for folks looking for detailed audit logs and trails for activity in roles, role owners, and access, this provides that information in a timely manner."

"With 27,000 employees, people are moving and changing roles a lot, so it was a significant effort to maintain when you go to the depth we did" with most of our applications, he says. But without a tool to operate the overall RBAC architecture, Cigna was unable to always know for sure who had access to what at any given time, he says. That's where the Aveksa appliance comes in.

"We put a lot of time, money, and resources into [the RBAC]," he says. "This is the next evolution."

Shumard won't say what Cigna has invested in this project. The Aveksa appliance sells for $137,500 for a 1,000-user and 25-application implementation, and comes in volume discounts.

The appliance will also help streamline the auditing process for Cigna, Shumard says. Cigna historically has had to do some hefty manual labor for audits, he notes. "Frankly, we went through a lot of manual effort to ensure we were fully compliant."

Shumard's advice to other organizations building out a role-based access control system: "To effectively maintain an RBAC goes on forever. Plan for the maintenance phase when you start."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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