Study: Digital Transformation Drives Rapid Growth in Machine Identities

Growth in machine identities vastly outpaces growth of human identities

Venafi®, the inventor and leading provider of machine identity management, announced the findings of a global study of 1,000 CIOs, which shows that digital transformation is driving an average of 42% annual growth in the number of machine identities. Because CIOs often have limited visibility into the number of machine identities on their networks and these critical security assets are not prioritized in IAM and security budgets, CIOs should expect to see a sharp increase in machine identity related outages and security breaches.

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“The challenges connected with human identity management pale in contrast to the challenges of managing machine identities. This research underscores the urgent need for every organization to evaluate their machine identity management program in order to protect their digital transformation initiatives.”

Machine identities enable secure connection and authentication for every part of IT infrastructure, from physical, virtual servers and IoT devices to software applications, APIs and containers. Any time two machines need to authenticate each other a machine identity is required. One hundred percent of CIOs say that digital transformation is driving a dramatic increase in the number of machine identities their organizations require. Without an automated machine identity management program, organizations suffer from outages caused by expired machine identities and breaches caused by machine identity misuse or compromise.

According to Venafi’s sponsored CIO study, the average organization used nearly a quarter of a million (250,000) machine identities at the end of 2021. This is a startling number when you consider that machine identity management experts at Venafi typically find that organizations initially underestimate machine identity populations by 50% or more because they have extremely limited visibility into the machine identities their organization requires.

At current rates of growth, these same organizations can expect their machine identity inventory to more than double to at least 500,000 by 2024. Moreover, three-quarters of surveyed CIOs said that they expect digital transformation initiatives to increase the number of machine identities in their organizations by 26%—with more than one-quarter (27%) citing a percentage of higher than 50%.

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Key survey findings include:

  • 83% of organizations suffered a machine identity related outage during the last 12 months; over a quarter (26%) say critical systems were impacted.
  • 57% of organizations experienced at least one data breach or security incident related to compromised machine identities (including TLS, SSH keys and code signing keys and certificates) during the same time period.

“The realities of digital transformation mean that every business is now a software company. This means IAM priorities need to shift to protect the machine identities required for digital transformation initiatives because these initiatives are the engines of innovation and growth,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi. “The unfortunate reality is that most organizations are not prepared to manage all the machines identities they need. This rapidly growing gap has opened a new attack surface – from software build pipelines to Kubernetes clusters – that is very attractive to attackers.”

The rise in the number of machines on enterprise networks is exposing outdated machine identity management practices. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of CIOs say that rather than using a comprehensive machine identity management solution, their organizations combine multiple solutions and processes, including point solutions from certificate authorities (CAs) and public cloud providers, homegrown solutions and manual processes. This approach does not provide enterprise-wide view of all machine identities or provide the mechanisms needed to enforce configuration or policy requirements.

“Machine identity management is in the early stages of adoption. It’s very similar to what happened with customer and workforce identity a few years ago, but it’s orders of magnitude larger in scale and change is happening much faster,” Bocek continued. “The challenges connected with human identity management pale in contrast to the challenges of managing machine identities. This research underscores the urgent need for every organization to evaluate their machine identity management program in order to protect their digital transformation initiatives.”

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