What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Javed Shah

Customer identity and access management is the solution your business needs if you’re currently struggling with controlling customer user IDs.

What is CIAM? CIAM is an access management solution; CIAM stands for customer identity and access management. Through CIAM, a company can secure, control, and track the user IDs of all their customers and create a better user experience overall.

What is CIAM?

Most of our readers may already be familiar with Identity Access Management (IAM): tools and procedures used to verify digital identities during authentication to ensure that only the right users with the proper credentials gain access to system resources.

CIAM takes IAM a little further to support businesses in unique ways. As the name suggests, Customer Identity and Access Management emphasizes the customer aspect of authentication users to access applications. The goal is to create a secure verification method that protects customer data and system resources while also providing scalable and tailored customer experiences.

What Are the Benefits of CIAM?

The summary here is that customer IAM can give your customers a great user experience with braided portals and seamless identity verification. At the same time, it can help you improve security to ease compliance and maintenance.

Some of the benefits include the following:

  • Protecting Customer Data: Advanced security can integrate adaptive Multi-factor authentication (MFA) to support more robust authentication controls while mitigating some of the risks of poor password hygiene on the part of the customer.
  • Providing Seamless Customer Experiences: A CIAM solution can improve authentication for multiple online stores, applications or user accounts under a single login point of entry, reducing friction between the user and the system.
  • Ensuring Scalability: A customer identity access solution is built to scale for high-volume usage up to millions of concurrent users simultaneously.
  • Supporting Multiple Devices: A modern solution can bring authentication to multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets, laptops, and smart TVs.


On the surface, the differences between traditional IAM and CIAM are minor. CIAM, perhaps, seems like a specialized version of IAM. That is correct, in part, but it is essential to know the specific differences between the two to better understand the value of a CIAM solution.

The most crucial difference that frames all other differences is that customer IAM solutions are purpose-built to support enterprise organizations authenticating customers through web applications and services.

Some of the critical differences between the two technologies include the following:

  • Scale: IAM solutions are rarely built with high-volume access in mind, often capping out at 50,000 to 100,000 users at a time. A CIAM, however, will usually support up to millions of users and severe spikes in traffic.
  • Identity Distribution: Under an IAM system, a single user has a single identity. Key identifiers cannot be associated with another identity; this helps maintain the integrity of the system. CIAM has no such limitation, however, and offers the ability for customers to have multiple identities associated with different applications or resources. CIAM can also set up the potential for federated identity management approaches to authentication.
  • Self-Registration: Customer IAM will more often than not offer self-registration for users so that they can sign up for an account on your platform as they wish. On the other hand, IAM will often rely more on onboarding through HR or IT departments to create digital identities.
  • Availability: Customer IAM is all about staying coherent, consistent and available for users no matter where they are. Whether a mobile device or an entire desktop computer, a CIAM provides a standardized customer authentication experience.
  • Analytics: Many modern CIAM solutions include capabilities to collect logs, reports, documents, and system events to understand their security and compliance posture better. More importantly, these analytics help you better understand customer behavior at authentication and beyond to inform business and operational strategies better.

These differences highlight how important CIAM is for businesses launching or managing online applications. Digital storefronts, SaaS applications, account portals or cloud services all have significant customer-facing interfaces.

Customer identity access management strips out the complexity of the customer-facing authentication process and streamlines it. Because of this, CIAM is a vital way to break down barriers between your users and your products and services.

How Does CIAM Help with Compliance?

CIAM can help improve security and customer experience to serve your users better. However, it’s important to note that many organizations don’t implement their own solution but instead rely on third-party Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) providers to give them CIAM.

Like most “as a service” models, IDaaS helps your organization field a critical service effectively without having to take on the burden of creating, implementing and maintaining your service. This has several advantages, many of which revolve around security and compliance.

In general, CIAM and an IDaaS product support compliance and security in the following ways:

  • Outsourcing Security: Cybersecurity is complex, and IAM plays a considerable role in effective cyber protection. Implementing the right IAM on your own without consulting simply drains time and energy away from your business that would be better spent on product sales or development.
  • Outsourcing Compliance: A third-party cloud system must meet compliance requirements in order to serve customers in regulated industries like healthcare, government contracting and payment processing. Such a provider will often specialize in one or more compliance frameworks and offer services to well-paying, highly specialized
  • Centralizing Both Security and Compliance: Frameworks like GDPR or HIPAA call for extensive compliance demands tied to security, data management and logging, reporting and administrative policies. Customer IAM centralizes compliance configurations and security measures, making them easy to update across multiple devices without compromising security.

Overall, because CIAM is a holistic approach to customer-facing IAM at scale, it can roll compliance and security up with customer experience and ease of use to help you provide customers with a frictionless experience. When looking for a CIAM, look for technology that centralizes complex compliance frameworks like HIPAA, PCI DSS or FedRAMP while easing use and providing regular and responsive customer support.

BlockID: Revolutionizing Authentication With CIAM and IAM Modernization

It’s increasingly common to hear news about the latest breach of one platform or another, usually through poor password management. This is because even more “responsible” businesses are still using IAM in a limited capacity.

Having identity access management in place isn’t enough. Incremental improvements to IAM through biometrics and complex passwords aren’t keeping systems safe. And, with IAM on public applications serving millions of customers daily, there must be a balance of customer experience, security and flexibility. We need to make drastic changes to how we think of authentication to engage customers and avoid data breaches.

To address these demands, 1Ksomos recently partnered with Focal Point Data Risk, LLC to combine innovative BlockID passwordless authentication and decentralized identity with CIAM design to bring transformative identity solutions to market.

BlockID includes features like the following:

  • KYC compliance: BlockID Verify is KYC compliant to support eKYC verification that meets the demands of the financial industry.
  • Strong compliance adherence: BlockID meets NIST 800 63-3 for Identity Assurance Level 2 (IAL2) and Authentication Assurance Level 2 (AAL2).
  • Incorruptible Blockchain Technology: Store user data in protected blockchains with simple and secure API integration for your apps and IT infrastructure.
  • Zero-trust security: BlockID is a cornerstone for a zero-trust framework, so you can ensure user authentication happens at every potential access point.
  • Liveness Tests: BlockID includes liveness tests to improve verification and minimize potential fraud. With these tests, our application can prove that the user is physically present at the point of authentication.
  • Enhanced User Experience: With the BlockID app, authentication and login are simple, straightforward, and frictionless across systems, applications and devices. Logging into a system isn’t difficult, and you don’t have to sacrifice usability in the name of security.

If you’re ready to learn about BlockID and how it transforms customer IAM and enterprise authentication, check out our webinar on Breaking Down Silos.

Also, make sure you sign up for the 1Kosmos email newsletter for updates on products and events.

Overcoming Resistance to Change on the Journey to Passwordless MFA
Read More

Expert Insights in Your Inbox

Subscribe to the blog
Meet the Author

Javed Shah

Former Senior Vice President Of Product Management

Javed has spent his entire twenty year career designing and building blockchain and identity management solutions. He has led large customer facing pre-sales teams, led product management for identity management platforms like the ForgeRock Identity Platform and the ForgeRock Identity Cloud. Javed has an MBA from UC Berkeley.