How to Manage Identities for Contractors, Consultants, and Other Non-Employees

For years, organizations have recognized the need to pay close attention to and manage the access that their employees have with the help of identity governance and administration solutions.  More recently, organizations are also being faced with the reality that they need to apply the same level of governance to non-employees as well. According to a 2018 Opus-sponsored Ponemon study, 59 percent of companies said they have experienced a data breach caused by one of their vendors or third parties. Many of these breaches go undetected. With most organizations agreeing that third-party cybersecurity incidents are on the rise, non-employee access management is more important than ever.   

Access by non-employees like contractors, vendors, students, or consultants face additional challenges when it comes to entitlements. How does an organization ensure that a non-employee can get into the systems they need to do their job, while still enforcing enough limitations to avoid becoming a security risk? Read on to learn more about why non-employees present a unique challenge to identity and access management programs, how industries like healthcare handle managing their privileges, and best practices to find the balance between granting permissions and reducing risk.

What makes access for non-employee so challenging?

Non-employees often need to be onboarded quickly, since they may only be temporary members of the organization. Contractors or consultants, for example, need to quickly be able to log on and get to work. Organizations with no identity governance and administration (IGA) solution, or a very limited identity and access management (IAM) program, likely do not have a way to easily limit access or keep track of those with non-employee status. Oftentimes there is no “non-employee” designation in the system, or security teams lack a centralized inventory of users, allowing atypical IDs to slip through the cracks.

Even businesses with IGA solutions may end up quickly classifying consultants as employees as far as IT is concerned. Since these roles are typically not vetted as thoroughly as a full-fledged employee would be, giving them standard access may open the door to serious security issues. Providing a contractor with full employee access defies the principle of least privilege, since contractors don’t require access to nearly as many systems and applications but will be able to log into them anyway.

Additionally, non-employees may be not be working in your specific infrastructure as often, making them more prone to mistakes, making full access to sensitive information or data particularly risky. Some of the largest breaches have come from stolen non-employee credentials that allowed a hacker to get in through the front door.

Finally, non-employees tend to come and go far more frequently than employees, leaving behind an unused, but still active account. These orphaned accounts are key targets for threat actors looking for a way to get inside a system without setting off any alarms. Since the owner of the account isn’t using it, it may be too late before it’s noticed that it’s being utilized for malicious purposes.

Best practices for non-employee access

Luckily, there are a few tangible ways to solve the potential challenges related to non-employee access. An organization with a solid IGA program can safeguard their infrastructure by a few important guidelines:

Have a way to identify and manage non-employees.

There are many ways to manage non-employees. For example, you could add non-employees to your HR system, segment them appropriately, and manage their contract status. If this is not possible within an organization, the right IGA solution can be configured to be the central repository for non-employee identities and have convenient methods for inputting relevant information about them as well as enforce appropriate controls to manage them more closely.

Whatever approach an organization chooses, the most important part is to regularly ensure these non-employee user accounts are correct and up to date. The work of a contract employee can often vary depending on the project. Without regular check-ins, entitlement creep and orphaned accounts may begin to occur. That is, a contractor simply gains additional access without removing privileges they no longer need, or the account is left active after the contractor has left the organization.

Follow the principle of least privilege.

All IGA identity governance and administration programs should begin with the principle of least privilege. That is, no employee or non-employee should have more access than needed to get their job done. This is best achieved through role-based access, which provides permissions based on roles, instead of individual entitlements.  Roles can easily be applied to well-managed non-employees as well as employees.

Have processes in place for efficient, but accurate onboarding and offboarding.

Manual provisioning can be labor intensive and take weeks before a new employee has access to every area they’ll need. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the employee and non-employee and will cost the organization time and money. However, sloppy onboarding for the sake of speed can lead to security risks. While off boarding does not seem as time sensitive since no one is waiting on access, it is even more important from a security perspective.


Use Case: Non-Employees in Healthcare

Healthcare is a perfect example of an industry that needs to have a comprehensive yet flexible way of managing non-employees. It is highly regulated industry with a significant number of non-employees  Potentially challenging use cases include the following:


Many doctors and clinicians that work in hospital systems are not actually employed by the hospitals themselves. They may be employed by a clinic or medical group that has established a partnership allowing them privileges at the hospital.

While they may not be official employees, this group need access to many of the systems within the hospital network. Not having access to scheduling software, communication applications, alerting systems, and of course, electronic health records (EHR) can put lives as risk. It is also important to make certain that the status of a physician’s relationship with the hospital is up to date and that access is removed when it is appropriate.

However, these doctors do not require access to employee portals that provide benefit and payment information or other human resources related applications. Granularity and visibility into the access via roles is important.

Physicians are perfect examples of a non-employee who will require longer term access, but do not require full access. Best practices and role-based access would ensure that regular entitlement reviews would renew this access as needed, verifying compliance without disrupting patient care.


Whether it be as part of a program to interact with and assist patients, or as part of an emergency response plan, hospitals often have a need to allow volunteers to have access to their resources and patient data. Some may be long-term; others may only last a week. Some come in large groups, others volunteer on their own. Regardless, volunteers still require a certain amount of access. It may be very minimal, perhaps to sign in to track hours and verify that they’re in the building.

With volunteers, it is imperative that their access be managed to a level corresponding with the significance of data they require. Most will not have any medical certifications and should not have any access to health records. It is important to consider the definition of roles for volunteers as well as a repository that can be used to understand their precise needs in relationship with the healthcare systems. Removing even minimal access for volunteers is important when it is no longer needed.

Medical Students

Medical students provide a unique middle ground between physicians and volunteers when it comes to access. While they need access to the EHR system, they may not require the privileges that nurses and doctors are entitled to. For example, a medical student may not need to be able to put through an order for a test or send a prescription to a pharmacy.

Administrators face additional challenges  because large groups of students typically start on the same day.  Since the window in which they will be working at the hospital is so short, it is important for them to have all of their access needs sorted by day one. Similarly, most students have a shared end date, so offboarding must also be well organized and efficient. Automated deprovisioning is ideal in this scenario, so that orphaned accounts don’t linger for longer than necessary. Continuous review is also still necessary in case a student drops out or transfers.

Managing Everyone with Core Access Assurance Suite

The best way to manage non-employees is with a robust IGA solution that can manage non-employees in addition to standard full-time employee. Core Access Assurance Suite provides the complete context of relationships between users, access rights, resources, user activity, and compliance policies so that you can efficiently use access provisioning to manage a user appropriately from the beginning, using roles as necessary.

Automate the process of creating and managing non-employee accounts and identities as well as their associated access rights across the enterprise. Core Access Assurance Suite also ensures immediate disablement of access rights upon termination for increased security and regulatory compliance.

From long-term employees to short term contractors, our IGA solution will streamline access control and manage risk to provide a secure environment for your organization.

Core Access Assurance Suite provides complete identity, access risk, and compliance management, easily identifying, quantifying and managing the risks associated with information access.

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