Author: Hari Kumar Selvanarayanan, ManageEngine
Back in the 20th century, cyberattacks were harder to execute because most computers were not networked, the internet wasn’t really a thing, only a few groups of people had access to computers, and more importantly, there wasn’t any big incentive to attack.
It’s an entirely different story today. At the crossroads of poor data collection and sluggish data privacy practices, there’s a lot of money to be made from stealing data or creating service disruptions. In fact, a report from the University of Maryland states that, on average, there is a new cyberattack occurring every 39 seconds across the globe. And most organisations are simply playing catch up with the cybercriminals by plugging holes as they come, when instead, they should be figuring out better ways to seal their vaults. The first step in that attempt should be a good access control policy.
What is access control?
Access control determines who is allowed into the organisation network and who can access what data once they are in. It sets a hierarchy of access levels and permissions or restrictions to individuals, so that only authorised people can access sensitive information.
To use an analogy, if your company is like a night club, access control is the bouncer. It checks IDs at the door, makes sure they aren’t fake, and then lets people in. Once they are inside, it sets additional permissions within the club. For example, the VIP section probably needs a separate sub-list; the kitchen staff might need to access the side door; the cash register can only be trusted with a few of the higher level employees; and so on. The complexities become exponential depending on how much you need to protect. Creating and managing such extensive access requirements is what an access control policy does.
Why is access control vital for your organisation?
By implementing access control measures, organisations can protect sensitive or confidential data from unauthorised access, modification, or disclosure; comply with legal and regulatory requirements; and mitigate the risk of insider threats. Access control measures can also enhance accountability and investigations by monitoring and logging access attempts and actions.
Types of access controls
Before implementing a successful access control policy in your organisation, you need to be aware of the different types of models available out there. Each one of the following models caters to a specific requirement.
- Mandatory access control (MAC): Access is given when the security labels of the data match with those of the user. If a user has a top secret security label, they can access top secret information. This works best in highly restricted environments like military and intelligence agencies.
- Role-based access control (RBAC): This model is based on the principle of least privilege, meaning users are only given access to data that is necessary for their job function. This works best for large-scale organisations where assigning access individually may be challenging. Every employee with the same role can be granted or denied access at once.
- Discretionary access control (DAC): Data owners can define access policies and grant or restrict access based on their own discretion. This works best in small-scale organisations where there is a higher level of trust among users.
- Attribute-based access control (ABAC): Access to data is based on a set of attributes given to a user, such as role, job function, time of day, or location. This works best in industries like healthcare or finance, where there is a need for more granular and flexible access control policies.
How can you implement an access control policy that works best for you?
Whichever model you choose, implementing and enforcing it involves the following steps:
- Define the scope and identify the model: Discover what data is sensitive to your organisation and needs to be protected from unauthorised access, modification, or disclosure. Choose one of the above-mentioned models based on which you’ll be developing your access control policy.
- Develop an access control policy: Develop rules and procedures that will govern how access is granted, modified, and revoked. This can include authentication, authorisation, and auditing. Include individual policies that cover all your security needs such as password, physical access, remote access, and auditing policies.
- Implement the access control measures: Put your access control policy into action by configuring user accounts, setting up permissions, and enabling auditing. Make sure all users and admins on the policy are trained on their roles and responsibilities to follow and enforce it.
- Monitor and evaluate the policy: A feedback loop to determine effectiveness always helps. Review access logs, conduct security assessments, and identify any areas where the policy may need to be updated or revised.
The art of streamlining access control management
Whether it’s a simple DAC model, a more complex RBAC model, or a fine-grained ABAC model, creating and managing an access policy is not an easy feat. A little bit of help goes a long way. That’s where ManageEngine DataSecurity Plus comes in. With it, you can easily locate permission inconsistencies, identify overexposed files, verify whether the principle of least privilege is maintained, and much more. Learn more about its permission analysis capabilities here. Get started with DataSecurity Plus today
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