Least Privilege Access

Contrary to popular belief, organizations face more threats from internal than external forces. According to research done by Forrester, around 80% of breaches involve the company’s employees. Employees can either breach security voluntarily or, in most cases, unconsciously.

According to most estimates, these threats can have dire consequences for the company and the entire market. Companies have begun to employ various access management methodologies to avoid internal breaches. Among other things, this helps regulate the amount of access to employees.

With the help of Least Privilege Access, companies can ensure that employees only get minimum access and cannot edit things outside their scope or domain. This also helps mitigate the harms of potential security breaches. But more on that later.

If you want to know more about the benefits of Least privilege access and how it limits user access, continue reading ahead. There is a lot more to discover.

Understanding Least Privilege Access

It is essential for companies to categorize people. Allowing all employees complete user access to all company’s resources and programs is a recipe for disaster. Through Least privilege access, companies use a unique software system to decide which employees get access to which resources.

Moreover, organizations also decide which employees enjoy the most privilege and can be given administrator accounts. These are upper on the hierarchy and tend to be least susceptible to outside pressures.

By implementing least privilege access, companies can better strategize and ensure better overall security for the system.

Least Privilege Access In Practice?

Understanding the principle and concept of least privilege access is not enough. You have to know what it looks like in practice.

Least privilege access is a very precise and accurate tool that will allow employees to only access, read and edit applications they need within a time frame. They will be prevented from making changes to other crucial documents or past files that they no longer use. This ensures that any sensitive information is not leaked from the main server.

Additionally, through least privilege access, companies can limit the locations and devices from which employees can access certain files. This means that people who have a habit of opening sensitive and critical files in their home servers will not be able to do so.

It isn’t easy to implement something that you can not imagine. So to make things easier for you, here is an example.

Imagine a cloud system. This system is being accessed by a plethora of employers within your organization. All these employees aren’t on the same level of hierarchy. Some are IT engineers, some are editors, and some are developers. Some may be working permanently with the organization, while others may be hired on a part-time basis.

In this scenario, you would only allow the developers to create and modify the content if you want to achieve the benefits of Least Privilege access. The IT engineers would only do the technical work. In contrast, the editor will only be able to recommend changes.

When you aren’t doing the above, you are simply granting user access to people at all levels. The intention behind it is good; you want all the employees to have the freedom to deploy their methods. However, as tempting as this may be, you will open up your business to many threats.

Privileged Accounts Vs. Non-Privileged Accounts

Each organization has different privilege settings for people with different user accounts. This can depend on their seniority level, their experience in the company, and the nature of their task. Some operating systems also have different default settings that allow for elevated privileges.

Here is the classification.

Standard User Accounts

These get the least privilege access and only enjoy restricted access to systems and files. Most IT staff members and technicians have limited access. Some have elevated privileges. The latter includes IT technicians that control the network domains.

Superuser Accounts

People in this category have an administrator account and may enjoy unlimited privileges. These employees can read, write, edit and transform files. Moreover, they also have undisputed access to all systems and resources of the organization. These people usually sit at the top of the table and are the most trustworthy employees.

Implementing The Least Privilege In Your Organization – The Simple Way

The name of the software may seem intimidating, but it is quite easy to install and administer. There are many important steps involved. However, depending on the organization’s budget and criteria, it decides which steps to take. Here is how you can do it.

Audit All Accounts In A System

For starters, audit all the accounts in your system to locate any privileged access accounts. You may have to look for SSH keys, access keys, and passwords. Additionally, you may also need to check Cloud systems.

Bracket All Privilege Access

Secondly, cancel all special privileges to administrative accounts. This ensures that the Least Privilege system will regulate all your employees’ access.

Most companies have many administrator accounts- a bad practice if you want to enhance security. You should only have limited administrator accounts, and that too for a limited time. NSA reduced the number of administrator accounts in its business by 90%, which proved very useful for them. The next step is to give default and lowest possible access to any new accounts you create.

Separate And Categorize Accounts

Separate all normal accounts from the ones reserved for administrators. Make sure you reduce all user accounts to standard users. According to many studies, this has helped reduce the number of attacks on companies. Depending on different levels of needs and trust, segment these systems.

Decide On The Type Of Privilege To Grant Users

Privileges can be divided into three broad categories. The one-time use credentials, the expiration credentials, and the just-in-time privileges. Depending on the task and the level of trust in your employee, you can grant these privileges accordingly. But there is more to this in the upcoming sections.

Add Improvements To The Least Privilege Access System

Some things that further improve your security include the replacement of hard-coded credentials with APIs. These allow users to retrieve these specific credentials only from their password safes. Moreover, you can also replace these hard-coded credentials with more secure and reliable dynamic secrets.

Increase Traceability

Large organizations handle a lot of sensitive data. This is why it is imperative that they trace individual actions. To do this, you can use either auditing tools like those mentioned above or User IDs. This increases accountability and secures user access to files. Do extensive testing beforehand to ensure that your traceability applications ensure the best oversight.

Don’t Limit Least Privilege Access To Employees

If you truly want to secure all ends of your links, you have to broaden the parameters. Include vendors, contractors, and any other remote workers in the mix. Limiting their access ensures that your sensitive data does not leave the system.

Forms of Least Privilege Access

Once you have set least privilege access, you must differentiate between the credentials you give employees. Depending on seniority and the nature of the task, you can decide between these three types.

Single-Use Credentials

This is useful when companies want their employees to work on a particular document for a limited time. Once the task is completed, the access is withdrawn. Through least privilege access, businesses can provide a password safe to employees. They will be able to use this password for one time, and then it will expire. They will require a new password to access the file again.

Set Privilege Access Expiration

This works on a similar principle to the above single-use credential. You can set an expiration date on the password, which means that the employee will only be used to access a file for a given time, after which the password will automatically expire. This privilege rests on the completion of a task, or it is time-restricted.

Just-In-Time privileges

Some tasks and applications require extended privileges. Depending on the situation and the need of the task, the privilege can be increased accordingly. This will not give employees admin credentials or access to the password. This helps companies decide when and where privilege needs to be enhanced.

Benefits Of Least Privilege

You’d think that most benefits of Least Privilege are intuitive and quite obvious. But that is not the case. The benefits of Least Privilege are many in nature. Here is an overview of why organizations chose this manageability program.

Improves Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks have taken the world by storm. From countries to large organizations, no one is safe from its menace. Least Privilege access allows companies to reduce the impact of cyberattacks and prevent exploitation of user credentials. Moreover, limiting the number of administrator accounts reduces unlimited access to sensitive files.

Reduces The Transfer Of Malware

Through uninterrupted user access, the chance of malware spreading increases. By enforcing this program, malware attacks, including injection attacks, can be reduced by a great deal. This is why most systems require privileged access to install a malware program.

Increases Productivity

Expiration credentials and just-in-time privileges help enhance the productivity of a company. When employees know they have to complete a task within a particular time frame, they are more motivated to do the job more efficiently. Moreover, the incentive to multitask also increases.

Increases Accountability

Employees, contractors, and vendors know they are under surveillance and their user access is limited. This makes them feel more under the radar and hence less likely to cause harm to the system. Moreover, this increased regulation helps keep potential hackers from joining the system as harmless employees.

Least Privilege Vs. Zero Trust

Least privilege is often confused with zero trust. However, these two things are quite distinct in nature. With zero trust, you don’t grant any access to any individual until and unless you have verified their identity and credentials.

The above is a great way to reduce risk and protect one’s organization from potential harm. However, it comes at a cost. You will need to deploy some people who can make these verifications repeatedly. Since this follows the notion of no trust, you will not be able to build a good and responsive relationship with your employees.

However, some organizations work with state secrets and need the highest level of protection. In those cases, organizations may need to go past the least privilege system and deploy an even stronger mechanism for security purposes.

What Are The Challenges Of Applying Least Privilege

Like all other systems, Least Privilege access is not all good. It also comes with some challenges. These can be mitigated with meticulous planning. However, most companies accept the trade-off because the benefits of least privilege access far outweigh its cons.

Here are some challenges of privilege access.

Less Visibility And Awareness

The technology assumes that most issues occur within the system. However, malware and viruses are most commonly installed by hackers from outside the organization. When you grant least privilege to all accounts within an organization, you also reduce their ability to detect malware or prevent malicious activity. At the end of the day, a least privilege access system can still not protect your company from exploitation and potential damage.

Cultural Factors

Not all organizations work within the US. There are many countries where employees would actively resist the least privileged access. Apart from this being perceived as humiliating, some employees may even find it hard to work on a time crunch.

Additionally, this may cause greater employee frustration, thus reducing overall productivity. So if you want to reduce the harms associated with this, you must first take your employees into confidence.

Final Thoughts

The concept of least privilege dictates that companies can increase their security using privileged access management tools. There are many tools for privilege enforcement, but this one limits access rights for people at all levels, including those who enjoy elevated privileges.

By restricting access to computer systems, system administrators and people with an administrator account who enjoy virtually unlimited privileges also get reduced access rights. Similarly, user accounts are brought to the same level, so no one enjoys extraordinarily privileged credentials. All this helps protect critical systems from potential harm.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.
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