Access control security encompasses the tools and processes that restrict access to resources in an IT infrastructure. Access control systems define the rules and policies that ensure only authorized entities are allowed to access and perform operations on specific networks or applications.
Access control enforces both authentication and authorization policies to regulate access. Authentication verifies the identity of the user, whereas authorization determines whether the user has the privileges to interact with the asset they are trying to access.
For example, if an employee swipes their card to enter an office building, the access control system authenticates them by verifying the access card’s credentials. Once authenticated, the system authorizes the employee's access based on their role or clearance level. If the employee has the required privileges, the door will unlock, and they will be allowed to enter.
Access control is a crucial part of cybersecurity as it protects against unauthorized access, privilege escalation and potential breaches. By implementing robust access control policies, organizations can improve their overall security posture and reduce their attack surface.
What are the types of access controls?
There are several types of access control models, including:
1. Role-based Access Control (RBAC)
RBAC systems assign permissions and privileges to users based on their roles and responsibilities. For example, a software engineer may have access to the source code repository, the CI/CD tool and the staging virtual machines. On the other hand, a production engineer may have exclusive access to the production virtual machines.
2. Rule-based Access Control (RuBAC)
RuBAC uses a set of predefined rules to control access to sensitive information and applications. The rules contain different conditions that are evaluated to make access decisions. For example, an administrator could define a rule that allows only users from a specific department and with a specific designation to access an application.
3. Mandatory Access Control (MAC)
MAC tools determine access based on security labels assigned to both users and resources. For example, if user X wants to perform some operations on an application Y, a MAC tool ensures that:
The user’s access policy includes privileges to access and interact with application Y.
The application Y’s policy explicitly allows the user (or their group) to access it and perform desired operations.
MAC policies significantly reduce the attack surface by preventing unauthorized operations, even when someone has access to an application.
4. Discretionary Access Control (DAC)
DAC is a flexible model that allows resource owners to determine who has access to their resources. It's commonly used in file systems where owners control access to their files and folders. It’s worth noting that DAC can also introduce vulnerabilities, as access control decisions are made by individual users who may not be aware of the overall security landscape.
5. Access Control Lists (ACLs)
Access Control Lists (ACLs) are another way to implement access control. ACLs are typically defined at the resource level. For example, you can define an ACL to restrict access to an S3 bucket on AWS. The ACL policy includes the name of the resource owner, along with details of other users who are allowed to interact with the bucket.
6. Attribute-based Access Control (ABAC)
ABAC systems make access decisions based on user attributes, such as job title, department, location and time. For example, an administrator can use ABAC to restrict access to a sensitive database to members of the "production" user group, only when they are connected to the office network.
To choose the right access control model for your organization, carefully evaluate your security expectations and compliance needs. You may even choose a combination of different models if it makes sense. Several IAM solutions, including Access Management (AM), Privileged Access Management (PAM) and Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) systems offer different ways to implement fine-grained access control.
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