Access control is an essential component of IT and data security for all kind of businesses. This term describes a variety of ways to control who has access to your organization’s information resources. Access control provides not only a greater control over your network, data, website, or other sensitive systems or assets, but it also help you stay compliant with various industry standards and regulations.

When restricting the access to sensitive systems or data, you are limiting the potential risks concerning data exposure. For example, if only a few certain people have access to your customer database, it is less likely that the database will be exposed through credential compromise or insider threats.

And talking about giving access to company’s resources, it is crucial to mention that this access is related to roles and groups. So, what is actually Role-Based Access Control? What benefits it brings to the large enterprises and which are best practices for its implementation?

You can probably guess from the name, that role-based access control gives access permissions based on user roles. Under “role” you should understand the functions that an employee performs. Users may have one or more roles and may be assigned one or more permissions. In RBAC system, user access provisioning is based on the needs of a group (for example marketing department) based on common responsibilities and needs. This means that each role has a given a set of permissions, and individuals can be assigned to one or more roles.  A well-designed RBAC system also simplifies and streamlines the administration of access by grouping sets of access in a logical way (i.e. via department, job title, region, or manager level). Grouping common access permissions into roles ensures a secure and efficient way to manage access, while simplifying the process for both administrators and users.

Roles versus Groups

A frequently asked question is “What is the difference between roles and groups?” Indeed, there is a superficial similarity between RBAC roles and traditional groups. Let’s explain: Groups of users are commonly provided in many access control systems. A major difference between most implementations of groups and the concept of roles is that groups are typically treated as a collection of users and not as a collection of permissions. A role is both a collection of users on one side and a collection of permissions on the other.

A group is a collection of users with a given set of permissions assigned to the group. You can assign a role to group or you can assign user to group. By adding a user to a role group, the user has access to all the roles in that group. When they are removed, access becomes restricted. Users may also be assigned to multiple groups in the event they need temporary access to certain data or programs and then removed once the project is complete.

What are best practices for implementing RBAC?

In addition to the above mentioned RBAC features, we could also say that role-based access control provides a number of benefits such as improving your security posture, complying with relevant regulations, and reducing operational overhead. However, implementing role-based access control across an entire organization can be complex, so it is recommended to follow some best practices.

  • Build RBAC Strategy

When creating a plan you should start with an evaluation of where you are (data, method, policy, systems), to determine your ideal future state (automated RBAC-enabled access provisioning for a collection of apps and systems), and to identify the critical gaps that need to be addressed (data quality, process problems, various system-to-system authentication/authorization models). Pointing the challenges upfront makes it easier to fix them head-on before the implementation starts.

  • Establish a Framework for Governance

Organizations preparing to implement RBAC should make decisions on project goals, set expectations, manage and support implementation, set performance metrics, and manage risk. To identify data and process problems and prioritize remediation efforts, the governance board should link up with the HR function.

  • Prepare a team

The next step is to hire experienced business analysts and role engineers who have a broad experience of interviewing business owners and IT staff to gather detailed RBAC requirements from each area of business involved in the RBAC program.

  • Define roles

Once you’ve performed your analysis and decided on the scope, you can proceed to design roles around what permissions different roles need. Define roles strictly based on persona’s duties and responsibilities. Make sure the roles you defined are applicable to groups of individual users, otherwise, your RBAC model will minimize efficiency and simplification. We also recommend consolidating automatically migrated End-User roles.

  • Test and verify your roles

Roles require testing and verification. If at the outset you define roles sub-optimally and place them into production, you can end up with a lot of users who have too little or too much access. A major cleanup effort may be required if you roll out a role structure that has not been properly set up or tested.

  • Roll out in stages

Do not miss to consider rolling out RBAC in stages to reduce workload and disruption to the business. You can start with a core set of users and coarse-grain controls before increasing granularity. Then it is necessary to collect feedback from internal users and to monitor your business metrics before implementing additional roles.

  • Get Started With a Pilot

Try to reduce the implementation risk by produce a quick win and by demonstrating the efficiency of the RBAC model. That is why we suggest choosing a small department or business feature as a beta project. Do not expect to achieve immediate full coverage of all access via RBAC. A comprehensive RBAC solution could take months or even years to complete. It is realistic to implement RBAC in several phases.

Understanding the best practices and adapting to them early in an RBAC project is an efficient way to reduce IT service and administration costs, and to greatly improve an organization’s overall security posture. A successful RBAC implementation can reduce or even eliminate insider threats. This is a critical measure for any organization looking to strengthen its cybersecurity infrastructure.