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What is the Difference Between Role-based Access Control and Attribute-based Access Control

Nowadays, especially in this modern digital workspace, working together successfully as a team is a great challenge and depends on a good collaboration. As part of that collaboration, it’s critical for team members to have access to the files and programs they need to do their jobs. But that access should be easily revocable when employees change job positions or leave the company. This is could be achieved through access control which defines who is allowed to access what.  In this post, we will look at the comparison of two of the most popular access control models: role-based access control (RBAC) versus attribute-based access control (ABAC). We’ll also briefly discuss how RBAC contribute to secure monitoring best practices.

Role-based access control (RBAC) and attribute-based access control (ABAC) are the two most commonly used access control tools used for authorization and permissions systems. Most developers have heard them and may have a sense for what they mean, but many aren’t clear on how to think about RBAC and ABAC as tools for modelling permissions in their apps. Understanding the differences between the two is key for choosing between RBAC vs. ABAC for your system.

RBAC versus ABAC

  • What is RBAC and how does it work?

Role-based access control (RBAC), also known as role-based security, is a mechanism that restricts system access. It includes setting permissions and privileges to enable access to authorized users. Most large organizations use role-based access control to provide their employees with varying levels of access based on their roles and responsibilities. This protects sensitive data, limit the risk of data leaks and and ensures employees can only access information and perform actions they need to accomplish their tasks.

In addition to restricting access, the company assigns a role-based access control role to every employee; the role determines which permissions the system grants to the user. Likewise, the right to access a file is based on the role of the user. Moreover, it is also possible for a single user to have multiple roles. The main advantage of RBAC is that this policy does not need to change when a certain person with the role leaves the organization. It is also easier to activate a role on a new employee.

The Benefits of RBAC include:

– Security. RBAC uses the principle of least privilege to lower the risk of a data breach. It also limits damage should a breach occur.

– Ease of Use. RBAC connects employees to the data and systems they need and reduces administrative overhead for IT.

– Compliance Readiness. Administrators can more easily prove that data and sensitive information have been handled according to privacy, security, and confidentiality standards.

  • What is ABAC and how does it work?

ABAC stands for Attribute Based Access Control. In this method, the access to a resource is determined by a collection of several attributes. It considers user attributes (subject attributes), resource attributes (object attributes) and environmental attributes. In practice, attributes can include everything from the position of employees to their departments, IP addresses, devices, and more. By using ABAC, the organizations can simplify access management and reduce risks due to unauthorized access. Furthermore, it helps to centralize auditing.

  • Key benefits of ABAC include:

– Granularity: it uses attributes rather than roles to specify relationships between users and resources, administrators can create precisely targeted rules without needing to create additional roles. 

– Flexibility: ABAC policies are easy to adapt as resources and users change.

– Adaptability: ABAC makes adding and revoking permissions easier by allowing admins to modify attributes. This simplifies onboarding and offboarding as well as the temporary provisioning of contractors and external partners.

– Security: ABAC allows admins to create context-sensitive rules as security needs arise so they can more easily protect user privacy and adhere to compliance requirements.

  • RBAC versus ABAC: differences between the two access control models

One key distinction between RBAC and ABAC is their static versus dynamic nature, as implied in their respective models — RBAC permits access based on roles, which are generally fairly static within an organization, where ABAC relies on attributes, which can be dynamic — changing, for example, when a user attempts to access a resource from a different device or IP address.

This brings us to the benefits and downsides of each model: ABAC can be automated to update permissions, and — once everything is set up — requires less overall administration. It’s also secure when set up correctly. In terms of downsides, ABAC can be quite complex and environment-specific, and complicated attribute sets can be hard to scale.

RBAC, on the other hand, is highly efficient and can streamline the compliance process. While any form of access control comes with a degree of complexity, RBAC is transparent enough that you can see how individuals interact with resources based on their roles.

One major downside of RBAC is if your environment has a multitude of different roles, each with its own complex set of permissions, which can make management difficult. In contrast to ABAC, RBAC can’t be automated, so the more complex your environment, the more manual the access management control becomes.

  • RBAC or ABAC: The best access model depends on company size and security needs

RBAC and ABAC are both effective ways to control access to data in your system. Which one works best for you will be based on a few factors:

– How big is your company? RBAC tends to not scale well because as more people and resources are added, more roles are created to define more detailed permissions. If you work at a big enterprise, ABAC is probably the right approach.

– How complex does your authorization strategy need to be? In general, you should try to do the least complex form of access control possible. If RBAC will cut it, this would be the right choice. If you need more detailed permissions or to look at variables that fall outside of roles (like device type, location, or time), you’ll need to use ABAC.

The good news is that you can use both RBAC and ABAC in tandem. A common model is to begin with RBAC and keep it as an overarching access model, then slowly add ABAC on top to fine-tune security for various users, resources, and operations.

The Advantages of Role-Based Access Control in Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is an advanced emerging technology and it is regarded as a computing paradigm in which resources in the computing infrastructure are provided as a service over the Internet. Cloud computing provides a platform to cut costs and help the users to focus on their core business instead of being impeded by information technology obstacles. However, this new paradigm of data storage service introduces some security challenges for the business. A great part of data owners are concerned that their data could be misused or accessed by the unauthorized users in the cloud storage system.

Cloud stores a large amount of sensitive information that can be shared by other users of the cloud. Hence, to protect this sensitive information from the malicious users, access control mechanisms are used. Here, each user and each resource is assigned an identity, based on which they may either be granted or denied access to the data. These methods are called identity-based access control methods. One of the examples of such method is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC).

Role-Based Access Control Method

To protect sensitive data from improper use, change or deletion, companies need a system to restrict employee access. Role-Based Access Control refers to a method for restricting data access based on a user’s role in the company. With RBAC, employees can access only the resources and files they need to fulfil their responsibilities. Their credentials allow or restrict access based on the tasks they are assigned, so the chance for data misuse is minimised.

RBAC systems can be especially useful in larger enterprises and in companies that use third-party contractors. As the number of employees increases and the authorized contractors change, it can be difficult to provide unique credential settings for each employee. Using a role-based access control system means that admins can sort employees or contractors into pre-existing groups, or roles, which grant access to a defined set of resources. This access is temporary, as the employees can also be removed from the group when the task is complete. Admins can also reset the permission levels for the groups, which means they can better manage employees at scale, increase efficiency, and even improve compliance.

RBAC enables administrators to divide users into groups based on the different roles they take on, and a single user can belong to multiple groups. Typically, employee access takes into consideration the person’s active status and roles, any security requirements, and existing policies. The best practice is to provide minimal authorization for any given user – only enough so that they can do their job. This is known as the principle of least privilege, and it helps ensure data security.

Benefits of RBAC

For many organizations, divided into multiple departments, with hundreds of employees often equipped with their own computers, the role-based access control system is the best solution to apply for optimal security. If implemented efficiently, RBAC has many benefits for both your team and the entire organization.

  • Reducing administrative work and IT support

When a new employee is hired or if a current worker changes his job position or department, role-based access control eliminates the need for time-wasting paperwork and password changes to grant and remove network access.  Instead, you can use RBAC to add and switch roles quickly and implement them globally across operating systems, platforms and applications. It also reduces the potential for error when assigning user permissions. This reduction in time spent on administrative tasks is just one of several economic benefits of RBAC. It also helps to more easily integrate third-party users into your network by giving them pre-defined roles.

  • Maximizing operational performance

RBAC systems also can be designed to maximize operational performance and strategic business value. They can streamline and automate many transactions and business processes and provide users with the resources to perform their jobs better, faster and with greater personal responsibility. With RBAC system implemented, organizations are better positioned to meet their own statutory and regulatory requirements for privacy and confidentiality, which is crucial for health care organizations and financial institutions. Directors, managers and IT staffers are better able to monitor how data is being used and accessed, for the purpose of preparing more accurate planning and budget models based on real needs.

  • Providing solid security and high business value

Low maintenance costs and increased efficiency are among the key benefits of RBAC as a security strategy for midsize and large organizations. Here’s how it works: Once all of the employee roles are populated into the database, role-based rules are formulated and workflow engine modules are implemented. Through these elements, role-based privileges can be entered and updated quickly across multiple systems, platforms, applications and geographic locations – right from the HR or IT manager’s desktop. By controlling users’ access according to their roles and the attributes attached to those roles, the RBAC model provides a companywide control process for managing IT assets while maintaining the desired level of security.

  • Role-Based Access Control Helps Protect Against Data Breaches

Roles can also help minimize damage caused by a data breach. Besides data encryption and other security measures built into the storage repository, user access limitations help seal off potential hackers and limit any adverse impacts arising from a breach. Businesses can alert users trying to view data that they don’t have proper access and prompt them to contact an administrator for additional access.

Many businesses utilize single sign-on (SSO) connected to Active Directory (AD) to authenticate users. Employees can then connect locally or log in with a VPN. Once the data lake verifies their information, it produces a signature of their identity and role. If an employee is accessing data in your cloud-hosted data lake remotely, it’s critical to secure their connection.

  • Better security compliance

All organizations are subject to federal, state and local regulations. With an RBAC system in place, companies can more easily meet regulatory requirements for privacy and confidentiality. Furthermore, IT departments and executives have the ability to manage how data is being accessed and used. This is especially significant for health care and financial institutions, which manage lots of sensitive data.

A core business function of any organization is protecting data in the cloud. RBAC system can ensure the company’s information meets privacy and confidentiality regulations. So, if your business does not have an established data governance plan, it is time to develop one. Moreover, learning to recognize the potential dangers and establish proper responses to a data breach will help you to react faster and minimize damage.

Best Practices of Role-Based Access Control (Part 2)

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.

Best Practices for Role Based Access Control (Part 1)

In organizations that have major divisions, creating a role-based access control system is essential in mitigating data loss. Role-based access control (RBAC) is already a proven concept in IT systems, which is realized by many operating systems to control access to system resources. For the last 25 years, it has become one of the main methods for advanced access control.

Basically, what RBAC does is to restrict network access based on a person’s role within an organization. The roles in RBAC are related to the levels of access that employees have to the network. That means that they are only allowed to access the information needed to effectively execute their job tasks. Access can be based on several factors, such as authority, responsibility, and job competency. As a result, lower-level employees usually do not have access to sensitive data if they do not need it to fulfil their responsibilities. This is especially helpful if you have many employees and use third-parties and contractors that make it difficult to closely monitor network access. Using RBAC will help in securing your company’s sensitive data and important applications.

Why RBAC matters?

For many organizations which are divided into multiple departments and have their own set of dedicated employees with their own computers, the role-based access control system is the best solution for enhanced security. With role-based security, administrators can achieve both optimal data protection and user productivity by granting varying levels of permissions to users based on their role. As a result, only the authorized users can easily access information pertaining to their department and specific function and the access to all other company data remains restricted.

Best practices for implementing RBAC

Managing and auditing network access is crucial to information security. With hundreds or thousands of employees in the enterprise, security is more easily maintained by limiting unnecessary access to sensitive information based on a user’s established role within the company. That is why implementing role-based access control across an entire organization is important, but at the same time could be complex. To successfully implement RBAC, you should follow these best practices:

  • Develop an RBAC Strategy

To create a strategy you should start with an assessment of where you are (data, process, policy, systems). The second step is to define your desired future state (automated provisioning of access through RBAC for a set of apps and systems), and at the end to identify your gaps that must be addressed (data quality, process issues, different authentication/authorization models across systems).

  • Scope your implementation

In case you do not necessarily have to implement RBAC across your entire organization right away, it is better to consider narrowing the scope to systems or applications that store sensitive data first.

  • Role classification

The primary step to provide role-based security is to assign roles. This can be done by distinguishing between the various users within the business and their diverse functions. Usually, these roles are based on the job titles that fall under major divisions such as finance, marketing, human resources, etc. Administrators should also provide a name and a description for each role-based access control policy that they create. For easy categorization and tracking of these policies, you can name them by the job title they apply to, and in the description, you can specify the department as well as other important details about this role.

  • Build policies related to a role

After a policy is named and its description is filled in accordance with a role, the settings can be configured. First, the devices that belong to the more prominent users who have administrative or executive roles can be added into the whitelist. These devices can be granted increased mobility when it comes to accessing various information across their department. Then, for the majority of the other employees, their devices can be given read-only permissions or delegated specific rights to access only the information critical to their job requirements while access to all other data remains restricted.

  • Modify policies and user privileges to stay updated

Since there is always a constant influx of employees, no matter they are new or come from other departments of the organization, their devices should be categorized as trusted or blocked, and their computers should be inserted into a custom group. This best practice also applies if existing users obtain new equipment. This proactive approach ensures that device and file control policies are enforced right from a user’s introduction and through the rest of their career in the company. In this way their activities always remain monitored, and the opportunity for data loss is eliminated.

  • Roll out in stages

A useful practice is to consider rolling out RBAC in stages to reduce workload and disruption to the business. You can begin with a core set of users and coarse-grain controls before increasing granularity. Then proceed collecting feedback from internal users and monitor your business metrics before implementing additional roles.

How Cloud Access Control Enables Security and Innovation in the Digital Age (Part 2)

Each organisation should take into account that security must remain the cornerstone of the cloud deployment strategy. There are several forces driving big companies toward public clouds – reduced costs, scalability, reliability, efficiency and the ability to attract and retain technical staff. But in most cases, the success or failure of any project is measured by the level of security that is integrated to safeguard an organization’s data and that of its customers.

In the past two years, several high-profile security breaches have resulted in the theft or exposure of millions of personal customer data records. The headlines are a constant reminder of the disruptive impact on a business in the wake of a breach. Concern about the security of public cloud technology itself, however, is misplaced. Most vulnerabilities can be traced back to a lack of understanding of cloud security and a shortage of the skills necessary to implement effective security measures.

Security should need not altogether be viewed as an impediment to migration efforts, but it must not be swept aside due to pressure or demands from business units. While companies cannot prevent every attack, building cloud security awareness at the right levels of the organization from the outset is a first line of defence for blocking the malicious activity that often precedes a breach.

Which are the biggest security threats of the companies when using cloud technologies?

1. Data breaches

The risk of data breach is always a top concern for cloud customers. It might be caused by an attacker, sometimes by human error, application vulnerabilities, or poor security practices. It also includes any kind of private information, personal health information, financial information, personally identifiable information, trade secrets, and intellectual property.

2. Data Loss

Data loss may occur if the user hasn’t created a backup for his files and also when an owner of encrypted data loses the key which unlocks it. As a result it could cause a failure to meet compliance policies or data protection requirements.

3. Ransomware attack

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish the victim’s data or block access to it. The attack leaves you with a poor opportunity for get your files back.  One of them is to pay the ransom, although you can never be sure that you will receive the decryption keys as you were promised. The other option is to restore a backup.  

4. Account hijacking

It happens, when an attacker gets access to a users’ credentials, he or she can look into their activities and transactions, manipulate the data, and return falsified information.

5. System vulnerabilities
System vulnerabilities can put the security of all services and data at significant risk. Attackers can use the bugs in the programs to steal data by taking control of the system or by disrupting service operations.

6. Advanced persistent threats (APT)

An advanced persistent threat is a network attack in which an unauthorized person gets access to a network and stays there undetected for a long period of time. The goal of such kind of attacks is to steal data, especially from corporations with high-value information.

7. Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks

Denial-of-service attacks typically flood servers, systems or networks and make it hard or even impossible for legitimate users to use the devices and the network resources inside.

How does the Cloud Infrastructure protect the business from the dangers?

Nowadays most companies are still in a process of searching for the right formula and developing successful strategy to prevent all of the above mentioned threats.  What they should do is to adhere to strong security requirements and proper authorization or authentication.

In the report, “Assessing the Risks of Cloud Computing,” Gartner strongly recommends engaging a third-party security firm to perform a risk assessment.  Coding  technology is also a way to  give  no  chance  to  hackers to  hijack  your  computer  or spread ransomware infection. Data  is  encoded  in  your  computer  and  the  backup  data  is  uploaded directly to the cloud storage locations.

Another effective way to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data and apps is to ensure secure access with modern, mobile multi-factor authentication. Cloud security is enhanced with compliance regulations which keep high standards of privacy and protection of personal data and information. In such situation PATECCO recommends organizations to focus on Cloud Access Control, Privileged Access Management, Role Based Access Control, GRC, SIEM, IGI.

It’s important to have a full understanding of the services available to protect your infrastructure, applications, and data. And it’s critical for teams to show that they know how to can use them for each deployment across the infrastructure stack. By implementing security measures across your deployments, you are minimizing the attack surface area of your infrastructure.

Ensuring Security and High Business Value With RBAC

In the era of digital transformation the tight privacy laws have imposed new levels of confidentiality on health care, insurance companies and financial institutions. As the number of their electronic systems increases along with the number of interfaces, identity management has become a critical component in ensuring information security and access control. Access control plays an essential role in safeguarding both physical security and electronic information security. Role-based access control could be simply explained as the security process of assigning specific rules or policies to individual users, or groups of users, that are connecting to your network. It simplifies the process in assigning user’s access based on their job function.

It has become a critical component in ensuring information security and access control. Access control plays an essential role in safeguarding both physical security and electronic information security. Role-based access control could be simply explained as the security process of assigning specific rules or policies to individual users, or groups of users, that are connecting to your network. It simplifies the process in assigning user’s access based on their job function.

Developing and using a role-based access control system in conjunction with an identity management solution makes it possible for organizations to ensure that accounts for new employees are always created with proper access rights. That means that there is a control defining which users have access to resources based on the role of the user. Access rights are grouped by role name, and access to resources is restricted to users who have been authorized to assume the associated role. For example, if a RBAC system is used in a hospital, each person that is allowed access to the hospital’s network has a predefined role (doctor, nurse, lab technician, administrator, etc.). If someone is defined as possessing the role of doctor, than that user can access only resources on the network that the role of doctor has been allowed access to. 

Four steps for providing data security

There are four steps which are of a great importance for providing proper data security. The first phase is to ensure that new employee access and accounts are created properly when the employee is on boarded. Second phase refers to giving those access rights remaining accurate and up-to-date during each of the company’s employee’s tenures. The third, and most essential step in this process, is revocation of access rights when individual employees leave the organization.

The fourth step is performing Information audits. The sooner you get used to them, the better. They are required to successfully manage the information and the access of rights. Our advice is to periodically review your roles, the employees assigned to them, and the access permitted for each. Once an audit of access rights is performed, it can be compared against the baseline template for each employee role initially established. If needed, the managers and systems owners could make for verification or revocation of the rights.

What are the benefits of RBAC?

Ideally, the RBAC system is clearly defined and agile, making the addition of new applications, roles and employees as efficient as possible. One of the greatest advantages of RBAC is the ability of giving you granular visibility, which is necessary to securely support your mobility in today’s digital environment. Another benefit of RBAC refers to maximized operational performance. Thus, companies could streamline and automate many transactions and business processes and provide users with the resources to perform their jobs better, faster and with greater personal responsibility. With RBAC system in place, organizations are better positioned to meet their own statutory and regulatory requirements for privacy and confidentiality, which is crucial for health care organizations and financial institutions.

Organizations should implement necessary security measures to provide that access to data, groups and applications are right for an employee during their tenure. They also should bear in mind that quite critical is the revocation of all account access when they depart. Failure to respond these criteria can lead to data theft and costly access to external applications.

If you are interested to read PATECCO White paper for Privileged Access Management, click the image below:

White paper for Privileged Access Management, click the image below: