The Power of Role-Based Access Control in Network Security

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Determining the right network access control (NAC) security policy for your organization isn’t an easy task.It’s often a balancing act between keeping your network secure and ensuring employees can access the systems they need to do their jobs.Role-based access control (or RBAC) can be a good way of ensuring your network is protected. If you’ve been considering implementing RBAC in your organization but aren’t entirely sure of the benefits, this article will answer your questions.

What is role-based access control?

Role-based access control is a way of restricting access based on a user’s role within an organization. This means that users aren’t assigned permissions directly but are instead given roles that govern their levels of access. Depending on their job and responsibilities, a user may have one or more roles.Let’s say, for example, you have a staff database on your network, which contains all your employees’ contact details and contractual information.Everyone in the organization may have access to edit their own personal details. Managers may have access to edit their team’s information, but no one else’s. Your HR team may have full access to the database to view and edit everyone’s data.RBAC works on the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP).This means users have the minimal level of access needed to carry out their job.RBAC isn’t the only access control method available. There are other options you can consider, like attribute-based access control (ABAC), policy-based access control (PBAC) and access control lists (ACL). However, role-based access control is one of the most effective ways of not only keeping networks secure but improving organizational efficiency.  A study by NIST has shown that role-based access control addresses most of the needs of government and commercial organizations. 

Why is role-based access control so important when it comes to network security?

Networks are more susceptible to security breaches than ever before. People working from home and the introduction of BYOD policies mean more endpoints that can be compromised.  In fact, according to IBM, it’s estimated that data breaches in 2021 cost businesses an average of $4.24 million.  With this in mind, it’s essential to ensure networks stay safe. Here’s how role-based access control can provide security for businesses large and small.

I. It makes it easy to ensure networks are secure

Setting up permissions for networks is relatively straightforward. However, as people start, leave, and move around organizations, permissions can become less efficient. Users may end up with access to systems they no longer need.  RBAC means IT departments can effectively manage what access people have with a click of a button.  Let’s go back to the example of the staff database above and say that a new staff member has joined the HR team. Rather than setting access at a user level, you can add them into the ‘HR’ role so they can have full access to the system.  A few years later, let’s say the staff member moves into the sales team, meaning they no longer need full access to the staff database. Rather than changing every single point of access they have, it’s just a case of adding them into the ‘sales’ role instead.

II. It reduces the attack surface

It’s estimated that one in four data breaches result from human error. With RBAC, if a member of staff causes an accidental (or intentional) data breach, there will be less impact.  Let’s say someone is a victim of a phishing attempt, and a hacker obtains their login details. The hacker will only be able to access the information that the member of staff has through the roles they have been allocated.  This means even if a data breach occurs, most of your information will still be safe.

III. It eliminates the risk of ‘insider threats’

Disgruntled employees can often try and settle the score by leaking confidential data or deleting important information. Earlier this year, an IT technician in the UK was jailed for 21 months for wiping data from the school he was formerly employed at after being fired.  As role-based access control gives just enough access to ensure staff can carry out their jobs, it minimizes the risk of users causing intentional harm to your networks.  Similarly, if you work with any third parties, you can use RBAC to assign them pre-defined roles and limit what they can view or edit. Once you stop working with them, you can quickly remove their permissions.

IV. It can quickly scale and adapt

As RBAC deals with overarching roles rather than individual permissions, it can grow as an organization’s IT requirements do.  Let’s say you acquire a new application for your organization. Role-based access control makes it easy to create new permissions as well as set different levels of permissions quickly. As a result, you can ensure any new hardware or software stays secure and that the right people have access.

V. It can ensure you stay compliant

Some industries, like healthcare and financial services, are heavily regulated and have stringent compliance regulations in place. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) states that only certain people should be allowed access to specific systems.  Role-based access controls can ensure that organizations in these industries do what is required of them, minimizing the risk of security breaches as well as fines for willful violations of the law. 

How Portnox can help with your RBAC requirements

Role-based access control can be an extremely efficient way of ensuring network security and can be as top-level or granular as your organization demands. The key is developing a solid strategy before creating and assigning roles.   Which parts of your network need access control, which departments need permissions, and how will you assign people to the right roles?  If you need extra support keeping your network safe, Portnox is here to provide you with peace of mind. Our NAC security solutions come with role-based authentication and access policies to ensure the right people can access your network at the right time.  Contact our team today to find out more

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