Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) gives businesses better visibility into their networks and the data that users access. It also helps them meet industry-specific regulations and better protect sensitive information.
However, key elements must be considered when implementing RBAC in your business to ensure success. These include regularly auditing roles and permissions, requesting feedback, and managing user growth.
The first step is to create a set of roles that determine the access permissions for end users. Work with managers and human resources to identify the responsibilities of each employee and align them to the appropriate roles. Ensure that all employees have the required role and that no one has unnecessary or inappropriate privileges. Be sure to include a process for changing roles, closing accounts for employees who leave the organization, and registering new ones. Periodically inventory all systems, their relationships and dependencies, and the associated roles to ensure that all network access restrictions are current.
Start with a comprehensive needs analysis to understand what job functions, supporting business processes, and technologies are affected by RBAC. Consider your compliance and audit requirements as well. Once you have a full picture of your situation, it’s time to plan how to implement RBAC. Start with narrowing your scope to the system or applications that store sensitive data and gradually expand to other areas.
Roles are a set of capabilities that determine which privileges and permissions a user is permitted to view, edit or modify. They can be based on a rights profile or contain authorizations and privileged commands (see the image above, which demonstrates an example of role relationship and capability). Once you have your list of roles, it’s important to be consistent with their titles and descriptions to make them easy for users to remember and understand. Also, avoid common roles design pitfalls like excessive or insufficient granularity and the tendency to grant exceptions for certain privileges.
Before implementing role-based access control (RBAC), you must understand your organization’s needs. Run a thorough analysis of job functions, supporting business processes and technologies, regulatory requirements, and your current security posture. Then, decide what systems and data should be protected first. It’s helpful to narrow the scope to systems that store sensitive information or meet certain compliance and audit obligations.
During the next phase, define roles and permissions by the principle of least privilege. This means that each role must have access to the actions, software, and files necessary for its work. This helps prevent cyber attacks from exposing more data and prevents an attack on one role from expanding into a larger breach that damages the entire network.
For example, a healthcare facility could use RBAC to ensure receptionists cannot access patient medical records, which would be reserved for doctors and nurses caring for the patients. It is also a good idea to separate duties so that one user cannot hold two mutually exclusive roles with the same permissions, such as sales and marketing.
Once you have defined the roles and permissions, test them to ensure they work as expected. Then, establish a process to manage changes to roles. That includes defining how to change roles, closing accounts for employees who leave the company, and registering new users. You should also have a regular schedule to review the roles to ensure they are still relevant.
It’s important to understand that RBAC isn’t a “one-and-done” process. It requires ongoing maintenance to ensure that it meets company needs. Start with a comprehensive needs analysis to examine job functions, business processes, and technologies that would benefit from access control. Use this information to develop a plan of attack for implementing RBAC.
Next, determine how to organize your user roles. This should include a tiered structure to manage permissions within each application and an organizational structure to define the relationship between roles. This helps you set policies that adhere to best practices and limit the impact of a breach. It also makes it easier to onboard new employees as their responsibilities and position change.
Once you’ve defined your roles, you can begin assigning them to users in your system. Start with a small group of employees to avoid confusion and workplace irritations. Then, roll out the roles to other departments and your entire staff.
Once you’ve finished assigning roles to users, you’ll need to create a formal policy document that explains the role definitions and outlines how they work in the system. This ensures that the roles are formally implemented throughout your organization and that the company adheres to Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) principles. For example, a policy might dictate that a new hire can only be assigned one role or that a user’s role will only be changed with approval.
When implementing RBAC, it’s important to take your time. A systematic approach is required, and the system must be tested to ensure it’s meeting security requirements. This is especially true if your company has many resources, networks, and users to protect. Start by inventorying the applications, servers, files, and documents that require security protection. Determine which systems have the most sensitive information and what could happen if these were breached. From there, prioritize the systems and devise a plan for protecting them with RBAC.
Next, you’ll need to create roles that define what permissions are appropriate for each group of employees. This requires carefully reviewing employee responsibilities and collaborating with managers and human resources staff. Ensure you avoid common role design pitfalls, such as lack of granularity, too many exceptions, and granting more access to some employees.
Once you’ve finalized the roles, you must implement them into your existing network. This will require documentation and training for employees to help them understand the changes. Establishing a regular cadence of reviewing and adjusting the roles to remain relevant to your business needs is important. By using roles, you can reduce the number of passwords and other security protocols your organization has to manage and the amount of administrative work associated with adding and changing user permissions.