May 29, 2020//Ellen NeveuxLast Updated: June 17, 2021
Security and data protection must go beyond perimeter defenses. Two of the largest data breaches on record, Target and Home Depot, were the result of compromised network credentials. In both cases, hackers leveraged privileged accounts to gain access to sensitive data and millions of private records. These incidents illustrate the threat of unrestricted access.
Network managers and information security professionals need secure methods to allow users and applications to perform critical functions on their network.
The principle of least privilege, or POLP, is an important concept in information security. This IT security design principle that restricts access rights and program privileges to only those necessary for the required job. It’s the difference between having a key that works on every door, and one that only opens certain rooms.
Implementing privileged access management delivers network security benefits that provide flexibility for business growth while avoiding needless exposure.
If a standard user accidentally reconfigures a critical area of the network, problematic instabilities can occur. Least privilege reduces the number of users that have excessive permissions. Restricting admin right to just a few privileged user accounts rather than all end-users minimizes the overall occurrence of privileged operations and therefore reduces the chance of high-risk errors.
A least privilege access policy minimizes the attack surface, creating fewer targets for bad actors, fewer security risks, and promotes overall healthy network performance.
The least privilege access approach narrows the scope of harm that can be caused by the unwanted or unauthorized use of network privileges. If a user account with a limited set of privileges is compromised or mismanaged, the impact will be confined. However, a “superuser” with admin rights boasts a full set of system privileges. During administrative account sessions, the network is particularly vulnerable to malware proliferation because malicious software can spread without restriction.
Managers with privileged access control should deny or revoke high-level powers from the majority of non-privileged users and applications to limit the risk of widespread corruption.
Applications with unrestricted privileges are often targeted by attackers. An SQL injection is a common web application attack that inserts malicious instructions into SQL statements. Hackers are then able to elevate their privileges and gain control over critical systems. If least privilege best practices were followed, this attack would be stunted. The web application would have read-only privileges and the injection could not escalate.
The practice of implementing the principle of least privilege forces network managers to keep comprehensive data records. Complete data classification is required to understand all information held on the network and who has access to it.
Eliminating perimeter security flaws is not the only critical aspect of data protection. Enterprises are targets for insider leaks and theft of proprietary data, which poses a serious risk to their business. This is why controlling and monitoring the activity of authorized users is another key element of data security.
A least privilege policy limits the number of users with access to sensitive information and limits privilege elevations, which strengthens overall security. If elevated privileges are required for additional job functions, a user access management process that incorporates granular controls and tracks individual activity should be implemented.
These advanced restrictions create an added benefit during an audit. After a security incident, investigators are able to conduct a more efficient probe by focusing on defined areas, users, and applications.
There are several best practices that organizations should consider following when implementing least privilege access in their security policies.
Network and system security can be measured by the management of network privileges. Adhering to the principle of least privilege creates a protected and traceable environment by clearly defining high-level functions and actively controlling user access.
To learn more about the importance of least privileged access, download our vendor privileged access checklist to evaluate your vendor access methods.