April 29, 2019//Ellen NeveuxLast Updated: April 30, 2019
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 millions of private records. These incidents illustrate the threat of unrestricted access.
Network managers need secure methods to allow users and applications to perform critical functions on their network.
What is the principle of least privilege, or POLP?
The principle of least privilege, or POLP, is a security design principle that restricts user 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 the only opens certain rooms.
Implementing this concept delivers network security benefits that provide flexibility for business growth while avoiding needless exposure.
If a user accidentally reconfigures a critical area of the network, problematic instabilities can occur. Least privilege reduces the number of users that have excessive permissions. This minimizes the overall occurrence of privileged operations and therefore reduces the chance of high-risk errors.
A least privilege policy creates fewer targets for bad actors and promotes overall healthy network performance.
The least privilege approach narrows the scope of harm that can be caused by the unwanted or unauthorized use of network privileges. If an account with limited permissions is compromised or mismanaged, the impact will be confined. However, an administrative session boasts a full set of system privileges. During these sessions, the network is particularly vulnerable to malware proliferation because the malicious software can spread without restriction.
Managers should deny or revoke high-level powers from the majority of 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 least privilege principle 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.
Least privileged policies limit the number of users with access to sensitive information and limit privilege elevations, which strengthens overall security. If elevated privileges are required for additional job functions, an 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.
Best practices of POLP
There are several best practices organizations should consider to follow least privilege.
The security of your network 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 access.