Granting administrator access to a user who does not even have time to explain why they need this permission is not an efficient way to solve a company’s problems but rather to harm its security.
This is because sensitive data can fall into the wrong hands through a cyber invasion, in addition to the organization’s own collaborator posing a threat due to the possibility of human, accidental, or purposeful errors.
In this context, it is recommended to apply the Principle of Least Privilege, which grants these users only the necessary permissions to perform their tasks.
In this article, we explain in detail this concept and its importance, among other information on the subject. To facilitate your reading, we divided our text into topics, which are:
- What is the Principle of Least Privilege?
- Why is the Principle of Least Privilege Important?
- 10 Benefits of the Least Access Principle
- How to Implement the Principle of Least Privilege
- Principle of Least Privilege: Example
- Challenges of the Principle of Least Privilege
- Need-to-Know Principle and Principle of Least Privilege: What Is the Relationship?
- Zero Trust and the Principle of Least Privilege: What Is the Relationship?
- How to Keep Your Data Protected Using Passwords
- About senhasegura
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What is the Principle of Least Privilege?
Also known as Least Access Principle, the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) refers to a concept of cybersecurity according to which users should receive only the necessary permissions to read, write, and execute files indispensable to their operations.
In practice, the Principle of Least Privilege integrates the security policy of companies and restricts access to applications, systems, and processes only to privileged users.
Depending on the system, it is possible to base these privileges on the roles of professionals within organizations.
Why is the Principle of Least Privilege Important?
First, the Principle of Least Privilege is critical to reducing the attack surface, preventing the action of malicious users. This is extremely important, since privileged credentials are among the main targets of attackers.
That is, by limiting superuser and administrator access through the Least Access Principle, one can protect a company from intrusions. Moreover, it helps prevent the spread of malicious software, such as malware.
However, it is essential to be aware of the need to apply the Principle of Least Privilege to endpoints. This helps prevent hackers from using elevated privileges to increase their access and move laterally across the IT framework.
The need to keep companies in compliance with strict auditing standards also explains why the Principle of Least Privilege is important.
10 Benefits of the Least Access Principle
The main benefits of the Least Privilege are:
- Elevation of privileges when necessary
- Restriction of access to applications
- Restriction of access to system settings
- Control of the data used
- Smallest attack surface
- Reduction of human failures
- Malware containment
- Enhanced data security
- Protection against common attacks
- Compliance with audit criteria
Here are more details on these benefits:
Elevation of Privileges When Necessary
It is necessary to apply the Least Access Principle (POLP) whenever one needs to elevate the privileges of an employee to a particular application for a specific time to operate.
Restriction of Access to Applications
Another purpose of the Principle of Least Privilege is to prevent an administrator from changing the settings of equipment by installing applications and exposing the organization’s network to cyber threats.
Restriction of Access to System Settings
The Principle of Least Privilege also has the function of reducing administrative privileges by restricting access to system settings.
Thus, a user may have administrative privileges without being able, for example, to change firewall settings, since the control of the environment is intended for the administrator.
Control of the Data Used
Through the Principle of Least Privilege, one can record and store detailed information about each access granted and obtain greater control of the company’s data.
Smallest Attack Surface
If a malicious agent breaks into a user account with limited permissions, their attack will compromise only the resources accessed by that user. In contrast, if the hacked account is an administrator, the hack will impact the entire network.
This means that, in order to reduce the attack surface used by hackers to harm a business, it is recommended to keep the minimum number of administrator accounts.
Reduction of Human Failures
In addition to hacking, applying the Principle of Least Privilege in your organization helps prevent problems caused by human errors. After all, users with access to resources that go beyond what is necessary to perform their tasks can, unintentionally or even purposely, delete or reconfigure something.
The Principle of Least Privilege helps prevent your network from getting infected by malware. This is because an administrator with many accesses can spread malware to multiple systems, while it is possible to count its dissemination on networks where Least Privilege applies.
However, it is not enough to restrict users’ access, as the same must be done in relation to applications in order to prevent this type of attack on your network.
Enhanced Data Security
You may remember when Edward Snowden leaked millions of classified NSA (National Security Agency) files to the media due to his privileged access. The incident has caused many problems, which could be avoided if his permissions were limited to the scope of his work.
Applying the Least Access Principle is an efficient way to limit the number of users with access to sensitive data, reducing the possibility of internal leaks and strengthening digital security.
Moreover, in the event of a violation, the restrictions imposed by the Principle of Least Privilege allow for easier tracking of the cause.
Protection Against Common Attacks
Applications with high privileges are often targeted by hackers, who insert malicious instructions into SQL statements to control critical systems. However, this type of attack can be avoided through the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP), which impacts the possibility of elevating permissions.
Compliance with Audit Criteria
Applying the Least Access Principle allows organizations to operate in accordance with the most stringent audit requirements, making it possible to avoid threats and reduce the downtime and losses generated by a potential attack.
How to Implement the Principle of Least Privilege
Some practices are recommended when the goal is to apply the Principle of Least Privilege. Some of them are:
- Conduct an audit of the accounts;
- Establish the Least Privilege into new accounts;
- Elevate privileges for a limited time;
- Ensure that elevations of privileges are appropriate;
- Track all user actions on the network; and
- Conduct periodic audits.
Check out these items in more detail below:
Conduct an Audit of the Accounts;
The first step in implementing the Least Access Principle is to audit all existing privileges in accounts, programs, and processes, ensuring that users are only granted the necessary permissions to perform their activities.
Establish the Least Privilege Into New Accounts
Next, it is important to keep in mind that new accounts must be created in compliance with the Principle of Least Privilege, regardless of whether they are used by company managers or IT staff.
After all, if any of these users require a higher level of access afterward, it may be granted temporarily.
Elevate Privileges for a Limited Time
The privileges granted must be temporary whenever a user needs to raise the level of access for a specific project. In such cases, to ensure even greater security, it is possible to use single-use credentials.
Ensure that Elevations of Privileges Are Appropriate
Before applying the Principle of Least Privilege to accounts that already exist, you should assess which roles require elevated access and whether users actually rely on this elevation of privileges to perform their operations.
This assessment should be carried out periodically, including new tasks that may require privileged access.
Track All User Actions On the Network
To apply the Principle of Least Privilege, it is also important to monitor and track all user actions on your network.
This monitoring will allow you to detect over-privileged users, track suspicious activity, and identify evidence of an intrusion before it causes incalculable damage.
Conduct Periodic Audits
To ensure that permissions are always at the appropriate level, periodic audits are required.
Keep in mind that performing this type of maintenance is much easier than starting to implement the Principle of Least Privilege policy from the beginning, saving you time and ensuring more security for your company.
Principle of Least Privilege: Example
Here are some cases where the use of POLP is indispensable:
We advise the conscious and responsible use of social media through the application of the Principle of Least Privilege. In other words: to offer only the information necessary to make use of these media and not to share sensitive data with other user profiles.
In addition, it is important to configure privacy and security options in order to restrict users’ access to your publications.
Many applications request unnecessary permissions to perform their functions, such as telephone, location, and contacts, and can even be used to steal the banking details of the victims.
Therefore, it is also essential to apply the Principle of Least Privilege in this case in order to avoid damage caused by malicious apps.
A receptionist of a health insurance plan should not have access to the clinical and confidential data of patients. This is because, without the Principle of Least Privilege, if a malicious user invades your computer, they will have access to these files.
A manufacturing company should also grant its employees only the level of access needed to perform their tasks, rather than giving access to your entire ICS. This is because remote access to industrial resources and interconnectivity generate security vulnerabilities for the organization.
The retail sector usually has a high turnover of employees, which can be a problem if there is no control over the levels of access granted. For this reason, companies in the segment must apply the Principle of Least Privilege to ensure that only the right people have access to their data and resources.
Professionals working in financial services deal with millions of customer files daily. To reduce risks, it is appropriate to apply the least access principle (POLP) in that context.
Many corporations outsource services such as CRM systems, HR, and databases. When they need technical support, it is advisable to apply the Principle of Least Privilege, ensuring that outsourced professionals have access only to the system they need to repair, which reduces risks to the company.