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04 Nov 2022 • Dylan Brink

What is access control?

Access control is a data security technique that gives businesses the ability to restrict who has access to their resources and data. 

Restricting access to company information and resources makes this possible. To verify that users are who they say they are and to offer them the proper amount of control access, a secure access control system uses policies. A key component of safeguarding online applications is implementing access control, which guarantees that only authorized users can access the necessary quantity of pertinent resources. 

The method is essential for helping businesses stop data breaches and protect themselves from attack vectors like buffer overflow attacks, KRACK attacks, on-path assaults, and phishing attacks, among others.

What is meant by access control?

Any information management system must protect data and resources from unauthorized changes (integrity) and disclosures (secrecy) while ensuring that only authorized users can access them. 

One of the most crucial aspects of this criterion is the capacity to maintain their availability (no denials-of-service). Therefore, to enforce protection, all access to a system and its resources must be controlled, and only authorized users may be given access to the design and its resources. 

A simple illustration would be to say that access control is the management of who is permitted to enter a building. 

It is necessary first to establish the rules by which access will be restricted before translating those rules into computer functions that a computer system can execute to construct a method for controlling access. Most of the time, a multistage strategy based on the following ideas is used to carry out the development process:

  • Security Policy: The security policy must govern access control because it outlines the (high-level) rules that must be followed. It offers a formal justification for the security policy for access control and how it's supposed to work. 
  • Security Model: The security model serves this purpose. The formalization makes it possible to demonstrate the security characteristics of the upcoming access control system. 
  • Security Mechanism: The controls required by the policy and explicitly defined in the model are performed by low-level functions (both software and hardware) specified by the security mechanism.

The three principles listed above correlate to a conceptual division between several levels of design abstraction, which provides the conventional benefits of multiphase software development. In particular, the distinction between policies and procedures creates a level of independence between the mechanisms responsible for upholding protection requirements and those that must be implemented. 

The following options will then be available: 

  1. Analyze security needs separately from how they are implemented, assess different access control policies and the enforcement methods for those policies, and create systems that can enforce many rules simultaneously. 
  2. Mechanisms that can apply several policies avoid the issue of rebuilding the complete access control system if one of the policies changes. 

It is feasible to create a formal model that reflects the policy and how it operates during the formalization phase, which comes after the policy has been established but before it is put into use as a mechanism. 

Because of this, it is simple to define and demonstrate the security benefits that systems utilizing the paradigm would experience. Therefore, if we can show that the model is secure and that the mechanism correctly applies the model, we can claim that the system is safe (with reference to the definition of security considered).

The process of correctly implementing a mechanism is everything but simple. The necessity to handle any security issues arising from the implementation process itself and the challenge of mapping access control primitives to a computer system add complexity to this process. 

The access control mechanism must have the ability to function as a reference monitor, which calls for it to be a dependable element capable of denying every request made by the system. 

Additionally, it needs to have the following qualities: 

  • - tamper proof, which means that it must be contained in a small area of the system (spreading security functions throughout the system necessitates that all of the code be verified);
  • - non-bypassable, which means that it must mediate all accesses to the design and its resources;

What Different Elements Make Up the Access Control System?

Access control is managed through several distinctive components, including the following:

  1. Authentication: The first step in establishing a user's true identity is authentication, which is carried out using an authentication technique. For instance, identification is authenticated when a user logs into their email or online banking account using a username and password. However, authentication alone cannot ensure corporate data storage security.
  2. Authorization: The authentication procedure is made more secure by the addition of the authorization stage. It outlines the user's privileges and access rights to resources so that it may be decided if the user should be allowed to do a particular action or view a specific data set. Two-factor authentication (2FA) frequently consists of a user's knowledge (such as a password), possession (such as a token), and identity (such as a biometric scan) (like a biometric verification). The user's fingerprint on a smartphone or a mobile app for two-factor authentication can also be used to check this information.
  3. Access: The user's identity will be confirmed after the authentication and authorization processes are completed. They now have access to the resource they were trying to log into.
  4. Manage: By adding and deleting authentication and authorization, an organization can control the authentication and authorization of its users and systems. The management of these systems can get quite complex in today's IT environments, which frequently include on-premises systems and cloud services.
  5. Audit: One strategy organization can use to put the least privilege principle into practice is the auditing technique for access control. Because of this, they can gather data on user activity and analyze it to find potential access violations.

How does the access control system work?

The physical access control planning effort focuses on the physical security of data, facilities, personnel, customers, contractors, technical installations, raw materials, finished items, and other company resources. 

Physical access controls include preventative measures, deterrent measures, and recovery strategies. To facilitate solid and dependable physical security, it is advised that the following elements be incorporated as independent parts within the access control strategy:

  1. Physical security: Identification and administration of the network. Locks, fences, and door opening and closing must be watched over. What kinds of cabling can be used to implement your access control strategy? Connect the relevant network to the authorized users, explain the differences between the various control plan examples, and ask your access control provider to help you choose the best option.
  2. Perimeter security and interdepartmental requirements: Identify the staff members with specialized permissions for each department and specify which workplace areas have restricted access.
  3. Computer hardware-based management: Establish a central control, observation, and reporting area. Set the access control tools and provide users access to the ground-level computer units. 
  4. Technical Security: Assign the necessary user clearance levels and define the various data sensitivity levels. In your access control strategy, take advantage of the available space to describe the rules for password formation and the technical details of wiring, routers, permissions, and user access control.
  5. Technical security in access control: Plans for access control must be organized into separate, thorough sections for each facet of access control: information technology security methods and network encryption. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of access control?

Adaptive access control means that your physical access control system's operational and functional aspects can be easily modified. It balances the requirements of reducing risk and improving the user experience. Access can be restricted using this feature depending on various criteria, including roles, departments, days, hours, and places. 

Your physical access control system should be able to swiftly transition to a more robust security solution when required while keeping the system's usability. Among other things, adaptive access control enables you to add new sites to your system and incorporate new technologies. The risk-adaptive access control technique builds on this idea, which allows straightforward adaptation in response to impending threats and ongoing changes.

What kinds of access control are there, and how do they work?

The following are the main categories of access control:

Attribute-based access control (ABAC): Access management systems where authorization decisions are made based on the user's attributes rather than their privileges following authentication. The access control engine must get evidence from the end user to back up any assertions about the user's characteristics. The policy will specify which conditions must be satisfied before granting access to the resource when an attribute-based policy restricts access to a resource. For instance, if it is claimed that a user is older than 18, access will be provided to anyone who can provide proof. ABAC does not require authentication or identification; it only needs to prove that the user is the asset's owner.

Discretionary access control (DAC): It is a type of access management where the owners or administrators of the protected system, data, or resource establish the rules governing who or what is allowed access to the resource. These systems rely on administrators to control how access permits are distributed throughout the system. DAC systems have been seen to lack a centralized command structure.

Mandatory access control (MAC): Access permits are managed by a central authority and assigned depending on various degrees of security in a system known as needed access control (MAC). In the government and military, MAC is commonly used. According to the user's or device's security clearance, the operating system or security kernel gives or restricts access to system resources in such arrangements. Although it is challenging to manipulate, its application is appropriate for securing sensitive data.

Role-based access control (RBAC): This access control enables an access system to restrict who can use a resource rather than the resource's owner. RBAC is frequently used in commercial and military systems, which may be subject to numerous security limitations. 

In contrast to RBAC, which controls access at the system level and is not subject to individual user management, DAC allows users to regulate access. How permissions are handled is the top way that RBAC differs from MAC. RBAC controls collections of licenses, which may include complex operations like credit card transactions or simple rights like read and write. In contrast, MAC manages read and write permissions based on the clearance level of a user or device. MAC regulates read and report permissions based on the clearance level of a person or device. RBAC is frequently used to limit access based on business functions; engineers, human resources, and marketing all have access to different SaaS solutions. RBAC can also be used to restrict access, depending on the role. 

Rule-based access control: In a security model known as rule-based access control, an administrator establishes the rules that determine who has access to what resources. These ideas may be applied differently depending on the situation and the time of day. The simultaneous operation of rule-based access control and role-based access control is not unusual.

Break-glass Access control: Conventional access control aims to limit access, which is why most access control models follow the least privilege and default denial principles. This behavior may make a system less effective as people are willing to disregard access control rules in some circumstances if they feel the advantages exceed the hazards. It is especially true when real-time access could offer benefits that outweigh its drawbacks. The requirement is apparent in the healthcare sector, where a patient's death could come from a lack of access to their records.

What does access control help protect against?

User access to information and computer systems that handle it is restricted by access restrictions. When carried out properly, they reduce the possibility of unauthorized access to data and the threat of data breaches. 

It is uncommon for information access to be so tightly controlled that information silos are created. While a focus on security and privacy is unquestionably necessary to protect firm information and fulfill data protection laws' obligations, a balance between safety and accessibility must also be achieved to comply with the law. In our experience, disclosing information assets fosters collaboration and creativity and assists in the success of eDRMS efforts (electronic document and records management system) (electronic document and records management system).

Dylan Brink
8 years of Cyber Security experience, passionate about having a secured future. Focused on ensuring organizations have a strong and positive mindset towards security through the use of optimal solutions and products that seamlessly integrate with the day to day operations of companies.
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