Identity Governance Blog

3 Types of Access Control: Which is Right for Your Business?

By Andrew Silberman, Product Marketing Director at Omada

September 22, 2022

Roles, Policies, and Contexts: The 3 Main Types of Access Control

Cybersecurity is a top priority for organizations in both private and public sectors. According to a survey of network experts, 43% of cybersecurity experts believed that the U.S. is more vulnerable to cyberattacks now than it was five years ago. And that’s just in the US, this spells bad news for businesses everywhere.

Access control methods are a vital aspect of cybersecurity that work to reduce the amount of exposure your sensitive data has to the outside world. However, access control can also be critical to enable business users of all sorts by granting them access in real-time based on whatever their current jobs are. Developing an infrastructure for controlling access to vulnerable parts of an organization ensures that companies reduce their risk of a data breach and, in the event of one, can recover faster. It also ensures that the right people have the right access to the right resources, for the right reasons. Otherwise known as least privilege.

In this guide, we’ll discuss why access control is a crucial part of any business, the different access control system types, and the pros and cons of each.

 

What is Access Control?

Access control is about creating small siloes where restricted parts of businesses are off-limits to all except specific groups or subsets of members of the workforce. The primary principle of all the 3 types of access control systems, being role-based, attribute-based, and policy-based access control, is that people should only have access to what they need to carry out their duties.

Protecting essential data — such as trade secrets, personal information about customers or employees, business strategies, and private customer information — allows companies to remain compliant with data protection laws and reduce their risk of suffering a breach.

Different types of access control assign access based on their day-to-day needs. The underlying features of any access control type will be to ensure someone is who they say they are and to log it in a permanent record any time someone enters the system.

But what are the right types of access control for an organization? There are several systems, and the right one depends on the level of ownership decision-makers have over the system, how access is decided, and the level of the threat of a data breach.

 

The Importance of Access Control

Before discussing the main types of access control systems, let’s look at why it’s so important for organizations to have one in the first place.

The cost of data breaches is rising. According to IBM, the cost of a data breach stands at $4.35 million — a new record that seems to be broken with each passing year. And that’s only the financial cost — breaches have a serious impact on a company’s reputation and consumer trust. It underlines the severity of the threats companies face from a cybersecurity perspective.

Here are the primary advantages of implementing access control:

  • Know Who’s Coming and Going – All of these systems are designed to monitor who is coming and going. Prevent bad actors from accessing restricted information, applications and databases undetected.
  • Keep Track of all Identity Activity – Monitor how employees, third-party contractors, auditors, and more are accessing your network, including the access requests they make. Various access control types can be used to track what people are doing on the network in real time.
  • Secure Sensitive Data – Limit who can access sensitive business systems and critical data, such as internal or trade secrets, or data that must be contained due to compliance mandates.
  • Reduce Thefts – Mitigate the risk of cyber theft by narrowing the number of people who can access valuable information.
  • Enhance Cybersecurity – Access control also benefits broader cybersecurity policies by securing business resources and limiting the dissemination of virtual credentials by strangers and insiders alike.
  • Multi-Property Protection – A business’s access control solution of choice can help them protect multiple departments, subsidiaries, and networks simultaneously as part of a unified system.

Access control is basic cybersecurity in action. While nothing can prevent breaches entirely, it can make a huge difference in risk reduction by mitigating lateral movement. For example, if an employee gets hacked, if they are limited to only access systems based on their job in marketing, access control acts like a fire door to contain the damage and stop it from spreading.

Additionally, during audits, one of the things auditors look at is who can access sensitive information, like credit card information housed in a server; in order to be PCI compliant. Narrowing the number of personnel who can read or download such information is crucial to creating a smaller target for both internal bad actors and external cybercriminals.

 

The Three Main Types of Access Control

When researching types of access control, there are three main access control systems to be aware of. The best option depends on the specific needs of the business, and its unique risk profile. So, what are the 3 types of access control and which one is right for you? For many, the answer may be a hybrid approach, and it bears repeating that there are no silver bullets for access control, and each system will have its strengths and weaknesses. What works for a major corporation will not necessarily work for a local accounting firm. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of the 3 types of access control systems so you can make the right choice for your team.

 

1. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC is the most traditionally well-known and popular type of access control. The RBAC model allows owners to assign access to the network based on defined user profiles. These profiles are based on their roles, such as managers, temporary contractors, and heads of departments.

Access privileges revolve around a person’s job title. Despite this, exceptions can be made when necessary. Owners are free to create custom profiles to alter the access rights of employees. Small and medium-sized businesses prefer RBAC platforms because of the balance between control without requiring constant oversight.

Want to know more about RBAC? Read our guide to learn more about role-based access control and why you need it.

Pros:

  • Transparent structure based on hierarchy
  • Additional owner control
  • Achieves compliance
  • Easy to monitor
  • Simple to review

Cons:

  • Unsuitable for industries requiring higher levels of security
  • Can be not granular enough when desired output is to implement for individuals that have unique network access requirements

 

2. Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)

ABAC stems from RBAC but provides access control on a more granular level. The ABAC model allows application or line managers to use attributes, or characteristics about the access request, entitlement, or user. These attributes can be based on desired outcomes for what an identity will do with said access, what the resource or system being requested is, the location of the request, and more.

The ABAC model will be able to identify how users are using access within the environment and develop a baseline for what is needed and what is not. Another easy way to verify this access is through certification campaigns.

Pros:

  • Granular level of security
  • Provide access to a variety of roles and people based on attributes of the request, like location
  • Achieves compliance
  • Simple to review

Cons:

  • Challenging to get off the ground
  • Time consuming to define the variables of attributes that are necessary

 

3. Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC)

PBAC evaluates access rights and entitlements that can be adjusted based on new corporate policies. As organizations change, they often will write new policies to ensure that access rights are consistent, appropriate, and secure. While PBAC and ABAC are very similar, but the key difference is that policies inform the IGA solution what to do and how to enforce access, and attributes look reactively to the IGA solution and inform the engine how to provide access.

Pros:

  • Granular level of security
  • Reactive to organizational policies implemented for access rights
  • Achieves compliance
  • Simple to review
  • Standards-driven

Cons:

  • Time consuming to define policies that apply broadly and specifically

 

Take Back Control of Your IT with Omada

Cybersecurity requires several layers to achieve a defense-in-depth strategy. Omada is the market-leading provider of security for access management and identity management solutions. Our state-of-the-art systems are tailored to fit the needs of businesses without compromise.

To find out more about how Omada’s top-tier security systems can protect your business, request a free demo today.

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