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Access Control Explained

April 11, 2023

Access control is one of the most important parts of data protection. It essentially helps to grant levels of access to users based on the credentials they give. However, you may be wondering why access control is so important to businesses and how it works. In this article, we take a look at what access control is, why it’s important, how it works and the different types of access control.


What is access control?


Access control is the practice of restricting or granting access to a resource or system to authorised individuals or entities. It is an essential security measure for protecting sensitive data, intellectual property and other critical assets. Like how we protect physical spaces using keys and guest lists, access control helps to protect digital spaces in the same way, using credentials to authenticate and authorise the right people who are allowed access to certain resources.


Why are access controls important?


Access controls are critical to maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and resources. They help protect against data breaches, theft and unauthorised modification or destruction of information. Any threat or attack on confidential data can have some serious consequences which include exposure of customer and employee personal data and potential leaks of intellectual property.

Another consequence of compromised data could be lawsuits and compensation payouts. Access controls can also help organisations comply with regulatory requirements, such as GDPR and PCI-DSS, which mandate strict controls over access to sensitive data.

Access controls can also help organisations enforce policies and procedures, such as separation of duties, which require individuals to perform different tasks to prevent fraud, conflicts of interest and errors. By implementing access controls, organisations can ensure that only authorised personnel can perform certain tasks or access specific resources to strengthen security.


How do access controls work?


Access controls work by verifying the identity of users and granting or denying access based on predefined policies and rules. Access controls can be physical, such as keys, badges and biometric devices, or logical, such as passwords, tokens and certificates. Access controls can also be role-based, attribute-based or rule-based, depending on the level of granularity required to manage access.

Audit logs are also an essential part of access control. These logs record all access attempts, successful or unsuccessful, and can be used to monitor and investigate security incidents, track compliance with policies and regulations, and perform forensics in case of a breach.


What are the types of access control?


There are several types of access control, each with its strengths and weaknesses.


Physical Access Control


Physical access control is the most traditional form of access control and involves using physical barriers, such as gates, doors, locks and biometric devices, to restrict access to a physical space. Physical access control can be effective in preventing unauthorised access, but it can be expensive and difficult to manage, especially in large organisations.


Logical Access Control


Logical access control involves using software-based mechanisms, such as passwords, tokens and certificates, to restrict access to digital resources, such as files, databases and applications. Logical access control is more flexible and scalable than physical access control, but it is also more vulnerable to attacks, such as password cracking by hackers and phishing.


Role-based Access Control (RBAC)


RBAC is a form of access control that assigns permissions based on the roles and responsibilities of users in an organisation. It aims to provide users with only the data they need. RBAC is easy to manage and can be effective in enforcing the separation of duties and minimising the risk of errors and fraud. However, RBAC can also be inflexible and may not be able to handle complex authorisation scenarios.


Attribute-based access control (ABAC)


ABAC is a type of access control that assigns permissions based on the attributes of users, such as their job title, department, location or security clearance. ABAC is more flexible than RBAC and can handle complex authorisation scenarios, but it can also be more difficult to manage and may require more granular policies.


Rule-based Access Control (RuBAC)


RuBAC is a method of access control that restricts access based on a set of predefined rules. These rules can be configured to allow or deny access based on specific criteria such as time of day, user role, location or device used to access the resource. Rule-based access control is often used in environments where security policies need to be strictly enforced, like a government agency.


Final Thoughts


Access control is a critical security measure that businesses can use to protect against any threat of a safety breach. It’s one of the most efficient ways to ensure that your assets are protected while undergoing a digital transformation. Despite this, businesses should still carry out all the appropriate measures to protect their physical assets.

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