The Concept of Least Privilege

    The Concept of Least Privilege

    Thinking Least Privilege with Security 

    The most crucial tool for blocking intellectual property theft is to utilize “least privilege.” The very basics of a “least privilege approach” are founded on a proven information security modality that assigns the fewest privileges to devices, processes and people as necessary. In other words, you only assign privileges that are necessary to perform their functions and assigned duties. Historically, this is recognized as a “need to know” approach that limits confidential or crucial information to a specific group or individual. This highly restrictive strategy effectively manages all types of systems effectively. 

    At its very core, businesses that utilize a least privilege approach to their security can quickly add layers of additional safeguarding against imposing threats to their organization. This can be done without the need to restrict or limit the productivity of their employees. 

    Full Admin Rights

    Extending full administrative privileges allows an individual to make fundamental changes to the configuration of any desktop, notebook, application or installation. When companies extend admin rights to their employees, even the slightest error can quickly develop into a potential problem, escalating the risks of a malicious attack. In the end, these privileges could compromise all critical data and the entire network.

    Providing the ability for any employee to log into their computer using admin privileges, she or he can quickly alter settings, applications and anti-virus solutions. This could easily compromise the machine and the network. Without safeguards in place, the infecting malware can continue to do its damage completely undetected while it penetrates even deeper into the network.

    A Least Privilege Approach

    The initial step that any company should take to achieve the optimal IT department for the company is to develop a strategic least privilege approach. The goal in mind is to keep everyone in the workforce productive while also maintaining high security levels. By developing a least privilege environment, any user gaining access will only have the necessary information they need to perform their daily job.

    As an example, specific privileges might be granted to an application on the network, rather than to the user. This would allow a heavier restriction and give the administrator the ability to make changes to the entire network quickly. The administration team can control all restrictions to specific applications, which might prevent cyber attacks from any undesirable agency that is attempting to gain unauthorized access into the system. 

    However, the least privilege approach is not a catchall solution. It serves as only a single piece in an overall comprehensive approach to providing a high level of security for the company. Other strategies will need to be incorporated to achieve optimal safeguarding. 

    Privilege Escalation 

    To make the least privilege approach most effective, certain protocols within the organization must be set in place. One individual in the company may be able to obtain different or more privileges than they should have access to, putting a kink in the system. The entire idea behind a least privilege approach is that it eliminates the vulnerabilities or weakness in the system that can be exploited.

    If the ideas that one person should only have the least amount of information they need to perform their job properly, than any type of escalation should be monitored closely. Gaining access to other portions of data stored on the Internet do not have to be at a higher level, or vertical level. Gaining horizontal escalation might also be a significant concern. If one employee can acquire the privileges of another employee and gain immediate access to the second employee’s valuable data, then the system is full of holes. 

    Avoiding this problem requires a careful architecture of all the restrictions and securities that are set in place to segregate each user’s access. This would include developing isolating tiers of access in an effort to prevent horizontal or vertical privilege escalation.

    Methods to Avoid Privilege Escalation

    Using stress tests and boundary checkers can prevent privileged escalations. Any boundary checker will pick up on the need for some applications that require more privileges to function usefully. Additionally, in large companies with multiple users on the same system, adding multi-factor authentication and extensive authorization can quickly eliminate one employee gaining access to another employee’s privileges.

    Limiting access through a least privilege approach can be expanded in different ways. By controlling access to the intranet within the office, or from remote locations, is an idea worth considering. While some portions of the company may need constant access during the entire working day, not all employees need to be accessing it. Access can be restricted or turned off after hours, during lunch, or over holidays and weekends.

    Restrictive access can be fine tuned by allowing smartphone and mobile device accessibility within certain parameters that include time of day, day of the week, or from specific locations. By utilizing the best that least privilege has to offer, companies can increase productivity while adding a higher level of security to their confidential information.



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