In many ways, cybersecurity is about restricting access. You want to prevent cybercriminals from accessing your systems and keep prying eyes from seeing sensitive data.
About 85% of data breaches involve a human element, and it’s become increasingly clear that restricting insider access is also important. This is where the principle of least privilege (PoLP) comes in.
What Is the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)?
The principle of least privilege states that anyone and anything should only have access to what it needs to do their job. That includes users, programs and devices, no matter how much authority they have at the company. It keeps access privileges to an absolute minimum, which prevents lateral movement.
Lateral movement happens when an attacker gets into one part of the network, then uses its connections to move into others. A cybercriminal could break into one account, phish other users and get into their accounts, slowly accessing more. The same can happen with devices or apps. PoLP access aims to stop that.
PoLP can be applied even if employees need extra access for their role. For example, a network administrator needs extensive admin rights; but rather than giving admin rights to the personal account he uses daily, instead create a secondary account with admin rights specifically used for admin functions. Otherwise, the employee should use his daily account, which should be limited to only the access needed for day-to-day use. Even if the personal account is breached, the admin account is still separated.
PoLP prevents privilege creep, where users gain rights beyond what they need to take on different roles. In stopping this, it limits lateral movement and similar threats.
Benefits of Least Privilege Access
Least privilege access can seem extreme at first because it’s so restrictive. However, it carries substantial security benefits. Here are a few of the most important.
1. Reduces Attack Surfaces
Least privilege access limits attack surfaces, which is a growing concern as businesses use more connected devices. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are becoming more popular for reducing energy usage or gathering helpful data. However, each of these gadgets is another possible doorway for hackers to get into a network.
These threats aren’t as concerning with the principle of least privilege. Each device and user will only be able to access what it needs, so they’re less likely to give attackers access to sensitive information. Even if businesses have large IoT environments, their attack surfaces will remain effectively small since hackers can do less with them.
2. Mitigates User Error Threats
PoLP also helps reduce the threats that insiders can pose to a company. Mistakes have caused security incidents in 94% of organizations, making human error the leading cause of data breaches. Thankfully, least privilege access minimizes the damage these events can cause the same way it does with external dangers.
Employees that can only access what they need for their job can’t accidentally mess up another, more sensitive system. There’s no risk of them leaking data from another workflow or department. When someone does make a mistake, it can only cause minimal damage since they won’t be able to compromise more than their specific tools and information.
3. Makes Audits and Compliance Easier
The principle of least privilege also helps businesses comply with security regulations. Laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are becoming more common and often limit who can legally access information. PoLP keeps data access to an absolute minimum, so it helps keep systems within those guidelines.
PoLP can also streamline the audit process. Everything is more organized when it’s segmented. It’s easier to look into a network and see who’s responsible for what, speeding up finding risks and data breach sources. Companies can then improve after a hack or ensure their systems are secure with minimal investigation.
Restrict Access Privileges to Maximize Security
Least privilege access is one of the best security steps businesses today can take. Minimizing device, software and user access lets companies maximize their security. Data breach prevention will be easier, more reliable and compliant with any cybersecurity regulations.
The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is by no means the only security step teams need. However, as businesses expand their networks and gather more data, it’s critical.