A Detailed Guide to Smart Role Mining: Build Your Ideal Role Model

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A Booster for Your Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Organizations today manage their user accounts and access rights transparently and securely through Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). Thanks to clearly defined roles and permissions, it’s ensured that all employees have the appropriate rights at all times.

Creating an authorization matrix with the required business rules, roles, and permissions might seem tedious and time-consuming for many companies. Still, the effort is worthwhile, as it lays the foundation for future-proof and effective identity management. Implementing an RBAC does not have to be complicated if you choose the right approach. Role Mining is a central point in this process, which we will discuss further.

Introduction to Role-Based Access Control – How Does It Work?

In RBAC (or ABAC, Attribute Based Access Control), each user within an organization is assigned a unique “role,” often tied to their tasks, departments, and/or location. Then, access rights to certain applications and data are set for each role. Business roles form the basis for role-specific permissions in RBAC, so people with the same role automatically have the same permissions. If a role changes, rights are automatically adjusted accordingly.

For example, someone in the finance department needs access to Outlook, Office, and financial management software and data. If the employee shifts to sales, this change is registered in the HR system and automatically recognized by the identity management system. Based on the existing RBAC model, the “financial permissions” are revoked from this user, and they are granted access to the CRM system instead. This process is fully automatic, therefore, minimizing the IT department’s effort in user and permission management. More importantly, complete control is maintained: no one has too many or too few permissions. RBAC forms the basis for IT security and compliance in the company.

A Daring Step into Unknown Territory

Even though RBAC presents a simple and ideal model, many organizations still hesitate to implement it. Manual maintenance of user accounts and the “copy existing user” approach are still common practices. Transitioning from a manual approach to a structured, role-based approach with clearly defined roles and rules can be challenging.

Questions arise like: How do I design a complex schema with numerous roles and permissions? How do I involve department heads and other key people in the process? How long will it take to find a viable compromise? And isn’t there a risk that the model will be outdated before we finish? These concerns are understandable, but the following approach can help to address them.

RBAC – Made Easy Thanks to Role Mining

Most of the information needed to build an authorization matrix is already available, as even with manual permission management, thought was certainly given to what user accounts and access rights are needed. For instance, finance employees surely already have access to financial systems and salespeople to the CRM and ERP systems. Although permissions might not have been granted consistently, and there may be some errors and unnecessary permissions, the foundation should already exist. But how do we decode and analyze this information to develop an initial role matrix? The answer is “Role Mining,” a powerful tool combining the top-down and bottom-up approaches.

Role Mining consists of several key steps:
  1. Set up an analysis of existing roles: From the top to bottom, all (business) roles that exist, for example, according to HR management, are recorded.
  2. Set up an analysis of existing permissions (or permission groups): From applications and IT systems, like (Azure) Active Directory, the assigned permissions, and groups are read from bottom to top.
  3. Design an RBAC concept: The results from steps 1 and 2 are combined and analyzed to identify patterns in the permissions that flow into an initial concept with roles and associated permissions.
  4. Evaluate the concept with stakeholders such as department heads: Errors and undesirable effects (like accumulations of permissions) are evaluated and eliminated. This turns the concept into an initial usable model.
  5. The result is a basic version of the role model that can be applied in business operations. The model can be expanded, updated, and adapted from new insights and circumstances.

Role Mining thus combines suitable technical tools (for data extraction from the directory and HR systems) with data analysis and targeted advice to develop an initial role model for the organization. The significant advantage is that you don’t have to start from scratch to create an RBAC model. The identified roles and business rules provide a valuable starting point from which all stakeholders can continue to work. Together, you can achieve your first RBAC implementation in a short time.

Keep RBAC Trouble-free and Automate Exceptions

The occurrence of two identical roles is extremely rare. Even when two employees have similar main tasks, there are often differences and exceptions. For example, certain employees may have special tasks or work on specific projects. An employee may also be a member of a work council or have completed first aid training. These factors mean that each person needs specific permissions, which can quickly make the authorization matrix complex. To keep the management of role-based access control simple, it’s advised to limit the system to so-called primary rights. This means that the standard permissions that belong to the employee’s primary role are considered. These can then be supplemented by optional permissions, for example, for special applications like Photoshop or access to shared project plans. This prevents the RBAC model from becoming overloaded and losing flexibility.

Self-service applications or service automation solutions are recommended to manage these optional rights. This way, users – or their supervisors – can independently request access to applications, data, and files. Our HelloID module Service Automation ensures that all necessary approval steps are carried out correctly, and the permissions are subsequently activated in the IT system. This avoids potential errors that could lead to risks.

Thanks to automated configuration rules, the service catalog always stays current. New releases, for example, are directly displayed in the catalog. This combination of a role model and effectively set-up service automation provides secure, efficient, and manageable management of all user rights.

Interested in Learning More About Tools4ever’s Role Mining Concept?

If an organization doesn’t have a role model yet, we initially conduct data mining in the HR system and user management to create an initial RBAC model from this data. This method of Role Mining requires, in addition to the technical data acquisition, methods for analyzing, verifying, and evaluating to create a valuable foundation. This involves, among other things, cleaning up existing errors or undesirable effects, like accumulations of permissions. Our consulting experts have a lot of experience in this area. They would be happy to help you quickly set up an authorization matrix in your organization using a clearly defined Role Mining project. Contact us today!

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