What Is a Role When It Comes Down to Security?

The term “role” is often used to describe a user’s access level within a system or application. For example, one person may have an “editor” role, and another may have an “admin” role.

The role is the designator the system needs to grant different permissions and access within the application.

There can be multiple layers of access within business tools that need to be decided upon for each user account. For example, some of these can be:

  • Can the user delete data?
  • Can the user add other users?
  • Can the user change other users’ or their own permission level?
  • Can the user access sensitive areas or settings in the system?

Depending upon the application, there can be a hundred different things that a person can or cannot do, such as accessing payroll data in an accounting system or changing field names in a CRM.

If you had to make a separate decision for each of those many actions, user provisioning and access management would take forever. Instead, roles are used that have multiple permission and access levels attached to them.

Security is an important part of those role permission levels.

Access Control & Security

Access control and security are basically how the system decides which roles can perform which functions in a system. These could include the basics like reading data, writing/editing data, changing system settings (security and other customizations), who can delete data, and more.

The more complex the software, the more security layers will be in place for various roles. Let’s take a look at a sales CRM as an example.

A sales manager would typically have access to see all other user data for the sales team members they were managing. This would allow the sales manager to see how lead engagement was progressing and if members were hitting their sales targets.

A sales team member would most likely have a different role that would be more restrictive. Such as, they could not see the sales activities of other sales team members.

Many company cloud systems will hold sensitive information. This could include customer records, personnel information, trade secrets, and more. User roles are used to restrict access to this sensitive data.

It’s in a company’s best interest for cybersecurity to restrict access to that sensitive data.

Manual Identity Management Means More Mistakes

When user accounts are provisioned and managed in a system manually, it leads to more mistakes that can negatively affect IT security.

Users are often given higher privileges than needed to do their jobs because someone creating their account isn’t sure if they need access to something and may enable it “just in case.”

The higher the number of privileged accounts a company has, the higher their risk of an account breach can have a major negative impact. This is because hackers will often exploit the permissions granted in privileged accounts to do things like:

  • Run scripts (like ransomware)
  • Change user passwords to essentially lock your team out
  • Access sensitive data
  • Add user accounts
  • And more

According to the Oracle and KPMG Cloud Threat Report 2020, 37% of companies have found overprivileged accounts in their systems, and 59% of them have suffered an attack that stole privileged account credentials.

The Security Benefits of an Automated Identity Management System

The more processes you can automate, the more you mitigate mistakes that could lead to a serious credential breach of a privileged account. You also reduce the risk of a user accessing information they shouldn’t or accidentally deleting important files in your system.

Two key components that automation in your account provisioning and identity management system will control are:

  • Authentication
  • Authorization

Authentication is the control that checks to see if a person is who they say they are when trying to gain access to their business tools. This is the system that is often exploited in a credential compromise. The hacker will pretend to be a user to get past the authentication.

An automated feature you can utilize in your identity management system to improve security by as much as 99.9% would be multi-factor authentication (MFA). This puts another barrier up that a hacker with a stolen password often can’t get past because they won’t have the device that receives the MFA code.

Authorization is the next step after authentication. This refers to the permissions and access levels in a system that a user is granted per their designated user role. The security rules attached to the role will authorize the user to do certain things (editing data, changing their own password, etc.) and restrict them from doing other things (adding users, deleting data, etc.).

With both functions automated, your company reduces errors that can lead to breaches of your account and improves overall system security and efficiency.

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