Principle of least privilege
What is the principle of least privilege?
The principle of least privilege (PoLP) or least privilege principle refers to the practice of providing only the bare minimum permissions needed by users for completing legitimate tasks. This concept can be extended and applied to processes, applications, devices, and more. It's the first step in strengthening your organization's security posture by reducing the cyberattack surface.
Principle of least privilege examples
Listed below are a few examples where the principle of least privilege has been established to ensure data security.
- 1. Limit unwanted access to sensitive data Assign privileges to employees based only on their role to ensure that business-critical information such as proprietary information, customer data, and financial records is not accessible to standard users who have no legitimate use for it. This method of enforcing least privilege access is known as role-based access control.
- 2. Run applications without admin privileges Check the validity of an application before granting it admin privileges. A malicious application with admin permission can create a back door, crash critical servers, and more. This is why it's vital that only vetted applications are run with admin privileges.
Benefits of the principle of least privilege
Most data security best practices call for implementing PoLP as their foremost measure to ensure critical data does not fall into the wrong hands. Learn about the various benefits of establishing PoLP across your organization below.
1. Restrict the proliferation of malware
Most malware attacks like ransomware and SQL injection attacks use elevated permissions to move laterally and damage any business-critical data that they have access to. In such cases, PoLP helps reduce the number of access points that malware can use to propagate the infection.
2. Minimize the attack surface
Malicious insiders deliberately try to steal or disrupt IT systems using their elevated credentials. Limiting inappropriate levels of access to employees can forestall their attempts to sabotage the organization.
3. Maintain confidentiality of critical information
Data confidentiality refers to the various standards maintained to protect sensitive personal data from unwanted, unintentional, and unlawful exposure. Least privilege access helps keep a close eye on who has access to carry out what actions on which files and folders. This knowledge is vital to maintain data confidentiality.
4. Streamline compliance audits
Most regulatory bodies, including the GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA, mandate organizations to locate and roll back excessive privileges provided to users across critical data. Maintaining PoLP across your data stores can help improve your audit readiness drastically.
Best practices to maintain least privilege access
- Conduct routine permission audits across your entire organization, including both on-premises and cloud environments.
- Implement the practice of just-in-time access where access to critical applications, systems, and data is provided to vetted users only for a predetermined period or only once.
- Enforce separation of privileges by classifying user accounts based on access provided, such as admin accounts, standard accounts, temporary accounts, and guest accounts.
- Establish accountability for all permission changes and track permission change activities along with their old and new values.
- Follow a hierarchy-based permission policy to assign access.
For more details, check out our best practices to set NTFS permissions.