IT security is a very important topic for modern businesses. You need to protect your business from attackers. Thus, you should focus on implementing the best security practices. Security practices like multi-factor authentication and zero trust can help you in protecting your network. The Principle of Least privilege is another very important security practice. It will help you in limiting the access of your users. Your users will have access to the applications that they need for their work. Thus, you don’t need to worry about insider threats. In this article, we are going to discuss the Principle of Least Privilege.
What is POLP or Principle of Least privilege?
The PoLP or principle of least privilege is an information security technique or concept that you can use for protecting your organization. In this, the user’s access rights are limited to only the files and services that they need for performing their jobs. This principle is also known as the access control principle. You need to grant users access and permissions to only the resources that they need for performing their job functions. This will help you in limiting the damage caused by an error or accident. For example, you can grant the appropriate access to your employees according to their department, time of day, and location.
You can protect your assets by first patching the weakness and vulnerabilities. After that, you should also limit functionality and access. The first method aims at preventing security breaches. However, the second method will help you in limiting the damage caused by security breaches. It is referred to as POLP or the principle of least privilege.
The principle of least privilege is the best cyber security practice. It can help you in protecting your critical assets and data. This principle is not restricted to your employee access only. You can also apply it to devices, systems, and applications that require access for performing tasks. The access rights for processes, systems, and applications can be restricted. This will ensure that only authorized users can use them.
The PoLP will ensure that the devices, humans, and systems have the requisite access only. They won’t have access to other services and data that are present in your system. You need some way to centralize your access rights. Thus, you can manage your access privileges and rights from a central location. The system should be flexible enough to balance compliance and security requirements.
Benefits of Principle of Least privilege model
According to a report from the Microsoft Vulnerabilities report, more than 56% of serious vulnerabilities can be solved by removing admin rights. Unrestricted privileges and access rights will open up doors to attackers. It will lead to unlimited potential for financial loss and damage. The more privileges and access a user has, the more damage they can do to your business. If someone gets access to your user’s device, then they can easily steal all the data. Thus, you should ensure that only the key stakeholders have admin rights. Implementing the least privilege model will help you in protecting your organization from insider threats. It will help you in improving your overall security.
Minimized attack surface
Most attackers will use privileged credentials for conducting cyber attacks. You can reduce the attack surface by limiting the privileges for networks, systems, users, and applications. This will help you in reducing the number of endpoints that are present in your network. Thus, by limiting the administrator and user privileges you can reduce the attack surface.
Reduced malware infection
Malware will require admin access and privilege. Attackers can’t install or execute malware until they have admin access to your systems. If you are implementing the principle of least privilege on endpoints, then there will be fewer entry points for malware. You can contain the malware in the section where it is entered. This will help you in protecting your entire network from malware. Malware can’t move laterally if it doesn’t have the necessary elevated privileges.
PoLP will help you in minimizing the unwanted and improper uses of privilege. It will reduce the number of potential interactions among the important programs. Only important people will have access to your important applications. This will help you in creating an audit-friendly and simple environment.
The scope of the audit will be reduced drastically if you are using the PoLP framework. It will reduce the number of programs that need to be audited. Compliance regulations like SOX and HIPAA already require the implementation of the PoLP. If you are operating in the financial or healthcare industry, then PoLP is already compulsory for your business.
Improved operational productivity and performance
You can easily deploy applications in your environment if it needs a few privileges. Applications that need elevated privileges like installing drivers will need to follow additional steps for deployment. Programs and code blocks are easy to test as the applications with restricted access can’t crash a system or machine. You should consider removing admin rights from normal programs. This will help you in reducing risks. Also, it will help you in improving your productivity and reducing the workload on your IT team.
Important POLP Terms
Superuser is the admin user who will have full read, execute, and write privileges. These accounts should be used by your IT admins only. Superusers will have the ability to render system changes in your entire network. They can install software, change configurations and settings. The superuser can also delete data and user accounts. These users have unlimited power. Thus, they are the most powerful user. They can easily misuse this power to damage your organization.
This refers to the accrual of unnecessary access rights, privileges, and permissions by your users. It is a common thing in businesses where account management is not controlled by the IT team. This usually happens when your IT team forgets to revoke the privileges when personnel changes occur. It also occurs when your users are sharing their login credentials or bypassing security procedures.
Privilege creep simply means that your users have more privilege than they need. This might pose a security risk to your organization. If you are allowing your user accounts to move in your network without any restrain, then this can cause security and workflow issues. If the credentials fall in the wrong hand, then they can easily damage your business. In addition, privilege creep will have access to insider and abuse threats attacking your most critical resources.
How to implement the PoLP?
The PoLP or principle of least privilege sounds very simple. However, it is very difficult and complex to implement in real life. If you have hundreds of employees, then managing access controls can be a real pain. This principle applies to networks, devices, services, programs, and users present in the market. Some of the things that can affect your implementation are:
- The number of different roles and account types.
- OS environment – Linux, Mac, and Windows.
- Endpoints that are present in your network. This can be desktops, IoT devices, smartphones, and laptops.
- Computing environments like hybrid, cloud, and on-prem.
- Third-party or vendor access requirements.
You should ensure that the principle is applicable to all the entities. If even one endpoint gets compromised, then your entire organization will be at risk. You should ensure that you are applying PoLP to all the systems and endpoints. The following practices will help you in implementing PoLP effectively:
Carry out a privilege audit:
It is difficult to protect your network if you can’t see your network properly. Thus, you should perform an audit of your IT environment. This will ensure that all privileged accounts are under the policy management. Include privileged credentials and accounts held by third-party vendors, contractors, and employees. Your IT audit should cover both machine and human identities.
Make sure that least privilege is set as default:
You should ensure that all the new accounts have the minimum privilege needed to do their job. Reconfigure or remove default permissions on new applications or systems. Zero standing privilege is the ultimate goal of this security policy. You should use role-based access control for determining the privileges a new account need. Make sure that you are adjusting the permissions of your user’s role.
Remove admin rights from endpoints:
Endpoints can act as an entry point in your network. Thus, you should pay special attention to them. Make sure that you have removed admin rights from these endpoints. If someone needs elevated privileges, then they should inform your IT team. Your IT team can monitor their devices when the users are doing their work.
Enforce separation of privileges:
You should avoid over-provisions. This can be done by restricting local admin privileges. Start by separating your admin accounts from standard accounts. This should be done even for the same user. A user can have both a standard and admin account if they need. Make sure that you are granting higher-level system functions like reading, writing, and executing when your users need it for doing some work. You should also divide your logging and auditing capabilities. Make sure that you are hosting your session logs outside of the database that you are monitoring.
Monitor privileged access:
You should continuously log and monitor all the authorization and authentication of your systems. Make sure that you can trace all the individual actions. Try to capture all RDP, SSH sessions, and keystrokes of the admin accounts. You can use automation tools for detecting anomalous activity in your system. These ML tools will use fixed patterns for finding anomalous activity. They will alert you about any potential problems that are present in our network.
You should ensure that you are regularly reviewing existing permissions levels and accounts. New companies can hold a monthly review. If your companies have a lot of accounts, then the quarterly review will be enough for you. Make sure that you are revoking all the unnecessary excess privileges that you are discovering in this process. Close or deactivate all the inactive accounts that are present in your network.
Provide just-in-time access:
If you want to implement PoLP without affecting employee workflow, then you should use role-based access control. Make sure that these controls come with time-limited privileges. You should replace all the hardcoded credentials with dynamic secrets. Try to implement disposable or one-time-use credentials. This will help you in allowing temporarily elevate access permissions.
These are the best PoLP practices that you can follow. They will help you in securing your privileged data, assets, and accounts. You can enforce compliance requirements by following these practices. It will help you in improving your operational security. Also, this won’t affect disrupt user workflow. Your users will have access to the data they need for doing their work. If they need more access, then they can raise a ticket.
Modern businesses are moving towards evolving and emerging technologies. These technologies will help you in increasing your employee mobility. You can use cloud applications for making sure that your employees can work remotely. However, all these latest applications will lead to a complex IT environment. The complex IT environment will have more attack surfaces. Thus, it is important to ensure that you are using the best security controls.
PoLP will ensure that you are properly restricting the access rights of users. Your users will only have access to the resources that they need for completing their work. This principle is applicable to applications, devices, processes, and systems. It is one of the best security practices that you can use for protecting your business. However, it is difficult to implement if you are an SMB. Thus, you should consider outsourcing your IT security to a good MSP. Experienced MSPs like Bleuwire can help you in implementing the best security controls. They will help you in protecting your business from attackers. Bleuwire will create a unique IT security strategy for your business. Thus, you don’t need to worry about managing your own IT security. If you need more information regarding IT security services, then you can contact Bleuwire.