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What is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)?

The tech world is swarmed with challenges when it comes to keeping threat actors at bay. Varying methods are employed to protect sensitive data from cybercriminals and restrict the amount of access they get. One such security method is known as Role-Based Access Control or RBAC.

RBAC is a more structured and robust reply to access management issues over the network. It not only fortifies company defenses against unauthorized access but also assists in fighting data breaches and regulatory non-compliance. 

An easy read through this article will help you to learn what RBAC is and how it helps streamline access control in companies worldwide. 

What is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)?

Role-based Access Control is a method companies employ to restrict the amount of access a network user gets based on their predefined roles. Also known as RBAC, this form of role-based security helps ensure that employees or other stakeholders only access the information they are entitled to. 

A lot of companies need to withstand access control issues due to having a large number of employees, customers, or other third-party vendors accessing the servers. Roles assigned to these users define the amount of access they have to system controls and data. This helps reduce the probability of any data loss or the amount of damage an exploitation can cause. 

How does Role-Based Access Control work?

How does Role based Access Control work 1

RBAC fosters the principle of allowing the lease-possible access privileges to employees that are enough for them to carry out their organizational tasks. This method will enable you to create different access-control templates that can be deployed amongst employees requiring the same amount of access. 

Administrators are not required to set the access privileges for each employee manually and can just rely on automated access control features. This helps in defining the set of resources that should be made available to each user class. 

To make it easier for you to understand what RBAC does, consider this example of how Google Docs allow you to set access privileges for people accessing your document online. It empowers you to set what level of access a certain individual has when it comes to manipulating your document, and this is somewhat similar to how RBAC works. 

Why is Role-Based Access Control important?

An organization’s digital infrastructure is brimming with sensitive data and resources, vulnerable to unauthorized access and potential chaos. Administrators face nightmares when it comes to managing access and controlling it for the employees. Uncontrolled access privileges also lead to other woes, such as non-compliance with industry security standards. 

RBAC enters the scene as a much-needed savior for companies constantly facing these issues. It restricts access controls to prevent excessive permissions, ensuring employees can only access what they need for their roles. Administrators absolutely love it, as it helps streamline access management and save precious time. 

Compliance requirements are much easier to address when cybersecurity breaches are thwarted, thanks to this robust method. 

Three common principles of RBAC

Role-based access control revolves around the three principles: 

  • Assignment: Assigning a role to a user based on their tasks and access rights. 

  • Authorization: Authorizing the user to leverage their role for completing a task. 

  • Access Rights: Providing the user with access rights if they are authorized to perform a task. 

With RBAC, you can effectively handle access privileges and safeguard sensitive business information that employees or other users on your network do not need to access. At the same time, you adhere to compliance standards such as GDPR through its simplified audit methods. 

Types of role-based access control 

RBAC security standards have mainly three types of Role-based access control models:

Hierarchical RBAC: This RBAC model presumes that your system is already infiltrated and sets up a robust security outpost to screen for any threat detection. It further helps reduce the attack surface available to cyber attackers by carefully dividing access privileges and ensuring end-to-end encryption. 

Core RBAC: Core RBAC models adhere to the three principles of RBAC, which are Assignment, Role-based Authorization, and Access Rights. Most companies use this model to regulate their access control. However, it can still be used as a base for Constrained RBAC and Constrained RBAC, which we will explore next. 

Constrained RBAC: The Constrained RBAC builds upon the core model by separating the duties assigned to the users. It does it by following two additional methods known as SSD (Static separation of duty) and DSD (Dynamic separation of duty). 

Under DSD, one user can be assigned to two different roles, but they cannot carry out tasks from both roles in the same session. This also helps reduce any threats to the system by having two different individuals authorize a task on the system. 

SSD, on the other hand, restricts users from having contradictory roles. It’s something like being able to make a request and then approve it. The organization itself sets the criteria for assessing such roles. 

Best Practices for Implementing RBAC

Like any other tech, there is a set of Role-based access control best practices that you can consider to make your RBAC security system more effective. 

Having IAM:

Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools are not a necessary condition for approaching RBAC. However, it is best to include it with the package to make it easier to deploy RBAC. IAM helps in identifying digital and cloud assets and having it will help your company to manage access privileges.

Creating a List of Assets: 

Making a list of assets and resources that require access management is something that you should start with before Role-based access control implementation. 

Categorize Roles:

Have your security team assess your employees and divide roles based on the individuals who require the same access privileges. This helps make the access management process more straightforward. 

Providing Only The Least Amount Of Access:

Understand the amount of access your employees will need to complete their tasks. Assign them the least possible access privileges required by them. This will significantly reduce the attack surface from both internal and external threats. 

Carry Out Audits:

Once you have everything in motion, plan audits for all the roles. This helps in determining new access privileges, if roles have changed with time, and identifying any unnecessary access privileges. 

RBAC vs. ABAC

Attribute-based access control, or ABAC, differs from RBAC in the way it controls access. RBAC emphasizes controlling access based on roles, whereas ABAC restricts based on User Attributes, Resource Attributes, Action Attributes, and Environmental Attributes. 

In the case of an RBAC vs. ABAC comparison, RBAC helps manage access for more comprehensive criteria, while ABAC concentrates on specific attributes that are dynamic. They both have different use cases and tend to different access control requirements that a company may have. For instance, the US Army uses ABAC due to its ever-changing attributes. 

FAQ

Here are a few queries that people have regarding RBAC.

How to check RBAC in Kubernetes?

Use the command “kubectl api-versions” to verify whether RBAC is enabled in your Kubernetes. To view another user’s permissions on Kubernetes, you can enter this command, “kubectl auth can-i –list –as=username”

What is the primary goal of Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)?

RBAC primarily focuses on restricting network access to its users based on their role in the organization. Roles, in turn, help determine the amount of access privileges assigned to them. 

How does RBAC differ from other access control models?

RBAC is much superior to access control methods when managing access to the network. Generic Access control methods safeguard low-level data and handle individual access management. RBAC is used for large companies and protects more data. 

Conclusion

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is a crucial part of modern access management and data security. It’s not just about permissions; it’s a tool for keeping information safe, ensuring rules are followed, and managing who can access what. 

Having RBAC helps protect organizations from unwanted access and data leaks, simplifies administrative tasks, and ensures access aligns with job roles. In a world where data protection is vital and security threats are common, RBAC is the guardian you need to build a robust cybersecurity detail.

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
Protect your Applications & Cloud Infrastructure from attackers by leveraging CloudDefense.AI ACS patented technology.

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