Information security refers to systems of protecting confidential or private data. These days, much of this data is in electronic form, and access control plays a huge role in protecting it. This article will give a brief overview of what access control is, why it’s so important, and why you should be utilizing it as part of your own data security efforts.
Access control definition
Access control is a type of security that regulates who or what has access to specific resources and the level of control they have over these resources. In other words, who has access to what, and what they’re permitted to do with it. There are two types of access control: physical and logical.
Physical access control: as the name implies, controls people’s access to physical places or assets, such as buildings, campuses, rooms, or tools.
Logical access control: on the other hand, controls access to electronic files, applications, and data, as well as computer networks.
This article will be focusing on the latter.
Why access control is so important
Access control is such a useful model of information security because it minimizes the likelihood of sensitive data becoming compromised. Access control uses a combination of authentication and authorization. First, it verifies the identity of someone who wants to access a particular resource. Secondly, it determines whether they are allowed to access said resource, and then if they have the permissions or privileges to modify it in some way, whether that be to read, edit, or even delete it.
An everyday example would be sending someone a link to a Google Doc. Since a Google Doc is private by default, to give someone access, you need to create a special share link. When you do this, you have the option to modify access controls by deciding what kind of link you want to send them, choosing whether anyone with the link can view, comment, or edit the document directly.
In organizations with modern IT environments, access control looks something like this, but on a much larger scale. For example, IT departments often limit which groups of employees have access and editing privileges over certain files while also controlling the IP addresses that can access a company network. Some examples of logical access control systems include usernames and passwords; VPNs; and 2FA applications that involve sending users push notifications or a one-time password.
That being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to access control. In fact, there are numerous models to choose from, depending on your organization type.
The different models of access control
Here are the three most commonly used models of access control:
1. Role-based access control (RBAC)
RBAC is one of the most widely used access control mechanisms. As the name suggests, access and permissions are granted based on individuals or groups with prescribed roles or defined business functions. By doing this, you don’t have to specify permission to each person in an organization individually. For instance, with this approach, you can make it so that only those in admin and HR have access to customer records, while other groups don’t.
2. Discretionary access control (DAC)
DAC is a type of access control in which the owner of a file or system chooses who has access (and what kind of access) to it on an individual basis. In other words, it’s up to the owner’s discretion. DAC can be used (but isn’t always) in conjunction with RBAC.
3. Mandatory access control (MAC)
MAC is a nondiscretionary type of access control, where a central security authority controls access to resources based on security classifications. In this kind of system, a user may not have any power to modify a file or resource, even if they are technically the owner. This kind of system is typically used by government or military organizations that deal with top-secret information.
These days, security is far more than just giving everyone the same password to log in to a network or website. Not everyone in an organization should have the same level of access and control over electronic resources and sensitive data. Authorization and authentication mechanisms should be implemented to ensure that only certain users have specific permissions to prevent security breaches and sensitive data from being compromised.