Despite the term ‘Access control’ seeming rather modern, the concept of access control is actually as ancient as humanity itself. Arguably the first form of access control, which was more than just a stern-faced guard barring entry to a sacred area, can be traced all the way back to the invention of doors in Ancient Egypt, some 4,000 years ago.
In the many, many years since, more technologically sophisticated doors and access control methods have, of course, been created. Security gates, keycards, password logins and even the fingerprint & facial scanners on our cellphones are all forms of physical access control.
By now, you’re probably wondering just why we are talking about doors on a blog dedicated to all things data and data analytics. Regrettably, Astrato is NOT announcing that we have created a window and door manufacturing division (well, not yet, at least!), but we are proud to announce our four fundamental tips for managing access control throughout your business… Spoiler Alert: Installing a door is not on our list!
What is access control, and why is it important?
In the context of computing and, in particular, data, when we mention ‘access control’ (or access management as it is also known), we are referring to a method of implementing control over who has access to your files and other data.
For example, suppose you’re a content creation business with employees in multiple locations. In that case, it’s imperative that you have an online-enabled system that allows your employees to safely share data and files with one another. However, to avoid your files and sensitive company information being seen by competing businesses or other unwanted third parties, it’s crucial to specify who can access these files.
Depending on the internal or external Identity Access Management system (IAM) your business employs, you should be able to limit who can access your data by specifying particular criteria (name, job title and email addresses) of those you wish to share your data with.
Access control is also essential to ensure the accuracy of data analytics. At Astrato, we specialize in providing live-query data visualizations and analytics solutions that allow businesses to make informed, data-led decisions in real time.
However, to truly benefit from Astrato’s no-code solution and best-in-class data visualization, businesses need to ensure that the data their teams are using is accurate and has not been tampered with or altered in any manner. Maintaining a proper access control policy will allow your data teams to trust the data they see, allowing them to deliver a more accurate analysis in real-time.
What types of access control are there?
While the concept of access control is simple enough to explain, there are many different types of access controls that your business can implement to safeguard the data of both your business and that of your customers. Some types of access control include
Discretionary access control (DAC)
While you might not be familiar with the name, the chances are, you’ll have already used DAC in some way. DAC is commonly used within Cloud storage platforms such as Google Docs and refers to a type of control which allows the user to specify what actions a viewer of the file can do.
Mandatory access control
MAC is most commonly used by larger corporations that don’t have the time to specify levels of access for each employer or customer. As such, under a MAC system, users will be given mandatory access to particular files or folders that are typically based on their employment or clearance level. Employees at the top level will be able to see all types of data, whereas those at the bottom will only be able to see what has been designated.
Role-based access control (RBAC)
Similar to the MAC, an RBAC will give all users of a particular role a set level of access that is relevant to their level within the company. However, unlike MAC, these positions do not have any crossover or access to one another.
Rule-based access control
This type of access control allows the system administrator to specify particular rules around the accessing of company data/resources. For instance, an admin can choose to limit access to company data when employees are within their office or during work hours only.
Attribute-based access control (ABAC)
ABAC is one of the most flexible and comprehensive types of access control.
Whereas most access control types only allow you to specify a particular email address (to signify a specific colleague or customer), ABAC combines elements of rule, role, mandatory and discretionary access control into one, allowing system managers to have greater governance over who has access to a particular set of data.
The ABAC method can allow system admins to set different levels of privileges depending on the users’ assigned type (role/relation to the business), as well as being able to specify a particular time of day when access will be granted.
4 tips for managing access control
In today’s online world, the success of your business ultimately lies within your ability as a company to protect your most valuable assets. History has shown us that data and intellectual property is of far greater value than physical hardware.
In industries such as Finance and Insurance – which are both heavily regulated– failing to adequately manage access control could have vast financial and legal repercussions for your company.
Tip 1: Be selective over who has access
Managing access control is imperative for any business, regardless of your company’s size or industry. The most obvious way to successfully manage access control is to be selective over who gets access to your data.
Utilizing any of the types of access control mentioned above will allow you to be selective over who can access your files. Suppose your company is still in its infancy and doesn’t have that many employees. In that case, we suggest you try using DAC, as this will allow you to individually approve and rescind who gets and doesn’t get access at your discretion.
Tip 2: Set access levels
Sometimes, selecting who gets access and who doesn’t on an individual basis is not possible. Large, multi-office organizations and even fully remote companies need everyone from interns to CEOs to access company data and work together efficiently.
Implementing an RBAC or MAC system in your business will allow you to have greater control over who can access what data on your system. For example, using an RBAC, you can specify that only staff working in your company’s Marketing and Business Development departments have access to marketing and research data. This, therefore, allows you to prevent employees within other departments from being able to access, edit or even delete particular files.
In addition to the IAM systems that we have explained previously, companies should also consider implementing a Privileged Access Management (PAM) system as well.
PAM is a subset system of IAM that gives specific users privileged accounts that have far higher permission levels allowing them to access critical company data and admin-level network controls.
Privileged accounts are usually reserved for c-level management, namely CEOs and CTOs, and have the ability to access virtually every facet of the business, including the entire IT infrastructure.
As a result of their power to access every aspect of a business, privileged accounts are extremely lucrative to cyber criminals. However, provided that individuals understand the importance of digital security, these accounts are a fantastic way to manage and set access levels for your entire business.
Tip 3: Update user credentials at a system level
Traditionally, the advice given to companies was to update your passwords arbitrarily throughout the year. However, scientific research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that frequently updating your credentials harmed the password’s usability and memorability.
As such, our tip for managing access control would be to make passwords randomly generated through a password manager used by a system admin of a privileged account. Doing so would allow the individual staff member to keep a unique and strong password without the need to update it every 3-6 months.
Tip 4: Consider two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a two-step process of identifying (authenticating) who is attempting to access a particular system or network.
A company employing 2FA will require its staff to use a password alongside an additional authenticating app or USB to sign in and access company data. 2FA is a great way for businesses to help keep their data secure and, when paired with an IAM, goes considerably further than a password ever could.
As we have established, managing access control is key to your organization’s success. However, being able to control who has access to company data also allows your data teams to create more accurate data analytics. Book a demo with Astrato today and see how we can help your business to harness the power of data.