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The Cornerstone of Cybersecurity:
7 Benefits of Implementing
the Principle of Least Privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)  is a security concept that involves assigning users the minimum access privileges required to carry out their duties.  It has become the cornerstone for cyber security guidelines and recommendations including: NIST 800-53r5, NIST CSF, The Joint Ransomware Task Force #StopRansomWare Guide and others. 

The failure to implement the principle of least privilege has been the cause of multiple attacks resulting in millions of dollars of ransomware payments and damaged brand equity.

What is the Value of the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)?

As stated, the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) helps ensure that users are only granted the necessary rights to execute their assigned tasks and nothing more. In blunt terms, this means avoiding the granting of potentially dangerous permissions, such as admin and control permissions, to every user. In fact, the concept is to restrict control functionalities to a limited and precisely defined set of users.

The Principle of Least Privilege is key for:

1.  Limiting access to sensitive information

This is the first, and to most cyber professionals, the most important value of PoLP.   Sensitive data (PII, PHI, CUI) needs to have all access approved and quantified and regularly reviewed.  Limiting access addresses both insider and outsider threats to this sensitive data.

2.  Limiting access to SERVERS w/ sensitive information

The servers themselves need to be locked down.  If an attacker has access to the server itself then the attacker can leverage this admin access to exfiltrate the partial or the entire store of sensitive data.   By practicing PoLP on server access the data stored on these servers become more secure.

3.  Limiting access to NETWORKS that hold sensitive information

A core component of the zero trust methodology is that users should not only be authorized to the data – they should be authorized to the network segments that hold the data.  Networks should be segmentized by function and then access should be regulated and governed by an on “need-to-need”, principle of least privilege basis.

4.  Limiting access in APPLICATIONS that enforce authorization to sensitive information

Applications themselves need to be locked down.  According to the zero trust principles, this is best conducted by a central authority, such an Identity and access management system.  But this is just the first step.  The access to these IAM (and non-IAM) applications should be regularly reviewed to ensure that  “privilege creep”, incremental access rights do not affect security and governance of the application.   Quantified and scheduled reviews are a must to enforce the principle of least privilege on applications.

5.  Limiting access to those who can modify the Access Control Policies

Hackers understand they can manipulate the principle of least privilege – by going right at the access controls that govern access.   This is exactly what the hackers did in the infamous Caesars/MGM hack of 2023.   They changed the access controls around the IAMs.   Access controls and the accounts that govern these controls must be continually reviewed.  It is best to have triggers on changes on the groups that manage the access controls – for real time monitoring.

6.  Limiting exposure to Ransomware Attacks

All major cyber risk bodies cite exercising the “Principle of Least Privilege” as a key to addressing the threat of ransomware.   These bodies include:

In fact – the U.S. CISA Agency released a #StopRansomWare Guide that called out the principle of least privilege as one of the key steps to enact to limit that attack surface (e.g. exposure to hackers) as a key mechanism to reduce the risk of ransomware.

7.   Ensuring Regulatory Compliance is met

One of the key justifications of good cyber practices is regulatory compliance.  This is all the more important now that these compliance measures (such as HIPAA, SOX, FFIEC and others come with penalties and even criminal liabilities if the mandates are not followed.   These compliance measures are almost all rooted and often copy the best cyber practices in the key cyber security frameworks like:  NIST 800-53, NIST CSF 2.0, ISO 2001 and CIS 18.  All of these frameworks cite the Principle of Least Privilege as a key component for a secure enterprise.

YouAttest and The Principle of Least Privilege

YouAttest is a purpose based tool to help organizations enforce the Principle of Least Privilege in their enterprise and thus reap the cyber and compliance wards.

The cloud based offering is designed to audit any resource and to make the process as painless as possible by integrating directly into the IAM for a simplified user access review process. (Reviewers simply click on a link, via email or slack, and see only the roles they need to review.)

Image #1: YouAttest automates the process of a user access review – enabling enterprises the ability to enforce the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) across all resources.

The most important part is that YouAttest can review key admin groups – in an automated fashion. YouAttest customers regularly review their admin privilege groups on a monthly basis – and log the evidence of these attestations. YouAttest can also provide triggers on these group policies, for real time attestations.

YouAttest uniquely connects directly to the enterprise IAM (Entra ID, Okta, Active Directory,  Ping, JumpCloud) and uses the IAM SSO for reviewing entitlements to BOTH IAM resources and siloed (non-IAM connected) resources.

 Contact us to learn  how YouAttest can automate your access review process and help your enterprise enforce the Principle of Least Privilege in your enterprise

 

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