Access Control: The essential cybersecurity practice



RiskXchange takes a look at how access management can protect your data.


Access control is a way of controlling who can enter a specific location and when. Not only does it protect and restrict access to sensitive data, but also allows different levels of access for different types of people. For those allowed access, they can only enter sensitive data through a control gateway.

The ins and outs of access control

Access management is the best way to protect your data and can be split into two groups designed to improve cybersecurity or physical security:

1. Logical access control:

Limits access to networks, computers, files and sensitive data.

2. Physical access control:

Limits access to buildings, campuses and other physical assets, such as proximity access cards to doors or zones.

A business might install an electronic control system that relies on user credentials, an intercom and access card readers that allow auditing and reporting to track which employees are allowed access or have accessed a restricted data centre. An access control panel might be applied to the system to restrict entry to individual rooms or buildings, connect them to alarms, initiate lockdown procedures and to prevent unauthorised access. 

PIN codes, key fobs, passwords or biometrics can be used to check if the individual is authorised, by checking against an access control policy. Multi-factor authentication may also be applied for an extra layer of security. The user will receive a code or security approval indicator via a SMS to their phone or message to their email account.

The overall principle of access control software is to authenticate a computer or individual by verifying their identity, authorising their access level and then storing their actions against an IP address, username or other audit system, to help with digital forensics.

How access management can protect your data

Access control is about restricting access to your companies’ resources, protecting sensitive data and managing your internal privacy settings. Any access management system will include five main components:

1. Authentication

The first stage will always be to prove an assertion, by proving the identity of a specific person or computer user. This process involves approving the identity of the user via personal identity documentation, by verifying the authenticity of a digital certificate for a website or by checking login details and passwords.

2. Authorisation

This level of functionality will determine privileges or access rights to resources.

3. Access

Once authorised and authenticated, the computer or individual will then be able to access the resource.

4. Manage

Access management includes adding and removing authorisation and authentication of systems or users. Some systems will sync with Azure Active Directory or G Suite, which will help streamline the management process.

5. Audit

Over time, users may end up with access they no longer require if they change roles, become demoted or switch to freelance. Regular audits help to minimise risk and bring everything up-to-date.

Why is access management important?

Access management adds an extra layer of security to your system and minimises the risk of unauthorised access to physical and computer systems. It’s evident that access control forms the foundation to data security, information security and network security. 

Access control is now also becoming a regulatory compliance requirement:

1. PCI DSS

Requirement 9 states that businesses must restrict physical access to their buildings for on-site personnel, visitors and media, as well as having adequate logical access controls to mitigate the cybersecurity risk of malicious actors stealing sensitive data. Requirement 10 requires businesses to employ security solutions to monitor and track systems in an auditable manner. 

2. HIPAA

The HIPAA Security Rule requires businesses, and their associates, to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of protected health information (PHI), which also includes the usage of electronic and physical access control.  


3. SOC 2

SOC 2 is an auditing procedure that ensures business service providers securely manage data to protect the interests of your organisation and the privacy of clients. For security-conscious businesses, SOC 2 compliance is a minimal requirement when considering a SaaS provider.

4. ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is a framework which helps organisations establish, implement, operate, monitor, review, maintain and improve an ISMS.

What are the many types of access control?

The main types of access control are as follows:

1. Attribute-based access control (ABAC)

ABAC defines an access control paradigm whereby access rights are granted to users through the use of policies which combine attributes together. The end-user has to prove so-called claims about their attributes to the access control engine. An ABAC policy specifies which claims need to be satisfied to grant access to the resource.

2. Discretionary access control (DAC)

Access management where owners or administrators of the protected data, system or resource set the policies defining what or who is authorised to access the resource. Administrators are relied on to limit the propagation of access rights.

3. Mandatory access control (MAC)

MAC refers to a type of access control by which the database or operating system constrains the ability of an initiator or subject to access or perform some sort of operation on a target or object. Whenever a subject attempts to access an object, an authorisation rule enforced by the operating system kernel examines these security attributes and decides whether the access can take place.

4. Role-based access control (RBAC)

An access system determines who can access a resource rather than an owner. RBAC is common where multi-level security requirements may exist – in the military, for example. RBAC differs from DAC, in that DAC allows users to control access while access is controlled at the system level in RBAC, outside of user control.

5. Rule-based access control

An administrator will define rules that govern access to the resource. These rules may be based on attributes like time of day or location. Rule-based access control can work alongside and in tandem with RBAC.

6. Break glass access control

In certain situations, people may take a risk that involves violating an access control policy, if the benefit of real-time access outweighs the risks. This is evident in healthcare, where restricted access to patient records could cause death.

How RiskXchange can help

RiskXchange is one of the firms leading the fight against cybercrime, coming up with novel solutions to everyday problems experienced at the hands of hackers. We are a respected provider of cybersecurity ratings and can demonstrate how access management can protect your data.

With full visibility over your ecosystem's entire attack surface in near real-time, you can regularly monitor and mitigate risks to prevent unnecessary exposures. Our passive data collection methods are effective and have no impact on your network performance. Using data-driven insights to prevent breaches is the best way to reduce an attack surface and prevent cyberattacks. 

About RiskXchange

RiskXchange provides a powerful AI-assisted, yet simple, automated and centralised 360-degree cybersecurity risk rating management approach. We generate objective and quantitative reporting on a company's cyber security risk and performance, which enables organisations with evolving business requirements to conduct business securely in today's open and collaborative digital world. 

RiskXchange is an information security technology company, which helps companies of all sizes fight the threat of cyber threats by providing instant risk ratings for any company across the globe. RiskXchange was founded and is led by recognised experts within the security industry, who have held leading roles within companies such as IBM Security. 

Find out more here.


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