Least privilege access is the principle of limiting employees’ access to only the accounts, documents, and data that they must have to do their job properly. Permitting employees to access high-level accounts that they don’t need to enter, whether intentionally or accidentally, can cause companies a barrage of problems, including occupational fraud. Implementing a least privilege strategy forces a business to be more aware of each employee’s specific job details and needs: which accounts and files does this person access on a daily basis? Least privilege strategies help businesses manage who is accessing sensitive information with greater caution and focus.
Employees who don’t have enough security training are susceptible to social engineering tactics such as email phishing. If they have access to finances they shouldn’t, an attacker could trick them into sending company resources or credentials, costing the company thousands or millions of dollars. Small security mistakes can lead to a wealth of problems. Limiting access to applications and finances can decrease the likelihood of such a breach.
Privileged access management
Many large data breaches suffered by companies come through privileged access accounts, or high-level accounts that system administrators and executive employees can access. Privileged access management (PAM) combats this by significantly reducing the account privileges of employees within an organization. Sensitive information such as passwords, databases, and encryption keys are just a few examples of company data that PAM should restrict. Accounts that may need to be restricted include domain administrative accounts, which allow users to add and edit other users within company systems, and application accounts, which allow users to make changes to company applications and software.
Some governing bodies are even imposing least privilege regulations on companies, knowing that data breaches are an enormous liability. Businesses may be forced to comply with certain privilege access requirements if they don’t implement PAM strategies on their own.
A zero trust architecture is not exactly the same as least privilege access: it uses the least privilege principle as just one of its features. Zero trust architecture requires strict authentication even for accounts and networks that users are allowed to access. Zero trust asks users to verify their credentials for every account, application, or network they ask to enter.
Both least privilege and zero trust principles attempt to limit the ways attackers can access sensitive data. As workspaces are forced to take greater security measures, either or both may be required for minimum compliance with data protection regulations.