How to Use the Principle of Least Privilege for Account Security


Privileged accounts, such as administrator, root, and service accounts, are common to all computerized networks. These accounts carry a great deal of power. It is, therefore, natural for hackers to target these privileged accounts to achieve their goal of breaching the system successfully. One of the most effective ways for protecting your privileged account from being exploited by hackers is to use the principle of least privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) limits access to resources strictly based on a need-to-know basis. It allows administrators, IT professionals, and users to follow a formal definition for assigning privileges that meet business needs. It defines the specific functions an account can or cannot perform.

When implemented correctly, PoLP can help reduce the attack surface and minimize the potential for privilege abuse. 

What is Account Security, and why is it Essential?

To understand why this principle is so crucial for account security, you first need to know what account security entails. Account security is the practice of protecting user accounts and their associated data from unauthorized access and use. It includes protecting user passwords, thwarting brute-force attacks, and preventing malicious insiders from accessing sensitive data. 

There are many ways that accounts can be hacked. Hackers access accounts through phishing scams, malicious code, application vulnerabilities, social engineering, and remote exploits. They can also use malware to swipe sensitive data from an account they later use for illegal means. 

The bottom line is that you have to be proactive about giving your users the best account security possible to protect them from these types of attacks. 

The least privilege principle is one of the critical tenets of online data security and should be implemented as part of your overall security strategy. It can help reduce the risk and magnitude of data leaks.

How Does the Principle Of Least Privilege Function?

Suppose you are a system administrator and create a new user account. Under this principle, you would only give the new user the necessary privileges to perform their job function. You would not provide the administrator or root privileges as this would allow the user to do anything on the system, which is unnecessary for their work. 

The principle can also be applied to a specific task or job function. For instance, many system administrators give users different levels of access based on their need-to-know status. 

Just because one user is authorized to access account information for one department, it does not necessarily mean they should have access to all systems within the company. You can ensure that sensitive data is not exposed unnecessarily and your privileged accounts remain secure by following this practice. 

You should also use the least privilege principle when managing service accounts. Service accounts typically run as a local system or domain service account. And since these accounts can access network resources, they need to be protected just as you would defend a privileged user account.

When deciding what services should run under a service account, it is important to pick only those services that are necessary for that task to be completed successfully.

 How Can You Implement PoLP In Your Organization? 

There are several ways to implement the principle in your organization:

    Implement Job Rotation Policies

Job rotation policies ensure that employees rotate through various departments and teams, which helps reduce the risk of anyone growing complacent or developing information silos. To help maintain the principle of least privilege, users should only be given access to systems and data relevant to their assigned position. 

    Enforce Rules for Separation of Duties and Responsibilities

Separation of duties ensure that only two or more people are required to complete sensitive tasks, such as approving invoices and making bank transfers. By requiring another person to perform the job, you can help prevent anyone from committing fraud or abuse and protect data integrity. Besides, you can also use methods like role-based access control to help enforce the separation of duties.

    Restrict Access to Systems and Data on a Need-To-Know Basis

The PoLP states that users should only be given the minimum access necessary to do their job. You can use group policies, role-based access control, or other methods to restrict user access to systems and data based on their assigned permissions. And when user accounts are created, only give them the minimum privileges needed to perform their tasks.

      Ensure That Service Account Users Have Only the Required Privileges for Their Job Function

As mentioned earlier, service accounts typically run as local system or domain service accounts. Since these privileged accounts have access to sensitive data and systems, it is vital to ensure that the users of these accounts have only the required privileges. You can use role-based access control or other methods to assign specific privileges to service account users.

Thus, the principle of least privilege is a fundamental security rule used for managing user accounts and assigning permissions. By following these practices, you can help reduce the risk of abuse and protect your systems and data from unauthorized access.

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