Access Control Security: 3 Challenges and How Zero Trust Helps
November 11, 2021

What Is Access Control Security?

Access control systems are one of the most essential assets in a company. Access control refers to the way organizations allow and restrict access to their resources. Once the identity and account credentials of a user have been authenticated, access control measures determine the level of access to be granted.

Access control involves recognizing a subject (user) and providing the subject with authorization to view or edit an object (i.e a resource or data) to complete a required task. Organizations use controls to prevent unauthorized access to their resources and make sure that users can only access objects via pre-approved and secure methods. 

Three core types of access control systems include Role Based Access Control (RBAC), Discretionary Access Control (DAC) and Mandatory Access Control (MAC).  

Related content: Read our guide to access control types (coming soon)

In this article:

Access Control Security: 3 Key Challenges

The following are some of the common challenges associated with access control.

1. Distributed IT Environments

A lot of the difficulties surrounding access control are caused by the sprawl of current IT landscapes, encompassing a wealth of cloud and on-premise environments. Modern IT environments are often made up of various hybrid implementations, which distribute assets over different physical locations and devices. Historically, companies focused their efforts on a single network firewall to safeguard on-premises assets.  Now, that strategy is less helpful as assets are now more distributed.

It is hard to keep up with continually evolving assets as they are distributed both logically and physically. Some examples of access control related security risks include: 

  • Password fatigue
  • Dynamically managing distributed IT environments
  • Compliance visibility across multiple compliance frameworks
  • Centralizing user directories and side-stepping application-specific silos
  • Data visibility and governance across various data stores and types

Modern access control strategies should be dynamic and flexible. Conventional access control strategies are static in comparison, as the majority of an organization’s computing assets were kept on premises. 

2. Authorization

Organizations often have difficulty with authorization rather than authentication. Authentication is the procedure of verifying that a person is who they claim to be—this is often done using biometric identification and MFA, in addition to traditional passwords and logins. The distributed character of assets provides organizations with various avenues for authenticating a person. 

Authorization, on the other hand, is the process of giving users the right data and systems access according to their authenticated identity. One instance of where this could fail is if an employee leaves the organization but retains access to the organization’s assets. Failing to remove the access associated with the employee’s identity could result in gaps in security. 

For example, the device the person uses for work—for example a smartphone with business software on it—may remain linked to the organization’s internal infrastructure, however, it is now unmonitored. This may result in issues such as unauthorized use and distribution of sensitive data.    

If the device of the ex-employee was hacked, the attacker may access sensitive business information without the organization’s knowledge, as the device is no longer managed by the organization but remains connected to the organization’s infrastructure. The attacker could access sensitive data or sell workers’ credentials or customer details via the dark web.

One way to solve this issue is to strictly monitor and report on who retains access to protected resources so that, if a change takes place, it may be identified immediately and permissions and ACLs may be updated in keeping with the change.

Related content: Read our guide to user access management (coming soon)

3. User Experience

Another challenge of access control is the UX design of access management technologies. If an access control solution is difficult to use, an employee could circumvent it or use it incorrectly, which creates gaps in security and compliance.

If a monitoring or reporting application is complex, then reports could be compromised as a result of an employee error. This could create a security gap, with key permission changes or security vulnerabilities left unreported. 

Zero Trust and Access Control

Zero trust is an information security model. It requires strict identity verification for each user and device attempting to access private network resources – regardless of whether these attempts are located outside or within the network perimeter. Unlike traditional security, zero trust models do not protect only against external threats, but also against insider threats.

Zero trust security offers a holistic network security approach, which incorporates several technologies and principles. Typically, it involves the use of zero trust network access (ZTNA) technology, but there are other components involved in a zero trust architecture. 

A change of network defenses toward a more extensive IT security model lets organizations restrict access controls to applications, environment and networks without sacrificing user experience and performance. This approach trusts no one, so there is no window for an exploit. 

As an increasing number of organizations handle their computing needs outside the perimeter of their cloud, security groups find it more complex to identify what and who should be trusted or allowed access to their networks. Consequently, more organizations are using zero trust as a part of their enterprise security strategy and trust network architecture. 

Zero trust also requires strict controls, not only on user access but also on device access. This enables you to monitor the different devices attempting to gain access to the network. You can then ensure that each device is authorized, as well as regularly assess all devices to ensure they are not compromised. This form of access control can help you significantly minimize the attack surface.

Implementing Zero Trust Security

Organizations looking to put a zero trust security framework into practice have to implement the following:

  • Identify sensitive data—zero trust demands that an organization prioritize and identify its data. This includes knowing where it is and who may access it. 
  • Limit and control access—adopting a zero trust security model involves putting limits in place for devices, applications, users and processes that seek access to the identified information. A least-privilege access control model could be restricted to a “need-to-know” basis.
  • Detect threats—zero trust demands ongoing monitoring of all activity related to data sharing and access, contrasting current activity with baselines built on previous analytics and behavior. The combination of behaviors, rules, security analytics and monitoring increase the capacity to isolate external and internal threats.

A zero trust security model, successfully implemented, incorporates the following principles:

  • Authenticated access to all resources—Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is often a core component of zero trust security. Zero trust sees all attempts to penetrate the network as a threat. While conventional network security may rely on a single password to grant access to a user, zero trust MFA demands that users enter a code sent to another device (for example, a mobile phone) to check that they are who they claim to be. Zero trust processes also include network access controls and access protocols.
  • Least privilege-controlled access—permitting the least degree of access is an element of zero trust security. It eliminates unauthorized access to services and data and ensures that control enforcement is as granular as possible. Zero trust network architectures provide access rights only when strictly needed, verifying all requests to connect to its system prior to giving access. It splits the security perimeter into multiple, smaller areas, keeping distinct access to different parts of the network and limiting lateral access through the network. Segmented security is especially crucial for mobile workloads.

Access Control with Pathlock

Implementing proper access control solutions can be a stressful, expensive, and time consuming process, but it doesn’t have to be. Pathlock provides an automated, real-time solution to automating access control across all of your business systems. Furthermore, Pathlock’s continuous controls monitoring can ensure that you are always tracking your compliance requirements around access control, so there are no major surprises when the audit season comes around. 

In today’s modern enterprise, nearly 100% of the financially relevant activity happens in modern applications like SAP, Oracle, Workday, and NetSuite. By connecting directly into your business applications, Pathlock can automatically provision and deprovision users in these applications to surface any violations to controls, and pinpoint and quantify the financial impact of any risks.  Internal and external auditors alike trust Pathlock’s reports to prove control enforcement and compliance with regulations like SOX, PCI DSS, and others

User Access Reviews

Pathlock supports automated user access reviews to ensure employees don’t have more access than is required.  The review workflow and reporting is completely automated, to ensure campaigns are completed accurately and on time.

Fine-Grained Provisioning

Pathlock’s access control provides the detailed level of visibility you require to stay in control and stay compliant.  Pathlock can provision beyond the basic role level down to the detailed transaction level (eg. T-Code level in SAP).

Real-time Access Mitigation

Pathlock allows user to quickly investigate and respond to potential risky transactions by reviewing access, deprovisioning users, forcing 2FA, or even allowing Pathlock to respond intelligently in real-time, terminating suspicious sessions and blocking transactions in real time

Out-of-the-Box Integrations

Pathlock’s out of-the-box integrations extend workflows to the other IAM tools you already have in place such as ServiceNow, SailPoint, Okta, Azure AD, SAP GRC, and more

Lateral SOD Correlation

All entitlements and roles are correlated across a user’s behavior, consolidating activities and showing cross application SOD’s between financially relevant applications.  Pathlock integrates to 140+ applications, correlating and normalizing user access and activity across systems.

Emergency Access Management

Pathlock reduces risk by providing a turnkey solution for granting and revoking elevated privileges on a just-in-time basis.  Furthermore, Pathlock monitors 100% of the activity performed with these elevated privileges, to assist with proving compliance mandates.

Learn more about Pathlocks access control solution