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What Is Access Governance?

Access governance (AG) aims to mitigate the risks associated with unnecessary access rights granted to end users of computing systems. Access governance is a critical element that can help organizations build their compliance strategy.

An important goal of access governance is to reduce the cost and effort of monitoring and enforcing access policies, including organizational procedures like recertification. Access governance software tools help track access, validate change requests, automatically apply role-based access control (RBAC) or attribute-based access control (ABAC) policies, and simplify reporting.

This is part of a series of articles about identity and access management (IAM).

Application Access Governance vs. Identity Governance & Administration

While both solutions share common features like Segregation of Duties (SoD) Management, risk-based access requests and workflows, identity analytics, and control library integration, AAG goes further by introducing fine-grained SoD management across applications. It includes out-of-the-box SoD rulesets, mitigating controls, regulatory compliance controls, role mining and engineering, privileged access management with log review, and license management. These enhancements cater to the requirements of cross-application governance, extending the capabilities beyond the baseline features offered by Identity Governance and Administration.

Benefits of Access Governance

Access governance helps an organization monitor and control user accounts as a business grows in size and complexity.

Access governance minimizes the burden on IT administrators by automating processes and policies. Together with an enterprise identity and access management (IAM) solution, access governance can also provide comprehensive insights about access to sensitive systems. IT staff can see who has access to which systems, which accounts were last used, and who has administrator access, both at the individual account level and across the organization.

This allows IT and security teams to more easily identify security weaknesses, unused accounts, and excessive permissions.

Key Components of Access Governance Solutions

Key components of access governance solutions include:

  • Role-based access control — modeling access rights based on business roles, in line with the principle of least privilege. Employees and user accounts are grouped into roles based on department, job role, or other criteria. Instead of assigning permissions directly to user accounts, users are assigned to these roles and have access to everything their role needs. This makes it easier to revoke privileges when users switch roles or leave the organization.
  • Approval workflows — allows managers to grant access to the data and resources without the involvement of IT staff. Approval workflows allow decision-makers, also known as data owners, to define which role should be associated with a particular resource. Assigning data owners and allowing them to set custom workflows can help streamline the approval process.
  • User access reviews — regular user access review prevents unnecessary privileges from accumulating over time. Excessive privileges, or privileges that were once needed but are no longer relevant, present a serious security risk. Access governance solutions prevent the build-up of unnecessary privileges by sending automated alerts to data owners. The data owner must ensure that the assigned permissions are still in use. Permissions that are no longer needed are automatically removed.
  • Elevated Access Management (EAM) — enables organizations to grant real-time, precise access to applications or systems for both human and non-human users. EAM not only facilitates the elevation of privileges but also ensures that users can only access privileged accounts and resources when necessary and for a specified period to carry out essential tasks.

How to Choose an Access Governance System

The following are key considerations for choosing an access governance system:

  • User interface — easy-to-use interface that provides business users with an overview of access rights and details about their relationship to roles and responsibilities.
  • Support for structured and unstructured data — the solution should not only control access to applications but also to data across the organization, including unstructured data like documents and media files, whether they are stored in distributed file systems, cloud storage, or elsewhere. 
  • Support for accountability — a solution should enable the assignment of data owners who understand the business context of access requests and can make decisions on whether access is appropriate or not.
  • Compliance requirements — access governance is tightly connected to compliance, so it is important to involve compliance teams and ensure the solution provides all the requirements mandated by the relevant compliance standards and enables identity auditing.
  • Advanced capabilities — the solution should support authentication, auto-provisioning, and self-service access requests.
  • Integrations — the solution should integrate with existing identity and access management (IAM) systems and user directories and must support common platforms and technologies you might adopt in the future.

Related content: Read our guide to user access review

Access Governance Best Practices

Define Business Needs and Compliance Requirements

Businesses must comply with industry standards and regulations. Each organization will have different business goals and compliance requirements, with unique data access policies and retention strategies. At the early stages of access policy planning, an access governance committee must identify the criteria for the specific organization.

For example, a healthcare company might have a requirement to classify data according to content (i.e., if it contains protected health data). Another industry, like the legal sector, may require companies to classify content based on client information.

Apply the Principle of Least Privilege When Defining Access Policies

Access governance enforcement requires tight, well-defined access policies. An access policy is a rule that indicates who has access to the rights that a user should have when accessing an asset.

As a best practice in access governance, policies should aim for least privileged access. This means that users have the minimal access they need to complete their tasks. Access governance should ensure that only authorized personnel have access to critical assets at all times.

Connect HR Data to Access Rights

Human resources systems already track changes in job titles and employment status, which can help organizations define access rights and enforce access governance.

Human resource systems can be configured to enable access based on specific responsibilities and can provision and de-provision access when roles change. It is important to have a custom system for managing third-party identities and access because third-party relationships represent a major risk for the organization.

Periodically Evaluate the Access Plan 

A robust access governance plan requires continuous monitoring and periodic evaluations. Roles and regulations change, requiring updates to the plan. Organizations must determine how to keep up with these changes and implement the latest technologies.

Access governance policies should undergo regular reviews—at least annually, given how much can change in a year. Organizations should also conduct additional ad hoc assessments—for instance, when an acquisition or merger introduces new people, data, and tools to the company. Data and other legislation can frequently change in some sectors (e.g., financial services).

Access Governance with PathLock

Pathlock builds on existing Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC) to create a security layer based on the context of access, such as time, device, location, IP address, etc. Using Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC), Pathlock allows you to restrict and/or mask user access to sensitive data at the page and field level inside your ERP applications. This gives security teams the controls they need to not only determine risk but also mitigate it across ERP applications.

The solution also allows you to implement layered security controls within your ERP applications. The platform’s ability to mask data at the field level shields sensitive PII data like Social Security Numbers, bank account details, etc. While the Click-to-View feature allows users to view data when needed, it also creates an access log that helps security teams detect suspicious user activity.

Pathlock goes a step beyond traditional access governance solutions to provide a 360° view of authorization usage and behavior-based user activity. The solution creates user profiles based on historic access data which is then analyzed to recommend the removal of unused authorizations and detect deviations in authorization usage.

Schedule a demo with our security experts to find out how Pathlock’s adaptive security enhances governance and compliance within your ERP applications.

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