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As applications, processes, and workflows become increasingly data-dependent, protecting that data becomes paramount. The information in question could range from personal data like social security records and medical histories to strategic business plans and financial data like employee banking and payroll information. Data access control is not just a guard against data breaches and cyber-attacks; it ensures that the right individuals can access pertinent data when necessary.

In this post, we’ll explore the concept of data access control, its functionality, importance, and practical implementation strategies. We’ll discuss different data access control methods and how these strategies can reinforce data security while boosting operational proficiency.

What is Data Access Control?

Data access control is a protective strategy that manages who can access, modify, or view specific data. It’s an integral part of cybersecurity and data management, maintaining the privacy, confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information through restrictions and permissions.

Not everyone should have access to every piece of data, especially sensitive information. Data access control manages who can access each piece or library of data based on predefined and customizable dynamic rules and policies.

Importantly, data access control isn’t just about allowing or denying access. It can set different levels of permissions, like read-only, write, or full control. This degree of granularity is vital in varied settings where diverse roles require different degrees of information accessibility. Whether it’s healthcare institutions safeguarding patient records, companies protecting trade secrets, or organizations limiting access to employee HR and Payroll information, data access control is a vital tool for data security.

How Does Data Access Control Work?

Data access control operates by setting up access rights and restrictions. Each system user receives an identification, like a username, which the system uses to monitor and regulate the data they can view or modify. The procedure initiates through a verification phase. This stage confirms a user’s identity when they input their username and password. If these credentials match the stored information, the system verifies the user.

Following authentication is the authorization phase. The system assesses the authenticated user’s privileges during this stage. These permissions determine the extent of data access and the actions the user can perform, ranging from read-only access to full control.

The access control system enforces these permissions by scrutinizing every data access request and comparing it to the user’s assigned privileges. If the request is in line with the permissions, the system allows access. Conversely, if it’s not, the request is denied.

For enhanced security, data access control can employ masking, scrambling, or encryption. This technique transforms data into a coded or obfuscated format, decipherable only with a decryption key or by satisfying specific user attributes. This extra layer of control ensures that even if unauthorized users gain access to the data, they can’t understand it.

In summary, controlling access to data functions as a meticulous gatekeeper, actively managing data access based on defined dynamic rules and policies.

Authorized vs. Unauthorized Access

Authorized access welcomes trusted individuals into specific system pages or data fields. These individuals have earned the right to view, edit, or share certain data after passing rigorous security checks. For instance, a finance department employee likely has authorized access to sensitive financial data essential for their role. However, their permissions may limit them from accessing unrelated data, such as human resources information.

On the flip side, securing unauthorized access acts as a protective strategy against individuals who are not approved to access or manage data. When these individuals attempt to gain access, the system identifies them as a security threat and denies the request. This could be an external hacker trying to gather information or an employee attempting to access unrelated data.

The aim of controlling access to data is to maintain the accessibility of the “open doors” for the right people, while securing the “locked doors” against those without the necessary authorization.

The Importance of Controlling Access to Data

Controlling access to data is vital for a multitude of reasons, notably impacting security, compliance, efficiency, and accuracy within an organization.

Security forms the foundation of controlling access to data. With the escalating threats of data breaches, the need to safeguard data has never been more crucial. Effective data access control acts as a protective barrier against cybercriminals, thwarting unauthorized access and ensuring the safety of sensitive information.

Beyond security, controlling access to data is vital for compliance. Regulatory bodies across industries require businesses to implement data protection measures. Companies involved with any part of the defense supply chain, for instance, are subject to ITAR compliance, which requires stringent protection for technical data. By enforcing robust data access control, organizations can meet these regulatory demands and avoid substantial penalties or banishment from industry or government marketplaces. 

In terms of efficiency, data access control enhances operations by ensuring only pertinent individuals access specific data. This eliminates unnecessary traffic and accelerates data retrieval, thereby boosting productivity.

Lastly, data access control bolsters accuracy. By limiting data editing to authorized individuals, it minimizes errors arising from unauthorized or inadvertent alterations.

Methods Used to Control Access to Data

Data access control exists in several forms, each designed to serve different needs and scenarios. Let’s examine some of the most commonly used methods.

Mandatory Access Control

Mandatory Access Control (MAC) is an inflexible strategy that determines access permissions based on information classification and user clearance level. Because owners cannot alter permissions, government and military entities often employ MAC to handle top-secret data.

Discretionary Access Control

Conversely, Discretionary Access Control (DAC) allows data owners to control data access. Despite its flexibility, this model risks data exposure to security threats if owners are not cautious with permissions.

Role-Based Access Control

A traditional access control security model is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). RBAC grants access rights based on inflexible parameters such as an individual’s role within an organization. For example, everyone in the HR department would have identical access rights, regardless of personal attributes.

Attribute-Based Access Control

Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) grants access according to user attributes and environmental conditions. ABAC’s dynamic nature makes it suitable for large organizations with complex and evolving user roles and application environments.

Policy-Based Access Control

The Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC) method controls access based on pre-set and customizable policies. These policies consider data and user attributes, actions, and environmental factors. Its detailed and flexible control makes PBAC a popular choice for scaling access controls across cloud environments.

Implementing Data Access Control

To implement data access control, we can follow the three steps to Zero Risk: Analyze, Govern, and Secure. Start by auditing your existing data. This analysis is crucial to ensuring that you know what data you have, who needs access, and when users need access. With this knowledge, you can create tailored policies and permissions that govern the future provisioning and deprovisioning of access to users.

Now, implement your governance choice and secure your systems by selecting a data access control method that meets your organization’s needs. Consider the sensitivity of your data, your organization’s size, and any regulatory requirements. Whether you choose Mandatory Access Control, Discretionary Access Control, Role-Based Access Control, Attribute-Based Access Control, or Policy-Based Access Control, it should be the choice that is most appropriate for your organization’s unique security requirements and IT landscape.

Lastly, remember to regularly monitor and review your data access controls. Security is only as good as the level at which it is maintained. Continuous monitoring is necessary to manage effective data access control due to the ever-changing data and application landscapes and evolving cybersecurity risks.

Control Access to Your Application Data with Pathlock

Pathlock delivers access control by focusing on real-time, multi and cross-application access governance. Our solutions continuously monitor access risks, maintaining updated knowledge of your organization’s access details. With Pathlock, you can streamline the detection and mitigation of access risks to avoid unauthorized access and potential data breaches.

Advanced policy-based attribute controls and attribute-based access controls form the foundation of Pathlock’s access governance solutions. These controls enhance standard role-based access controls to ensure users have access only to necessary data and systems based on their roles, dynamic customizable policies, and other contextual parameters, thereby enhancing security and simplifying user access management.

Pathlock offers extensive auditing and reporting capacities, enabling monitoring of user activity and access rights. This information allows for informed decisions on security strategy adjustments to best serve your organization.

Automation forms another key component of Pathlock’s solutions. Automating procedures like user provisioning, password resets, data masking, data scrambling, data loss prevention, event monitoring and notifications, and access reviews help save time, reduce error chances, and improve overall organizational data security.

Schedule a demo today and learn how Pathlock can help secure data access across your critical business applications.

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