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What Is a User Access Review, How to Conduct it and Four Tips for Success

Shiv Sujir - September 29, 2022

What Is a User Access Review?

A user access review periodically inventories access rights to computing systems and networks to identify users with access permissions. This control checks access activity, including who and what attempts to access these assets, what privileges they have, and if they are rightly authorized to have these access rights.

This process analyzes all parties with access, including employees, third parties, and contractors. The goal is to ensure that these rights are not misused accidentally or intentionally by any party. Lack of user access reviews can result in missing malicious activities by actors with compromised access rights.

This is part of our series of articles about identity and access management.

Why Is It Important to Review Access Rights?

A user access review is a basic best practice adopted by many to help mitigate many security threats, including:

  • Privilege creep—this issue occurs when an employee gains access to more sensitive data than allowed. When employees gain new responsibilities and access rights, they also gain access to new privileges. However, old access rights may not be revoked in the process of obtaining new ones. As a result, they have more privileges than required. Security engineers can synchronize user access rights with current roles while conducting an access inspection.
  • Excessive privileges—ideally, users should have only the access privileges they need to perform their jobs. However, the least privileges practice is easier said than done. When employees need temporary access, they often get permanent access that is not revoked after the job is done. A timely access review helps revoke unnecessary rights.
  • Access abuse and employee errors—periodic user access reviews can help limit access and reduce the likelihood of employee errors and access abuse.
  • Insider threats—the advantage of insider threats is inherent to their access rights. They can abuse their access to sensitive data and their knowledge about security measures. Creating an insider threat policy and deploying user monitoring, access, and identity management solutions can help mitigate this threat.

How to Conduct a User Access Review

This section describes the process of a manual user access review. The process can be expedited and made more efficient by automated tools.

Define the Access Management Policy

An access management policy should at least include these elements:

  • Asset inventory—list the assets that users can access privileges, including all enterprise applications, databases, systems, networks, and physical infrastructure.
  • Asset owners—identify each asset’s owner (i.e., admin, manager, IT team member, etc.). Owners must provide details about the content of their assets.
  • User roles and access levels—assign roles and responsibilities to users with granular descriptions. For instance, some roles only require read-level access to a resource.
  • Report types and frequency—specify the different types of audits and user access reviews. Reviews might run on a schedule or in response to triggers.

Conduct a Review

Once well-defined policies are in place, review databases, applications, and other sensitive systems to determine who has access. Prepare a report and send it to each asset’s owner. Owners should review the list to see whether access needs to be changed or revoked.

When systems are accessed by a large number of employees, it is common for reviewers to grant or deny access to entire groups or departments within the organization. It is then customary to notify the department manager of this decision to allow them to comment on it or negotiate access for their employees if needed.

Report and Iterate

After reviewers provide their decisions on user access, it is time to modify permissions on the affected systems. This includes revoking unneeded access rights and updating rights as needed. At the end of this process, it is advisable to create a new user access report and verify with asset owners that the changes were applied correctly.

Now that access has been aligned with the organization’s needs, you can evaluate how well your security and access policies are working. Inevitably, user productivity issues and security issues will arise. Document these concerns and share them with asset owners to enable an iterative process of updating user access.

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

4 User Access Review Best Practices

Create a Formalized User Access Review Process

A user access review policy is only the first step in this implementation. The next step is creating a formalized user access review procedure. This procedure should include regular user access audits to ensure you always have a record and employ a system that ensures the right managers and administrators handle these reviews.

A successful user access review procedure includes a consistent review schedule and a consistent review of users with access permissions. It should also include a record and ongoing documentation of changes made across the organization and a regular assessment of current permissions to ensure relevancy.

Implement Role-Based Access Control and Least Privileged Access

The least privileges principle is a best practice widely implemented to ensure security. It helps restrict access rights and privileges to only the rights necessary to perform a role. Role-based access control (RBAC) helps ensure that users within a certain role get only the relevant privileges to their role.

Alert the Business Teams to the Challenges of Reviewing Permissions

A user access review is a complex undertaking requiring all relevant parties’ involvement. Communication is critical to keeping teams motivated, helping them participate in the process, and ensuring they share issues that arise during the review cycle. It should be made clear to each stakeholder what are their tasks and responsibilities in this process.

Grant User Access Temporarily, Not Permanently

Providing access to users temporarily, and revoking it based on user activity and employment status, is one of the best ways organizations can protect valuable and confidential information. The zero trust security paradigm emphasizes allowing access only as long as it is actually needed and continuously verifying that the user and their device are eligible to access a system.

Temporary access not only prevents the risk of undue access and abuse by internal users but also prevents the risk of unauthorized access by outsiders who compromise existing user accounts.

User Access Review with PathLock

Pathlock helps organizations consolidate the access review process for all their business systems into one centralized point. This ensures consistent performance across all business applications to increase efficiency and lower costs. Pathlock’s automated access review solution enables you to produce review reports with the touch of a button and present business managers with clear information that they can easily understand and review. The solution also captures data on approvals, rejections, and explanatory notes, allowing you to quickly and easily produce evidence for your auditors whenever needed.

Get in touch with our ERP experts for a demo of our automated user access review solution.

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