How to Stay Protected from Common Attacks with Security Least Privilege Principle

Juliet D'cruz

Updated on:


Security is a top concern for most IT consultants these days. When there’s a breach, the company not only faces monetary loss but also loses its reputation. Security least privilege is one of the potential solutions that can safeguard your computing environments.

Implementing least privilege principles within your organization offers you the security benefits that help protect from common cyberattacks. Industries like education, healthcare, the public sector, banking, and insurance are more prone to such attacks since hackers target them the most. In this article, learn how you can stay protected from such attacks using the least privilege.

What is the Security Least Privilege Principle in Brief?

Principle of Least Privilege or PoLP is a security design principle that assigns privileges to accounts in a computing environment based on their roles. They’re granted only the privileges that they need to complete their tasks and nothing more. Put in another way, PoLP restricts access to the applications to the bare minimum.

The benefits of adopting PoLP are the following:

  • Creates an environment with minimum liabilities
  • Minimizes the chances of catastrophic damages
  • Protects the environment from common cyberattacks
  • Promotes a healthy network
  • State-of-the-art data security and auditing

How PoLP Prevents Cyber Attacks?

Hackers use various techniques to hack into computer environments. But one of the most common and relatively easier ways is to compromise privileged accounts first.

The privileged accounts are those users who have more access to the environments. They can access various applications, databases, and interfaces within the computer environment and make changes.

Hackers target these accounts and try to get the login credentials. It can be as simple as a phishing attack on the account holder. If they aren’t aware of such attacks, they might fall into the trap and give away the credentials.

Once the hacker has the login IDs and passwords, they can enter into the environment and make irreversible changes. Even worse, they may leak sensitive information on the internet for everyone to access.

The security least privilege principle provides a solution to this.

The principle limits access to the environment based on the role. This means, not everyone will have the same level of access. Only a handful of people will have the authority to access sensitive data modification. At the same time, the majority of the accounts will not have the privilege to carry out critical operations. 

Put in another way, the CEO or Vice President will have more privilege than a lower-division clerk or accountant. Giving the same level of access to everyone doesn’t make sense. So the target for carrying out phishing attacks will reduce drastically. Even if the scammer gets hold of the accounts, they may not be able to make drastic changes.

Using an extra layer of security on highly privileged accounts and training them on cybersecurity measures, you can foolproof your data infrastructure security.

PoLP isn’t limited to human users. You can set similar privileges to machines, bots, and API endpoints. So they will have limitations on what they are allowed to process and access. This can prevent automated attacks and even more serious attacks like ransomware.

Another common attack PoLP prevents is the SQL injection attack. In this attack, hackers try to inject malicious code into the SQL statements. They then elevate their privileges, thus gaining more and more access to the environment. Then up to a point, they will gain control over the critical systems. If you set up MySQL accounts with the least privileges, these SQL attacks will be stunted.

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Least Privilege Best Practices

If you’re going to implement PoLP within your organization, then you must follow the best practices. These will offer you the best security for your cloud or on-premise infrastructure. Some of the best practices are:

  • Before implementing PoLP, you should conduct a privilege audit. This is to check all the accounts existing on the environment, the processes, and the programs. The aim should be to ensure they have only the necessary permissions and nothing more.
  • When you start the implementation process, keep privileges to the minimum for all accounts. Add privileges only when required as you audit the accounts.
  • Separate privileges. So you’d have to keep admin accounts separate from standard accounts. Similarly, separate higher-level system functions from lower-level functions.
  • Adopt just-in-time privileges. In most cases, you should try to restrict raised privileges and allow them only when necessary. You should implement one-time-use credentials that expire after use.
  • Make every action traceable. Use user IDs, SSO, one-time passwords, and analytics to track the movements of every user. This makes it easier to track and contain potential damages or investigate a breach.

You can significantly bolster the security of your environments by following the above best practices. For best results, consult with a security least privilege consultant and carry out a plan.

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