How to implement role-based access control?

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Apr 30, 2024

how to implement rbac

According to Gartner Analysts, by 2026, more than half of the cyberattacks will be aimed at organizations with weak or no zero-trust controls. Additionally, 10% of enterprises will have a mature and measurable zero-trust program. Zero-trust is based on the principle of holding back trust till something is verified—a principle that is both the present and future of cybersecurity, considering the evolving threat landscape. 

But what is the cornerstone of zero-trust security? In short, identity and access are the starting points to implementing zero-trust. Only authorized users must have access to critical resources, and user permissions must be constantly monitored and managed. That’s where role-based access control comes into play. It efficiently segments user permissions and minimizes the risks of unauthorized access.

In this blog, we delve into the RBAC model, implementation steps, and its comparison with other access control mechanisms. 

What is Role-based Access Control?

Role-based access control is an access management approach where minimum necessary permissions are assigned to personnel based on their job roles to restrict access to pre-defined role privileges. RBAC streamlines access management by minimizing the risk of breaches and insider threats.

Steps involved in implementing RBAC

Implementing RBAC can eliminate the need to handle individual permissions on a case-by-case basis and streamline access management. 

Here are 5 steps to implement Role-based access control:

1. Take stock of the current environment

Implementing the RBAC model starts with the groundwork and assessing the current method of handling access control. This is done in two distinct steps. 

The first involves identifying key organizational resources and classifying them based on criticality. In this case, resources include sensitive files, databases, specific datasets, and views but also extend to specific functionality or actions that need to be made accessible based on privilege. This step helps you inventory data and data classes to decide what permissions to assign users. It also tells you the areas that are covered by RBAC implementation. 

The next step is to conduct a detailed assessment of procedures and workflows and how your users access and interact with resources within them. You must also consider evaluating security procedures, policies, and systems in place to help you determine if your systems are aligned with compliance requirements. Lastly, review how users are currently grouped or managed and how the provisioning and de-provisioning of user accounts currently stands. 

2. Define roles and map permissions

Much like data classification, this step starts with analyzing the organizational structure and segmenting roles based on the level of access. Once this is done, identify the roles that have not been created yet and map permissions to each role. 

At this point, it’s important to consider conditions and nuances such as temporary access, additional access, conflicting roles, etc. This is a very important step and will need granular attention to detail. It also helps group roles needing similar access to ease the assignment process. For instance, functional leaders or managers that require common permissions and privileges can be grouped together.

3. Integrate RBAC

Now that we have the basic structure ready, it’s time to configure RBAC into your current infrastructure. RBAC can be implemented at various levels and you can enforce a combination of rules. Here are some to consider:

RBAC implementation at the Query level: A query-level implementation specifies different levels of access and permissions within an application. This is done in two ways:

  • Granting a specific type of functional access pertaining to individual databases to specific roles or
  • Assigning custom query types to specific roles. 

RBAC implementation at Interface level: An interface-level RBAC implementation controls the views, interfaces, or screens individual user roles have. It ensures that users only access views or screens that pertain to their core function and according to the principle of least privilege. 

RBAC implementation at Component level: Component-level implementation is particularly useful when the gap or difference between two roles is not significant. It essentially ensures that only relevant attributes are visible based who is accessing it. This method not only makes it simpler by minimizing the number of screens but can also be implemented to show certain options to roles with the required access. 

Ultimately, the choice of implementation type will depend on the granularity of control required and the organization’s security needs.

4. Assign roles

Once roles are created and permissions are mapped to each level, the next step is to assign these to individual users. It is also important to consider non-linear workflows, such as those that involve two or more teams. This will take a bit of work since you will have to grant them certain additional permissions or create two separate roles for such instances. Once this is done, the system should effectively reflect your organization’s hierarchy within the RBAC model considering all the operational nuances.

RBAC implementation doesn’t end there. Irrespective of which level you choose, it’s important to test how effective the RBAC implementation is. This means constantly weighing it against intended objectives, testing it for gaps, simulating real-world scenarios, and updating the system based on test findings. 

Constant testing not only helps ensure users are given appropriate permissions based on the principle of least privilege but also ensures that any gaps in the UI or data system are filled along the way.    

5. Run periodical reviews

RBAC is not a one-time task—it requires periodical reviews. Access within the organization keeps changing due to a number of reasons such as updates in compliance, workflow changes or shifts in roles and responsibilities, etc. And therefore, it must be continuously monitored and improved using a reporting mechanism. 

Access control also forms a crucial function within the onboarding and offboarding process workflows and therefore needs to be reviewed when employees join or leave the organization. So, these periodical reviews will also need to assess policies pertaining to RBAC and how the system aligns with them. 

Automate critical system access with Sprinto

RBAC implementation example

Let us take an example of a healthcare firm and implement role-based access controls. The first step is to identify various roles in the organization. In a healthcare firm, these roles include doctors, nurses, front desk staff, pharmacists, administrators, and auditors.

The next step will be to assign permissions. Here, the permissions can be as follows:

  • Admin: Manage all user roles and permissions with access to all records
  • Doctor: View and edit patient records, prescribe medicines
  • Nurse: View and update patient records, view medication
  • Front desk staff: View patient records, book appointments
  • Pharmacist: Access medication records

Using RBAC, the system will be configured to grant necessary permissions and there will be a periodic review of these access permissions to update them as required.

Sprinto supports role-based access controls and helps you review and manage access periodically. Here’s how easy it is to configure on Sprinto’s platform: 

  • Choose your critical systems from Sprinto directory or add your own systems
  • Delegate ownership of critical systems to trusted members based on their roles
  • Track access-related controls in real-time
  • Automatically collect evidence of access control practices

Ace Role-based Access Control with Sprinto

Role-based access control effectively minimizes unauthorized access and enhances security while ensuring compliance with data protection laws. RBAC is also considered a best practice for regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001, HIPAA, etc. Therefore, as a compliance automation tool, Sprinto supports RBAC. 

You can tag employees with one or more roles and define any conditions in the access control module. The access to critical resources is automatically monitored, and you get automated alerts when controls are about to fail. Features such as real-time access visibility, flexible review mechanisms, and adaptive policies make it easier to ensure robust defenses. 

Learn more about how Sprinto connects people, systems, and compliance effortlessly. See a personalized demo

FAQs

What is the difference between rule-based and role-based access control?

Rule-based access control has predefined permissions by the administrator based on attributes and allows for granular-level monitoring and control. It also considers the user’s resources and environment before granting access. Role-based access control manages user permissions purely on job functions and is easy to implement and manage.

What are some challenges of implementing RBAC?

Implementing RBAC can pose challenges such as defining roles, managing hierarchies, reviewing access rights and permissions periodically and integrating RBAC with other systems.

What are the alternatives to RBAC?

Alternatives to RBAC include Access Control Lists, Discretionary Access Controls, Policy-based Access Controls and Attribute-based Access Controls.

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Payal is your friendly neighborhood compliance whiz! She turns perplexing compliance lingo into actionable advice about keeping your digital business safe and savvy. When she isn’t saving virtual worlds, she’s penning down poetic musings or lighting up local open mics. Cyber savvy by day, poet by night!

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