Principle of Least Privilege: Everything You Need to Know

Principle of Least Privilege

Access controls, permissions, and privileges define the extent to which users or identities are allowed to use cloud computing resources and services. A privilege misuse can make cybercriminals easy to obtain privileged users’ credentials and harm the cloud environment. 

A privileged user can also harm by negligence or malicious intent. The solution to these problems is implementing the principle of minimal privilege. To make things easy for you, we have discussed everything you need to know about the principle of least privilege. 

What Is the Principle of Minimal Privilege?

It refers to an idea based on minimal access to the user. According to security experts, a user account in the cloud should only have access rights required to perform its functions. The identities’ access rights should be limited to the resources that are related to their functions. 

Any excessive privileges are unnecessary and increase the risk of misuse. The principle of least authority is considered as best practice in the information technology industry. 

How the Principle of Least Authority Works?

The principle of least authority works by giving only enough access required to perform a job. It reduces the risk of hackers gaining access to critical systems in the cloud and inflicting damage. 

Implementing the principle of least privilege helps contain the attacker in a limited function area and prevents them from spreading into the system at large. For example, getting access to a low-level account is not beneficial as the hacker would not be able to perform actions that can hamper the cloud environment. 

Examples of Principle of Minimal Privilege

The principle of least authority can be applied at all system levels. It applies to systems, processes, databases, end-users, networks, and all facets of IT administration. Here are a few examples of the principle of least authority in practice. 

A User Account With Least Authority– with the principle of least authority, an employee whose job role is database entry only has the right to enter database records. If the employee is a victim of a phishing attack, its scope is limited to entries in the database. If the employee has root-access privileges, the attack could be system-wide. 

Just in Time Privilege- Some users need higher privileges to perform specific job functions that are less frequent. Such users are given only time privileges. This type of privilege provides the user with root privileges for a specified period. For the rest of the time, the user has to work with reduced privileges. 

For example, a security team employee might require access to a password vault as needed. The just-in-time privilege gives the employee root privileges for a limited period when performing traceability. The just in time privilege gives disposable root credentials that only work in a specified time frame, thereby tightening the security. That’s why companies need to protected their emails with a DMARC.

Best Practices of Principle of Minimal Privilege

Conduct a Privilege Audit- the organization should conduct privilege audits periodically to ensure existing processes, programs, and user accounts only have permissions that are needed to perform their job.

Start All Accounts With Least Authority- The defaults of all new user accounts should be the least authority. Permissions can be added for high-level users at a later stage

Enforce Breakup of Privileges– the admin accounts should be separated from standard accounts. Similarly, the higher-level functions should be separated from lower ones. 

Make Individual Actions Traceable– Monitoring, user-ids, one-time passwords, and automatic auditing can make tracing easier. 

Make Audits Regular- Auditing privileges should be a regular exercise. It will prevent situations where older accounts accumulated privileges over time, which is not needed. This will also help remove dormant accounts that can be compromised. 

Benefits of the Principle of Minimal Privilege 

Improved Security 

The least authority principle reduces the risk of attackers gaining control of the privileged account and uses the opportunity to steal data. Limited privileges restrict the attacker’s actions and contain the attack to a restricted function area.

Limited Malware Propagation

Malware generally gains a backdoor entry into the system from a compromised account. The principle of least authority limits it to the small section through which it got entry. It prevents the propagation of malware to other sections of the cloud platform. 

Cloud security is an essential aspect of the cloud computing model. Security is a shared responsibility for cloud service providers and clients. While the CSP works towards securing the IT infrastructure, it is your duty of the customer to implement the principle of minimal privilege to keep hackers and people with malicious intent at bay. 


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