All You Need to Know About the Principle of Least Privilege

by | Jul 14, 2023 | Cyber Security, Technology Consulting | 0 comments

Did you know that two of the most infamous data breaches on record, namely the ones at Home Depot[i] and Target[ii], occurred due to a compromise of their network credentials? In both cases, hackers used privileged user accounts to access critical business data and private records of customers. Knowing this, we highly recommend our clients develop and enforce security strategies to limit the access to critical data to only those users needing to work on the data.

The principle of least privilege is one such strategy that can be used to restrict unauthorized access of data from the different levels within your IT environment including applications, end users, systems, networks, databases, processes and so on. You can grant permissions to your users to execute, read or write only those resources or files that they need to perform their job. Additionally, you can restrict access rights for devices, processes, systems, and applications to privileges required to carry out authorized activities.

Managing Access Levels

In some cases, the assignment of privileges is done on role-based attributes such as the business unit, time of day, seniority, and other special circumstances. Some examples of role-based privileges include:

  • Least privilege user accounts — These are standard user accounts that operate with a limited set of privileges. Under normal circumstances, most of your users should be operating under these accounts, 90 to 100 percent of the time.
  • Superuser accounts — These are essentially admin accounts that are used by specialized IT users and often come with unlimited privileges. In addition to the read/write/execute privileges, these accounts have the permission to execute systemic changes in your IT network.
  • Guest user accounts — These accounts are created on a situational basis and often have the least number of privileges — lower than those of the standard user accounts.

Benefits of Principle of Least Privilege

The benefits of applying the principle of least privilege are many, below are some of them:

  • Diminishes the Attack Surface – As mentioned earlier, the role of an HVAC contractor was critical to the Target data breach. Given the fact that the third-party vendor had elevated privileges, one can safely say that Target failed to implement this important strategy and consequently created a broad attack surface for the hacker to leverage. Restricting privileges for your applications, processes and users significantly diminishes the attack surface and limits the ingresses and pathways for exploit.
  • Reduces the Impact of Breaches – By implementing the principle of least privilege, you will significantly reduce the impact of a breach that might occur because of unauthorized or unwanted use of network privileges. For instance, if a user account that has only limited privileges is compromised, the scope of catastrophic harm is relatively low.
  • Ensures Superior Data Security Capabilities – In addition to eliminating any security flaws on the periphery of your business, you also need to focus on minimizing the risk of proprietary data thefts and insider leaks. It is imperative to monitor and control the activity of your authorized users to reinforce your cybersecurity stance. Since the principle of least privilege restricts privilege elevations as well as the number of users that are given access to confidential information, it inherently enhances the security of your critical data.

There are many strategies businesses could and should establish to protect critical data.  The principle of lease privilege is just one but provides significant benefits.  Contact us at (915)587-7902 if you have any questions regarding this important topic.


[i] https://www.webtitan.com/blog/cost-retail-data-breach-179-million-home-depot/#:~:text=The%20Home%20Depot%20data%20breach,one%20of%20the%20retailer’s%20vendors

[ii] https://arxiv.org/pdf/1701.04940.pdf#:~:text=1%20INTRODUCTION,of%20personal%20information%20were%20stolen

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