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Access Control

Security is a top priority in the modern world, and for good reason. With data breaches becoming increasingly frequent, organizations must be proactive in protecting their valuable information from malicious actors. One of the most effective strategies that can be used is application security access control, which can help to ensure that only authorized users are able to access sensitive data. In this article, we'll take a closer look at application security access control and how it can help keep your organization's information safe.


Application Security Access Control Defined

Application security access control is the process of controlling who can access what information within an app development project. It is typically implemented with a set of security measures, such as authentication and authorization. This helps to ensure that only those who are supposed to view or use the app have access to it.


Access control serves a very real need in the development space - protecting an app’s data and structure from unauthorized users. Malicious actors are known to target applications for their own gain, using them to steal user data or disrupt business operations.


Data from Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Incident Report shows that an astounding 82 percent of data breaches that year involved the human element - most commonly through credential theft, phishing attacks, employee misuse, and system mistakes. It reports that robust measures like proper access management are essential to not only lessen the risk of data breaches but to also meet regulatory demands and identify areas of improvement.


How Does Application Security Work?

Application security access control can be thought of as a series of locks and keys - users need the right key to access specific areas of the application or system. Access controls can be used to restrict access to certain users or groups of users, and are commonly used in business settings.


There are two main approaches used when implementing an application security system: role-based access control (RBAC) and attribute-based access control (ABAC). The former is a way of assigning roles to users, which defines the type of actions they can take within an application. This means that only those who have been granted the correct role will be able to access certain functions.


The latter approach is more granular, as it allows for control of actions based on user attributes. For instance, an ABAC system could check whether a user has the correct clearance to access sensitive data, and if they do not, restrict their ability to view that data. The system can also be used to regulate who is allowed to edit or delete content based on their attributes.


Both approaches have their benefits and can work together to provide an effective application security system. However, it’s important to recognize that application security access control systems aren't a guarantee of prevention against malicious actors.


Core Elements of Application Security Access Control

Implementing an effective application security access control strategy goes beyond simply controlling user permissions or access to sensitive data. It also involves ensuring that user authentication and authorization mechanisms are secure and reliable - read below to learn more about the six core principles used to do that.


Least Privilege Principle (LPP)

The LPP is a foundational security concept used to limit the amount of access users have to data and system resources. It dictates that only the minimum level of privileges and rights necessary should be granted when granting access to users for any given task or activity.


Separation of Privileges

This principal advocate that each user should only have access to the resources and data necessary for them to perform their tasks, while other users are prohibited from accessing or manipulating these same resources. It's different from the LPP in that it's focused on the segregation of duties between users, rather than granting the least access rights.


Forced Access Control Checks

The purpose of access control checks is to verify that the person attempting to access an application or system is actually who they claim to be. They can include things like password protection, network authentication protocols, user authentication tokens, digital certificates, and two-factor authentication.


Thorough Upfront Design Process

are to take a well-thought-out, step-by-step approach to the design process that takes application security considerations into account before coding begins. This includes requirements gathering, risk analysis, design review, and threat modeling - each of which should involve stakeholders from various teams.


Denial by Default

The principle of denial by default requires that all requests for access to resources, data, or services be denied unless the requester is explicitly granted permission. This means that specific privileges must be assigned to each user or group, and they must be authenticated in order to access the resource.


Audit Trails and Traceability

If and when things go wrong, developers and other key stakeholders ought to have a way of being able to determine who accessed which system resources, when they did so, and what changes were made. Audit trails provide a record of user activities for the purpose of monitoring access control mechanisms and detecting potential security risks or violations.


What Happens When Access Control Isn't Up to Par

In this next section, we'll explore several real-life examples of what can happen when diligence falls by the wayside.


The first comes from the major credit reporting company Equifax. Back in 2017, its failure to properly insulate internal corporate networks resulted in a server-level vulnerability that gave attackers access to vast quantities of sensitive data. Using the credentials of actual high-privilege employees, attackers stealthily performed thousands of scans to uncover millions of Americans' social security numbers, birthdates, names, and addresses. While access control was in place, a lack of proper checks enabled cybercriminals to move through the system with relative ease.


Another high-profile example; the United States Postal Service (USPS) experienced a massive data breach in 2022 that exposed more than 60 million of its user records. Without proper checks in place on their API endpoints (such as two-factor authentication or an expiring token-based approach), the USPS was unable to detect the malicious activity until after the fact. This resulted in a deep dive into their system and caused them to invest heavily in revamping their security measures going forward.


The average cost of a data breach at

$4.45 million

Do you have that kind of money to spare?



Although it's very complex on paper, implementing application security access control ultimately sits on one core principle: awareness. Organizations must exercise a conscious effort to remain aware of the latest security threats and apply appropriate protections accordingly.


RBAC and ABAC are two of the most common access control methods available, but there is also room to be creative with other security techniques such as multifactor authentication (MFA) and token-based authentication.


No matter what access control methods organizations choose to implement, the most important thing is that they actively work towards protecting their data from malicious actors. Ultimately, this effort will be well worth it in terms of safeguarding organizational information and reducing the costs associated with a data breach.






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