Role-based access control (RBAC) is an approach to identity and access management (IAM) where the user is given access to a resource according to their role at the organization. RBAC enables permissions on a need-to-use basis, ensuring staff members only have access to what is needed to complete their tasks.
Within the zero trust framework, role-based access control expands to consider user risk as one of the variables to define a user’s level of access.
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With role-based access control, the role of an individual user within an organization defines the permissions they have on the corporate network. This ensures employees can access only the information needed to do their jobs.
These roles are predefined categories and are based on certain factors such as the level of authorization, what responsibilities the role entails, and what actions are performed. For example, the organization can define the role of end-user, accountant, administrator, or engineer. You can also limit what the user can do—view, edit, create, or modify—with the resources they have access to.
Another component of the role-based access control model is limiting network access. Organizations with a hybrid or remote workforce often have different parties that require access to computer resources, like employees, contractors, vendors, or customers. An RBAC system allows them to securely access sensitive data and applications.
To implement RBAC, there are three primary rules to apply:
Roles can be set hierarchically, with higher-level roles also containing user permissions owned by sub-roles.
See why role-based access control is a critical component of zero trust security—and how you can leverage ZTNA to secure your apps and data.
RBAC enables you to control what every user can and cannot do with organization data, applications, and resources. You can designate a user as an administrator or an end user, aligning the permissions with the positions in your organization. In most organizations, roles are predefined.
If a user changes roles, you can add them to the new role group and remove them from their previous one. The user then has all the new group's permissions. Some examples of roles you may define in an RBAC model include:
You may assign a management tier, an end-user tier, and a tier for third-party collaborators for each of these roles. Of course, some applications and resources are shared by all users, such as communication chat rooms, documents, and desktop publishing.
Monitoring and controlling who gets access to your applications and data is a vital part of network security. This process gets more complicated when an organization needs to manage many employees, with some or most of them working remotely.
RBAC simplifies the process of limiting user access to sensitive information based on each user’s role in the organization. Benefits of implementing RBAC include reducing employee downtime, improving access control policy administration, and provisioning. Specifically, role-based access control:
Role-based access control provides many benefits to organizations. However, leveraging those benefits depends greatly on careful implementation according to best practices. When you consider implementing RBAC, follow these best practices:
Define your needs. Before starting with an RBAC implementation, take your time to map which job functions require what software and resources. This includes making a list of resources, hardware, software, and apps that require some type of security. List what roles need access to all these programs and note any regulatory requirements that apply.
Understand your implementation scope. Decide where you will start with your RBAC implementation, beginning with the systems and applications that manage and store sensitive data.
Define and assign roles. Once you decide on the scope, you can design the roles and permissions assigned to them. Common mistakes to avoid including granting excessive user permissions, a lack of granularity, and roles that overlap.
Write policies. Detail the security policies, outlining any potential changes. Clear documentation can help avoid potential issues.
Start in stages. It can be overwhelming to try and roll out role-based access control across the entire organization. Consider implementing RBAC in stages. For instance, start with a core set of users that need more data protection, then expand to other sections. Monitor the implementation by analyzing business metrics.
There are access control techniques that complement RBAC. Here are some examples:
Discretionary access control (DAC): In this model, the owner of the system sets the policies that define who can access it. This system offers users complete control over their resources. You can use RBAC to implement DAC.
Mandatory access control (MAC): In this model, a central authority regulates the access permissions according to multiple security levels. With MAC, only users with specific security clearance can access sensitive resources, as opposed to anyone in that role category. This model is popular in environments with varying levels of data classification, like government and military institutions. You can use RBAC to implement MAC.
Here are the steps you should follow to implement role-based access control:
Using adaptive authentication and SSO enables your staff to access the resources they need from anywhere while meeting strict security requirements. Citrix Secure Private Access provides zero trust network access to keep applications secure without impacting productivity.