You may be asking yourself Why limited computer access may save your organization.
Let’s say you are an owner or an executive of an organization, and you just purchased a new computer.
Your IT department gets everything installed and updated your computer.
You try to install a software program, but your computer prompts you that you cannot install the program because you need administrator access in order to do that.
You are frustrated because you think your IT department might have forgotten to give you full access. They know that you are an owner or an executive, and that means you should have access to everything, right?
You reach out to them, and then they install the software for you.
If this happened to you, then your IT department is following something called the Principle of Least Privilege, and they did the right thing. While this may be inconvenient, they are helping you prevent a cyber attack.
So what is the Principle of Least Privilege anyway?
Imagine you’ve booked a trip to the beach for a much-needed vacation.
You’re leaving town for two weeks, and you have asked a neighbor to watch your house.
You give them a list of things you would like help with while you are away: get the mail, water the plants, feed the cat, etc.
You leave a key to the front door under the door mat.
At this point, anyone could find the key and gain entry to your house. They could even make a copy of the key and enter at a later time, but that means anyone else could as well. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?
You could improve the situation by locking your valuables in a safe then hand the key directly to the neighbor rather than leave it under the mat. You could also skip giving your neighbor access to your house thru the front door altogether.
The cat usually eats on the porch anyway, and the plants would be fine with a little sun, so you could leave them both outside.
The neighbor can gather the mail at his or her own house until you return.
By giving the neighbor the bare minimum access needed to do the job, you are implementing the principle of least privilege.
In network security, the principle of least privilege is the practice of restricting account creation and permission levels to be given temporarily and as needed and on demand.
The principle of least privilege model (also called the principle of minimal privilege or the principle of least authority) is widely considered to be a cybersecurity best practice. And it is a foundational step in protecting privileged access to critical data and assets.
Such a policy safeguards critical data and systems by condensing the attack surface, limiting the scope of attacks, enhancing operational performance, simplifying auditing and compliance, and reducing the impact of human error.
Over-privileged users, whether human or machine, increase the potential for breaches within an organization and the extent of damage to critical systems should a breach occur.
Without adequate control and protection, common privileged threat vectors, including hackers, and malware, may misuse, exploit, or actively harm highly-sensitive systems.
Even well-meaning users may cause damage. A 2021 study conducted by Aberdeen Strategy and Research found that 78% of insider data breaches are unintentional.
This is why the principle of least privilege is important.
Here are some of the benefits of implementing PoLP in your organization:
Minimizes the attack surface. Limiting privileges condenses the overall attack surface of your organization, reducing the ways that a threat actor could use to exploit privileged credentials to access data and sensitive credentials or carry out an attack.
A broad attack surface is difficult to defend. By limiting superuser and administrator privileges, you make it easier to prevent, detect, and stop malicious activity.
Reduces malware distribution. When users are granted too much access, malware can leverage the administrative access to move laterally across your network, potentially launching an attack against other networked computers.
You can limit the spread of malware by containing it to the small section where it first enters your network.
Additionally, least privilege endpoint management limits the computer users ability to install unauthorized applications, further reducing the chances of spreading malware.
Improves efficiency. The principle of least privilege, when properly implemented, improves workforce productivity. It reduces system downtime that might otherwise occur as a result of a breach, malware spread, or incompatibility issues between applications.
Meets compliance and audit requirements. PoLP helps organizations prepare to pass an audit and meet regulatory compliance requirements by establishing and maintaining internal company policies and providing an audit trail of privileged activity in the network.
Safeguards against human error. Whether it is human error, malice, or negligence, human users make mistakes and cause damage to an organization when left unchecked. PoLP limits the power of malicious users who choose to do harm.
Employee sabotage includes the planting of malicious code, changing administrative passwords, and mishandling data. But even well-meaning users may mistype a command or accidentally delete crucial information.
The least privilege access control model reduces the potential damage by limiting the scope of the action.
Imagine a new marketing specialist joins your organization and is granted administrator access to his or her personal laptop as a way to reduce IT support requirements.
If this person clicks on an attachment or link in a phishing email with full administrative permissions, the malware or ransomware could easily be installed without being prompted. Furthermore, the infection could spread across the network or email and infect other users.
Under the principle of least privilege, the user would not have this level of access without prompting the IT department.
Such breaches can have severe, real-world consequences. Nearly half of US hospitals report disconnecting their networks due to ransomware threats in the first six months of 2021 alone. Some even shut down their networks in anticipation of an attack. Such security measures may protect the network, but they certainly don’t ease friction for users.
So next time you have to contact your IT department to try to install a software application or an update because your computer will not allow you to do it, be thankful that your IT department is trying to protect you and your organization from a cyber attack! This is why limited computer access may save your organization.