All On Board

Least privileged access delivers most secure onboarding

Traditionally, security directors deployed physical access control systems to secure doors and IT managers controlled their networks. Physical security and IT security were managed independently and operated in silos. Today, this model is no longer successful.

The security landscape has evolved and new threats have emerged. Security teams need to do more with their systems. Security directors must transition from controlling access to doors and buildings to managing the identities that walk through those doors. Using a policy based identity management platform, organizations can manage access via the different categories of identities (people) that enter a building. Identity access management ties systems together to manage the different identities (employees, contractors, vendors, visitors), rather than manage systems.

The larger the organization, the more policies and procedures it has in place. A large employee population generates a complex identity environment to manage. Employees change jobs, move from part to full time, contractor to employee or from one department to another, creating a complicated and ever changing environment for managing access.

Physical security is difficult to manage. Most companies use cumbersome manual processes that involve numerous emails and phone calls to onboard a new employee. Approvals are needed from multiple departments before granting the appropriate access, which can add days to the process. The process is inefficient, wastes money and increases risk.

New employees, contractors and vendors need access to buildings, floors or doors, and for access to be removed when they no longer need it. Access is often not removed for terminated employees until manually caught or even worse, when there is a security breach. Large organizations often cannot keep up with manual access requests and audits due to lack of resources and poor processes. If a company cannot keep up, they fall out of compliance and risk heavy fines or sanctions against their business.

How should organizations best manage identities?

Limited Access Approach

The limited access approach grants front door and office floor access. A new employee must separately request access to all other areas he or she needs, even the access required to perform their new job. A secure option, but it requires approvals and processes immediately after the employee is hired. This option may hinder the employee because they do not have access to all areas required to do their job.

Full Access Approach

The full access approach requires that every person hired receives access to many areas throughout a company, either during normal working hours or around the clock. This approach may be effective for small businesses, such as a law firm where very few rooms need additional security, but this is the least secure option for most companies. A new customer service representative should not need access to the server room. Large organizations with facilities around the world do not need to grant a new warehouse employee in Florida access to the company’s headquarter operations in Seattle.

Least Privileged Access

The least privileged access (LPA) approach provides role-based permissions to new employees to obtain access to the front door and all areas needed to perform their job. Once the employee starts, they must request access to additional areas needed to perform their job. Access is then granted for a predetermined amount of time and automatically deactivates access when the time limit expires. LPA provides an electronic log of all requests and an audit trail to prove compliance.

LPA is the most secure and easily managed onboarding process. LPA works well in heavily regulated industries, and is sometimes required. Organizations can match up timeframes with regulations to meet compliance. For example, background checks may last one year.

Organizations can time access card expirations to match background check expiration to help a company remain in compliance. NERC CIP regulated industries require special training to obtain access. If an employee doesn’t have the training, they fall out of compliance. By syncing up LPA with NERC training, compliance is maintained and the company will not have to pay expensive fines.

Organizations can assign access levels per role within the company. A vice president of IT will have different access levels than a book keeper. Establishing roles in advance will create a more efficient and safe environment. Companies will save time and money, and eliminate loopholes in access.

Once set up, managing LPA is effortless. The data parameters entered into the identity management system determines who should have access and for how long. Organizations audit the parameters set up in the system to make sure they continue to meet company requirements, but that is determined by each organization. Essentially, once it is set up, it runs itself.

LPA is recommended as a best practice. It provides the most secure onboarding process, reduces risk, helps companies maintain compliance and save money.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Security Today.


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