What Is Access Control? - Network Cybersecurity Systems (2024)

  • Taking Control of Access Security for the Hybrid Workforce

What Is Access Control? - Network Cybersecurity Systems (1) What Is Access Control? - Network Cybersecurity Systems (2) What Is Access Control? - Network Cybersecurity Systems (3)

Access Control Definition

Access control is a data security process that enables organizations to manage who is authorized to access corporate data and resources. Secure access control uses policies that verify users are who they claim to be and ensures appropriate control access levels are granted to users.

Implementing access control is a crucial component of web application security, ensuring only the right users have the right level of access to the right resources. The process is critical to helping organizations avoiddata breachesand fightingattack vectors, such as a buffer overflow attack,KRACK attack, on-path attack, orphishing attack.

What Are the Components of Access Control?

Access control is managed through several components:

1. Authentication

Authentication is the initial process of establishing the identity of a user. For example, when a user signs in to their email service or online banking account with a username and password combination, their identity has been authenticated. However, authentication alone is not sufficient to protect organizations’ data.

2. Authorization

Authorization adds an extra layer of security to the authentication process. It specifies access rights and privileges to resources to determine whether the user should be granted access to data or make a specific transaction.

For example, an email service or online bank account can require users to providetwo-factor authentication (2FA), which is typically a combination of something they know (such as a password), something they possess (such as a token), or something they are (like a biometric verification). This information can also be verified through a 2FA mobile app or a thumbprint scan on a smartphone.

3. Access

Once a user has completed the authentication and authorization steps, their identity will be verified. This grants them access to the resource they are attempting to log in to.

4. Manage

Organizations can manage their access control system by adding and removing the authentication and authorization of their users and systems. Managing these systems can become complex in modern IT environments that comprise cloud services and on-premises systems.

5. Audit

Organizations can enforce theprinciple of least privilegethrough the access control audit process. This enables them to gather data around user activity and analyze that information to discover potential access violations.

How Does Access Control Work?

Access control is used to verify the identity of users attempting to log in to digital resources. But it is also used to grant access to physical buildings and physical devices.

Physical Access Control

Common examples of physical access controllers include:

Barroom Bouncers

Bouncers can establish an access control list to verify IDs and ensure people entering bars are of legal age.

Subway Turnstiles

Access control is used at subway turnstiles to only allow verified people to use subway systems. Subway users scan cards that immediately recognize the user and verify they have enough credit to use the service.

Keycard or Badge Scanners in Corporate Offices

Organizations can protect their offices by using scanners that provide mandatory access control. Employees need to scan a keycard or badge to verify their identity before they can access the building.

Logical/Information Access Control

Logical access control involves tools and protocols being used to identify, authenticate, and authorize users in computer systems. The access controller system enforces measures for data, processes, programs, and systems.

Signing Into a Laptop Using a Password

A common form of data loss is through devices being lost or stolen. Users can keep their personal and corporate data secure by using a password.

Unlocking a Smartphone With a Thumbprint Scan

Smartphones can also be protected with access controls that allow only the user to open the device. Users can secure their smartphones by using biometrics, such as a thumbprint scan, to prevent unauthorized access to their devices.

Remotely Accessing an Employer’s Internal Network Using a VPN

Smartphones can also be protected with access controls that allow only the user to open the device. Users can secure their smartphones by using biometrics, such as a thumbprint scan, to prevent unauthorized access to their devices.

What Is the Difference Between Authentication and Authorization?

Authentication and authorization are crucial to access control in security. Authentication is the process of logging in to a system, such as an email address, online banking service, or social media account. Authorization is the process of verifying the user’s identity to provide an extra layer of security that the user is who they claim to be.

Importance of Access Control in Regulatory Compliance

Access control is crucial to helping organizations comply with various data privacy regulations. These include:


The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a security standard that protects the payment card ecosystem. An access control system is crucial to permitting or denying transactions and ensuring the identity of users.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created to protect patient health data from being disclosed without their consent. Access control is vital to limiting access to authorized users, ensuring people cannot access data that is beyond their privilege level, and preventing data breaches.


Service Organization Control 2 (SOC 2) is an auditing procedure designed for service providers that store customer data in the cloud. It ensures that providers protect the privacy of their customers and requires organizations to implement and follow strict policies and procedures around customer data. Access control systems are crucial to enforcing these strict data security processes.

ISO 27001

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines security standards that organizations across all industries need to comply with and demonstrate to their customers that they take security seriously. ISO 27001 is the ISO’s gold standard of information security and compliance certification. Implementing access controls is crucial to complying with this security standard.

What Are the Different Types of Access Controls?

There are various types of access controls that organizations can implement to safeguard their data and users. These include:

1. Attribute-based Access Control (ABAC)

ABAC is a dynamic, context-based policy that defines access based on policies granted to users. The system is used inidentity and access management (IAM)frameworks.

2. Discretionary Access Control (DAC)

DAC models allow the data owner to decide access control by assigning access rights to rules that users specify. When a user is granted access to a system, they can then provide access to other users as they see fit.

3. Mandatory Access Control (MAC)

MAC places strict policies on individual users and the data, resources, and systems they want to access. The policies are managed by an organization’s administrator. Users are not able to alter, revoke, or set permissions.

4. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC creates permissions based on groups of users, roles that users hold, and actions that users take. Users are able to perform any action enabled to their role and cannot change the access control level they are assigned.

5. Break-glass Access Control

Break-glass access control involves the creation of an emergency account that bypasses regular permissions. In the event of a critical emergency, the user is given immediate access to a system or account they would not usually be authorized to use.

6. Rule-based Access Control

A rule-based approach sees a system admin define rules that govern access to corporate resources. These rules are typically built around conditions, such as the location or time of day that users access resources.

What Are Some Methods for Implementing Access Control?

One of the most common methods for implementing access controls is to use VPNs. This enables users to securely access resources remotely, which is crucial when people work away from the physical office. Companies can use VPNs to provide secure access to their networks when employees are based in various locations around the world. While this is ideal for security reasons, it can result in some performance issues, such as latency.

Other access control methods include identity repositories, monitoring and reporting applications, password management tools, provisioning tools, and security policy enforcement services.

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What Is Access Control? - Network Cybersecurity Systems (2024)
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