What is access control?

Access governance is crucial when it comes to securing an organization’s critical access points and assets. But access governance alone isn’t enough. To add another, important, layer of security and mitigate mounting cyber threats, an organization needs to add friction and visibility as well as reduce risks when it comes to access rights. It needs access control.

Definition of access control

Access control isn’t intended for every single access point and asset. A building doesn’t need to implement access control on an always-open public front door. But if there’s a high-risk asset or critical access point (like a vault in that building), access control can help secure it from threats. Think about a safe deposit box in the bank. Access governance makes it so only you, the owner, can access that safe deposit box, which is already placed away from the public in a secure area. Access control adds friction and increases visibility to that asset. It’s the key you need to open the box, the bank employee who leads you to the box, and the security camera in the corner watching every move. It’s the little details that make the box, and its assets, all the more safe.

Basics of access control in network security

Friction and visibility can be vague concepts, that’s understandable. But there are specific, tangible elements of access control an organization can implement to better protect critical information.

Fine grained access controls

Fine-grained controls allow an organization or even a user or a department (like IT or HR) to control and limit a user’s access rights. These kinds of controls affect how a user accesses assets, whether it’s adding time-based controls or a monitoring measure or a limit on how often access is allowed.

Zero trust network access (ZTNA)

Implementing a full zero trust network removes any implicit trust, regardless of the access or the assets. With this model, both insider and outsider access need to be verified and authenticated every time they request access. ZTNA is just one part of a Zero Trust framework that every organization should employ.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is a common access control that applies to the specific user requesting access. Think of the two-factor authentication you need to log into your bank account. It employs multiple methods (password, a phone notification, an email, or a fingerprint), to double-check that the user's identity before granting access.

Privileged credential management

Credentials can become major threats if they're not properly stored and managed. Privileged credential management is exactly that - a system that allows one to vault and obfuscate privileged credentials.

Access control best practices

Understanding access control is good, but implementing it on top of access governance is better. Once an organization has identified critical access points and assets that need some extra security, there are a few access control best practices it can employ to ward off cyber attacks:

1. Focused use of access controls

Implementing access controls can be daunting, especially for an organization with limited resources or capacity. One access control best practice is to focus on what’s most critical, and make sure that is the area with the metaphorical security cameras and keypads and laser beams. Implement as much access control as you need, where you need it. 

2. A combination of access controls

A longer password is harder to hack, and more access controls are harder for a bad actor to work through. For critical assets, employing more than one control to add layers of security is another access control best practice. Maybe it is multi-factor authentication and a time limit, or a limited number of accesses over a quarter, plus a time-limit on that access.

3. Implement zero trust for critical access

It’s easier to say you don’t trust users -- especially internal ones -- than it is to actually remove that trust when it comes to access. For critical access, an organization should make sure that every user, no matter how much they can theoretically be trusted, has to go through the same procedures to access critical assets. No special privileges, no one-off cases, and no slacking on access controls. Everyone is treated like a threat to make sure every asset is safe.

Access control in healthcare information systems

Now that there’s an understanding of what access control is, the next question is: How is access control used? A major industry where access control is routinely implemented and crucial to cybersecurity is healthcare. A healthcare organization has, understandably, a large number of critical assets -- like private patient information -- that needs to be both routinely accessed and constantly protected. In addition, large healthcare organizations have a vast number of users who require access to all of these assets, whether it’s contractors or different departments of a hospital, or just the various doctors and nurses in an ER who need to see a patient file to treat said patient. This is an example where those access control best practices would help protect all of that sensitive, regulated information. Those patient files are critical (and a healthcare hack can be costly with real-world consequences), so implementing zero trust -- especially for internal users -- as well as MFA or other methods, can keep everyone and everything safe. While the needs of an organization, as well its capacity and abilities to implement access control vary, a software solution can help ease that lift. SecureLink Enterprise Access offers fine-grained access controls for inbound users, provides the ability to store, encrypt, and obfuscate privilege credentials, and employs ZTNA as the main access method. Learn more about how Imprivata products can help your organization implement strong access controls