What is Least Privilege, and Why is it Important?

November 5, 2021

The Principle of Least Privilege

Least privilege is an essential tool in your cybersecurity toolkit. When appropriately utilized, least privilege can increase security for your organization. But what is least privilege? How can you implement it in your business? Read on to find out.

What is Least Privilege?

The Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) refers to a concept in which a user is given the minimum amount of security access needed to perform their job functions. It is widely considered one of the most essential principles in cybersecurity. Least privilege should apply to all systems, services, administrator accounts, files, folders, etc.

Why is least privilege important?

Least privilege minimizes the damage from a data breach or cyberattack by limiting the scope of the attack. Most advanced attacks today rely on the exploitation of credentials, and the depth or severity of the incident can be limited if the user is restricted. Least privilege helps an organization align with certain portions of NIST and CIS security compliance.

How to implement least privilege

Least privilege is usually implemented as part of a broader cybersecurity strategy. Here are some of the steps that are typically taken:

  • Complete a full environmental audit and review/document/understand the access every user has
  • Implement RBAC (role-based access control) across all systems to effectively permit access
  • Eliminate administrator privileges (local PC, infrastructure, online services, etc.)
  • Avoid shared credentials and ensure all staff are provided their own accounts
  • Store privileged credentials in a secure password manager with MFA
  • Rotate administrator passwords after each use. This is to invalidate any credentials that may have been captured by keylogging software and to mitigate the risk of a “Pass The Hash” attack.
  • Leverage continuous monitoring of activity related to administrator accounts. This will enable rapid detection of suspicious activity and immediate alerts.
  • Use “just-in-time” elevation, which allows permitted users to access privileged accounts or run privileged commands on a temporary and as-needed basis.
  • Review all systems at least once per year to ensure permissions are appropriate
  • Disable unused accounts (e.g., haven’t logged in within the last 90 days)
  • Test that restrictions are effective

The Zero Trust Framework

Least privilege is part of the foundation of Zero Trust Framework. Zero Trust is centered on the belief that organizations should not automatically trust anything inside or outside their organization. Zero Trust means that organizations verify anything and everything trying to connect to a system before granting access.

Many organizations are accelerating their digital transformation strategies. During this time, they are shifting from traditional perimeter security approaches to the Zero Trust Framework to protect both internal and external networks.