What Risks Can You Mitigate with the Least Privilege Principle and How?


As companies and organizations continue to deal with the growing number of attacks that take advantage of poor security measures, one concept has come to the forefront: the Principle of Least Privilege. However, what does “the principle of least privilege” mean as applied to security?

While it may sound simple in theory, adhering to this principle requires a lot more effort than you might think. Even if you don’t know the term, you’ve likely seen it in action.

What is the Principle of Least Privilege?

The idea of the Least Privilege Principle is simple: an application or user should be given only the minimal privileges to perform their work. It works in tandem with another common security tactic: least-privileged access management, limiting how users interact with systems and data.

If you break it down completely, this means that employees should only be able to access the minimum amount of information needed for their job. For example, an administrator with regular user privileges would need to reduce their rights before working on sensitive data.

Why is Least Privilege Important?

The idea may seem overly simplified, but it’s actually an essential part of ensuring your company’s cyber-security. It may be especially true for companies that are dealing with external attacks. 

By giving employees access to only their own information (and the company systems), there is less risk of an attacker leveraging this information against your business.

Additionally, if something does happen and you need to conduct an internal investigation, having fewer users to monitor makes the process much easier. It is why answering the question, ‘what does “the principle of least privilege” mean as applied to security?’ is essential.

Mitigating Risk with Least Privilege

The least privilege is important because it helps to mitigate risk. When you limit an employee’s access, you’re reducing the chances that they will be able to do damage if they are compromised. Even if an attacker gets into your system, they will only have access to the information they are supposed to have.

Here are some common risks it can mitigate.

1. Data Breach

If a company’s workforce is unaware of public or private information, it can be challenging to know when an employee has been breached.  By limiting the amount of data that each person can access, you can ensure there isn’t sensitive information in their hands if they become compromised and attackers don’t gain any insight they were not meant to have.

2. Business Disruption/Damage

By limiting the possible security breaches, you can prevent an attacker from doing too much damage to your business. By only enabling access to what they need for their job, you remove the possibility of downtime or any other issues due to their actions.

3. Duty Separation

If your company is working with highly sensitive data, it’s common for employees to complete different duties based on their work area. With this approach, each person can access only their portion of the information. It makes it easier to manage which teams have access to specific information and reduces the risk of a data breach or other issue.

4. Risks of Dormant Identities

If you have multiple employees who leave the company, it’s essential to disable their access as soon as possible. Leaving dormant accounts open can create a security risk. By disabling access and ceasing privileges, you can ensure that former employees no longer have access to your systems or data.

5. IAM Misconfiguration

When you release information to the wrong user, it can cause severe damage to your business. It often occurs when an IAM configuration error or other problem gives employees access that they shouldn’t have. If you monitor and limit their access, this mistake is less likely to occur.

6. Compliance Violations

If your company is subjected to compliance regulations, you likely have records on what information each employee can access. If they are given access to more than what they need, it may cause compliance issues. 

By monitoring which employees have access to which specific accounts and data, you can quickly correct any discrepancies and avoid penalties.

7. Social Engineering Attacks

Employees are often the target of social engineering attacks. By tricking someone into giving away their password or other confidential information, an attacker can access your systems. However, if employees have limited access, it makes it much more difficult for the attacker to get the information they need. 

So, don’t get confused when somebody asks you, “what does “the principle of least privilege” mean as applied to security? “ 

Knowing ahead of time what it means for your company can ensure you can be confident about your knowledge and how to resolve the principle of least privilege. 

How Can a Cloud Security Platform Help?

A cloud security platform can help your business implement the least privilege principle. You can easily see which employees have too much access and make changes as needed by providing a centralized location for monitoring employee access. 

When looking for a cloud security platform, it’s crucial to select a provider who offers full user access tracking.