Guide: Essential Enterprise Data Protection

RBAC vs. ABAC: The Complete Guide

Access is essential for many tasks throughout the operation of anything digital. The more we rely on technology, the more access points each of us will need to contend. One of the biggest issues can be deciding who should receive what access when you run a company.

The reasons for splitting the access can be as much for employee’s safety as it is for trust.

Therefore, many of us look toward identity management techniques to lessen the burden of this decision.

Identity management techniques protect your sensitive digital assets. Many companies and private people rely on these assets to safeguard some of the most precious information. Often, digital protections get based on lackluster details and, sometimes, a simple word of mouth. However, even if those digital protections keep your information safe, you should know what you charge with such important digital cargo.

So, the question remains, what kind of protection does it provide? How does it provide that protection, and will you know whether the safeguards fail or if your assets are compromised?

The importance of making a sound decision on whether to use role-based access control (RBAC) or attribute-based access control (ABAC) is undeniable. Yet, to start, it will be easier if you know the differences between the two.

Access gets granted differently under each technique, which is the primary distinction between RBAC and ABAC. With RBAC approaches, you can assign access rights to people in particular roles. By employing ABAC methods, you can control access by attributes like users, objects, and actions.

Now that you have the gist of what these two forms of protection can offer, let us look at the specifics. We’ll discuss:

Access Control Defined

Simply put, access control should be based on the concept of least privilege: you want to give people only the access they need to accomplish their tasks effectively. Yet, you never want to provide them with too much power, or you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

We must first verify that someone can access a system or data set before allowing them to do so. We must identify our users and then verify, approve, and track their access to protect our important assets. To be authorized to a system, a user may get identified with a username, and they get authenticated by something they know (like a password), something users have (like a token), or something they are (a biometric) (using biometrics, like a thumbprint or retina scan). After successfully logging in, we must establish what level of access a user has to the system. The procedure of ensuring user access accountability, which is outside the scope of this piece, would also be necessary if the data is highly sensitive.

After discussing the methodology and strategy for access control, we can delve into some of the methods. To compare RBAC vs. ABAC, we’ll first go through the basics of both approaches.

What is RBAC?

Role-based access control (RBAC) has more dynamic attributes to employ enhanced access control in modern networks. The network access levels define RBAC that employees have.

Employees must have access just to the information needed to do their jobs efficiently. Authority, job skill, and other qualities are some of the criteria that determine access. More features are available, such as access to a computer’s hardware that gets confined to specific functions, such as creating, modifying, or even reading a file.

It is so often that if lower-level employees do not need sensitive data for their responsibilities, they do not have access to it. This discretion is of significant benefit when you have a large staff, as third-party RBAC and contractor use of your network can be quite difficult to track. By using RBAC, you can ensure the security of your business’s critical data and mission-critical applications.

Role-Based Access Control: Exemplified

With RBAC, you may regulate both broad and detailed aspects of end-user behavior. Set up administrator, specialist, and end-user levels and assign access permissions to fit your personnel’s positions in the organization. Licenses only get granted to personnel who have a legitimate need for them.

What would happen if a customer’s work situation changed? One option is to give their role to another person, but you can also add or delete members of a role group using a role assignment policy.

Therefore, some of the important terms used in an RBAC tool are:

  • Management role scope: This term restricts the role group’s control over certain objects.
  • Management role group: This term allows users to either add or remove authenticated members.
  • Management role: Only a certain role group is responsible for doing this kind of work.
  • Management role assignment: This refers to the particular roles that members are designated.

Overall, a user is given access to all the roles inside the role group by adding them to it. Removing them means the people won’t be able to enter. Users may also be given access to certain data and applications for certain projects and then deleted once those projects get finished.

It is also possible to provide other means of user access which include the following:

  • Primary: This refers to a person’s first point of contact.
  • Billing: It pertains to a user gaining access to a billing account.
  • Technical: Technicians who are performing the tasks receive this access.
  • Administrative: This refers to the access given to those in particular who perform administrative tasks.

 

What is ABAC?

Access control that examines attributes, not roles, to determine permission is attribute-based access control (ABAC). ABAC gets designed to keep data, network devices, and IT resources secure by barring unapproved individuals and activities from gaining access to them—and all this happens by the organization’s security rules.

Before the early 1900s, logical access control in ABAC gained prominence as a new evolution of access control lists and role-based access control (RBAC). A new policy approved by the Government Chief Information Officers Council was in 2011 as part of a project to assist federal enterprises in improving their access control architecture. For information sharing, they proposed the use of ABAC.

The ABAC model uses the subject’s qualities, resources, actions, and environment to enforce access choices.

Here are some relevant terms utilized in ABAC:

Subject

The user asking for permission to use a resource to carry out an activity refers to its subject. In other words, it implies that a user profile contains subject information such as the person’s identification number, position, job descriptions, group and organizational memberships, management level, and security clearance. ABAC systems typically collect user names, passwords, and identification numbers from an HR system or directory or through authentication tokens used during login.

Resource

A resource is an item or object that the subject wishes to access. All identifying features, such as a file’s creation date, owner, file name, and type, and data sensitivity, are contained in resource attributes. The phrase “bank account = <correct account number>” might be employed in such a situation.

Action

The action refers to what the user is attempting to accomplish with the provided resource. “Read,” “write,” “edit,” “copy,” and “delete” are all examples of common action characteristics. In certain instances, many features define a single action. Referring to the previous online banking example, the attributes of “action type = transfer” and “amount = $200” may define a transfer request.

Environment

The environment encompasses every access request. Every environmental component gets linked to contextual elements. The system monitors when and where attempts to access the system occur, their device, the connection protocol used, and the strength of their encryption. A company’s risk management strategy might include other contextual factors, such as the robustness of authentication methods or a subject’s typical behavior patterns.

What is the role of use attributed in establishing access control policies?

The qualities or values of a component involved in an access event get referred to as attributes. That said, attribute-based access control is a method that examines the characteristics of components against certain rules. The attributed combinations defined by these rules are the ones that allow the subject to act with the object.

Each ABAC solution may enforce rules and connections based on the interactions of characteristics in a given environment. Access criteria are set based on whether properties are relevant.

Pros and Cons of RBAC and ABAC

Pros of RBAC

  • Roles are easier and faster to define and implement than individual characteristics. This option helps significantly with smaller to medium-sized businesses.
  • Automatically gives supervisors the permissions of their subordinates.
  • When it is possible to prevent role explosions, the costs of RBAC solutions tend to be rather affordable.

Cons of RBAC

  • The addition of new jobs is vital to the establishment of granular policies. This option is likely to cause a “role explosion,” which means administrators must handle thousands of positions within the business.
  • When there is a need to translate user needs to roles, it may be rather difficult.

Pros of ABAC

  • Define an access control policy with granularity. Administrators can select from many characteristics, allowing them to create rules tailored to their needs.
  • There is no need to change existing regulations to accommodate new users. All that gets required of administrators is to give appropriate qualities to the newcomers.
  • Modifying characteristics rather than creating new roles are far more straightforward when revoking or adding permissions.

Cons of ABAC

  • It can be difficult to put into practice, especially in time-constrained situations.
  • Recovering from a failed ABAC deployment can be a time-consuming and complex process.
  • When it comes to ABAC implementation, additional time, resources, and expensive tooling are required, adding to the total cost. On the other hand, a successful ABAC deployment can prove to be a financially sustainable and future-proof investment.

When Should I Use RBAC?

As a result, RBAC enables fine-grained control while still providing a straightforward, manageable method to access management that is less prone to mistake than individually giving rights.

This option can help decrease cybersecurity risks, secure sensitive data, and ensure that workers only have access to information and execute activities necessary to accomplish their tasks effectively and efficiently. The idea of least privilege gets used to describe this situation.

This operating strategy is necessary because RBAC gets used in large companies where You must grant access to hundreds or even thousands of employees by their jobs and responsibilities. It is becoming increasingly common among smaller businesses since it is typically less difficult to administer than access control lists, which is a benefit.

As long as you stick carefully to the role criteria, access control becomes simpler after RBAC gets implemented. According to a 2010 research for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by the Research Triangle Institute, RBAC lowers employee downtime, enhances provisioning, and allows for more effective management of access control policies.

When Should I Use ABAC?

Here are some examples of how to make use of ABAC:

Workgroups with a wide range of geographical backgrounds: ABAC is an excellent option for your business needs if you have diversified members. You can restrict access based on employee type, location, and business hours. You might only allow access during business hours for a branch located in a certain time zone.

It is also preferable to use ABAC for workgroups with a set start and end time. Some critical papers or systems should not be accessible outside of office hours for security and privacy purposes. Subsequently, ABAC systems enable the implementation of time-based rules.

Enterprises that value innovation: ABAC is an excellent choice since creative firms frequently use their files in novel ways. Sometimes everyone needs to see particular papers, while other times just a small number of individuals need to see them. Access requirements differ depending on the document, not on the roles. Examples include files created by the creative team of your firm, which may consist of artists, writers, and files that get shared between other employees. However, personnel, such as billing departments and account executives may require access to that data. And the marketing team may want to share them.

Nevertheless, ABAC is the most effective solution for dealing with the intricacy of who should view these papers and how they should get treated.

RBAC VS ABAC: Which is Better?

Generally speaking, if RBAC is sufficient, you should use it first before implementing ABAC access control. Neither of these access control procedures is a filter, with ABAC being the more complicated of the two and requiring more processing power and time to complete. In the absence of a pressing necessity, there is no sense in employing a more powerful filter and incurring the associated resource expenditure.

In either case, it is critical to utilize the smallest number of RBAC and ABAC filters possible when structuring your access and security environment. It might be beneficial to properly plan out your directory data and access techniques to avoid utilizing unneeded filters or making things excessively difficult.

When used in conjunction, RBAC and ABAC may create a hierarchical access control system, with wide access enforced by RBAC protocols and more sophisticated access controlled by ABAC. Alternatively, the system would first utilize RBAC to identify who has access to a resource and then ABAC to decide what they can do with the aid and when they may access it.

Examples of Role-Based Access Control

It is possible to regulate what end users may do at the board, departmental, and granular levels using RBAC. Depending on the user’s position in the organization, you may specify whether the user is an administrator or a normal user. You can align responsibilities and permissions based on the user’s position in the organization.

The fundamental concept is to grant an employee just the level of access necessary to do their duties.

If an employee’s job description changes, you may need to add or remove them from their existing role group due to the change.

When a user gets added to a role group, they gain access to all the permissions associated with that group. If they get deleted, access to the site is severely restricted. Users can also earn temporary access to certain data or applications to perform a task and then get withdrawn from the system after that.

Here are some applications of Role-Based Access Control:

Industry
RBAC Applied
Software Engineering
Access to GCP, AWS, and GitHub
Marketing
Access HubSpot, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, and Google Ads
Finance
Access to Xero and ADP
Human Resources
Access to Lever and BambooHR

There may be a management tier and an individual contributor tier in each of these industries above. Each position has a different degree of access inside the particular apps provided to each role.

Examples of Attribute-Based Access Control

ABAC systems intelligently examine how attributes interact in an environment and build a set of rules that will determine which features are warranted access based on whether or not specified circumstances are satisfied by a user.

Or, to put it another way, the ABAC system creates policies to specify which combinations of the user, subject, and environmental attributes are required for a certain action to be performed with an object or resource. They make use of these regulations to determine who gets access and who doesn’t.

Another instance of the power of ABAC is when you wish to allow just people from the western United States part of your sales team to see prospects.

Here’s an example of how it operates: Once a trigger is activated, the ABAC tool will run scans to verify if the values in attributes meet existing regulations. However, users may access it if they do. If a salesperson is working on the west coast and seeking to examine sales prospect information, this describes them.

ABAC use cases can get better understood with the following examples:

  • A reassigned engineer can access project-specific information but not information relating to their former assignment.
  • Account executives transferred to a new region have access to accounts and goods in their new area of responsibility, but they can no longer access information from their previous jurisdiction.
  • If a financial manager is in the US, they can only download documents when physically in the country.
  • Only the HR manager in charge of a business unit or national operation may access the PII data of the personnel in their domain.

Using RBAC Together with ABAC

There will be instances when neither RBAC nor ABAC will be the optimal option for all of the use cases you require. That is why most companies employ a hybrid system, in which high-level access gets granted through RBAC, and fine-grained controls inside that structure receive admittance by ABAC, respectively.

With RBAC, ABAC offers the simplicity of RBAC policies while maintaining the flexibility of ABAC policies and dynamic decision-making. The introduction of a hybrid solution, which combines RBAC and ABAC, provides the ability to define and enforce rules based on individual profiles and business environment characteristics, making the solution future-ready.

ARBAC, or attribute-enabled role-based access control, may also impose obligatory access control on specific features while still enabling discretionary access control through ‘job functions’ that have benefited depending on the user’s employment type. The risk-adaptable access control concept, where access rights may be mutually exclusive by rules relating to the partition of tasks, can also be implemented using ARBAC.

By integrating the IT and business frameworks, the ARBAC hybrid method allows the system to utilize both. Basic access can be received automatically, but you may also customize access for particular people based on the structure of your organization. Users with certain job duties can be subject to further limits by allowing roles to be defined based on attributes, saving time and eliminating the need to search and reconfigure. If characteristics govern their access, it’s much easier to determine the appropriate access level for individuals in a large firm with several business units and workers with multiple functions.

This hybrid system streamlines access to worker accounts, making it simpler for companies to decide who gets what. When a user-centric control interface gets paired with the methodology, IT can finally outsource user onboarding and offboarding to the business decision-makers.

RBAC vs. ABAC: The Best Access Control Model Depends on what You Need

Using RBAC and ABAC to control access to data in your system are both legitimate methods of data access control. Which one will work best for you will get determined by several factors, including:

What is the size of your company? RBAC does not scale well because when more people and resources get added, more roles are required to specify specific permissions, making it difficult to scale effectively. If you work for a large corporation, ABAC is most likely the best option for you. Yes, it will take more time to set up, but it will be less difficult to manage in the long term.

What level of complexity do you require in your authorization strategy? Overall, you should strive to implement the most straightforward type of access control feasible. If RBAC will suffice, go ahead and use it. It is necessary to utilize ABAC if you want more comprehensive permissions or examine variables not associated with roles (such as device type, location, or time).

The good news is that you are not obligated to decide at all. You can utilize RBAC and ABAC in conjunction with one another. A popular strategy is to start with RBAC and retain it as the overall access model. Gradually layer ABAC on top to fine-tune security for specific users, resources, and processes as the model evolves.

Takeaway

A critical difference between RBAC and ABAC is that one is static, and the other is dynamic. RBAC uses roles to determine who can access certain information, which is generally consistent within an organization. Meanwhile, ABAC uses more dynamic attributes, for example, changing when a user accesses a resource from a different device or IP address.

The advantages and disadvantages of each approach are as follows: Once established, you may automate the ABAC system to update permissions and needs less overall management. The platform is also safe when it gets set up appropriately. The ABAC technique, while powerful, is also sophisticated and difficult to use in different environments, and the use of complicated attribute sets can be challenging. It’s challenging to audit for compliance since you must review every item against your access policy rather than just your user access controls.

On the other hand, RBAC is extremely efficient and has the potential to streamline the compliance procedure. Due to the simplicity of RBAC, you can easily track how individuals access resources following their roles and responsibilities. It also adheres to the adage, “Complexity is the enemy of security,” because the setup is simple to operate, enabling you to restrict data access to reduce the likelihood of data breaches occurring.

One drawback of RBAC is that it can complicate the administration of your environment including a range of sophisticated roles with diverse permissions. While ABAC can be automated, RBAC is not, thus as your environment grows more complicated, the manual control of access management increases (and by that fact, more prone to errors).

RBAC & ABAC With Satori

Satori makes it easy to streamline data access and apply RBAC and ABAC to your data warehouses, data lakes, and databases.  The security policies and access controls are set de-coupled from the data infrastructure and allow you to create granular yet straightforward policies and apply them across your data estate.

To learn more visit our product page, or set up a demo.

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