Role-based Access Control For Hybrid Workspace


With all the modern businesses on the cloud, SaaS license management paired with identity, access, and user management is important. Adding RBAC to the mix, everything becomes much more robust. 

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is an authorization system that limits systems and data access based on an individual’s role within a particular organization. This role is aligned with user seniority and the department in the organization.

You can restrict users' access via two types of authorization: data authorization and feature authorization. Data authorization allows you to give users access to features of an application while facing restrictions on what data they can operate (accessed, created, deleted, and modified). 

On the contrary,  feature authorization limits the user's access to a particular set of features within an application. 

RBAC functions on the security principle of least privilege. The term “least privilege” means that an individual user only has just enough permission required to accomplish their job. The user should have the minimum privilege to use the applications and know the status of the jobs, create, delete or modify new files, print files, etc. 

With all the modern businesses on the cloud, SaaS license management paired with identity, access, and user management is important. Adding RBAC to the mix, everything becomes much more robust. 

Since the key idea behind RBAC is to regulate who can access and use resources and who can not, organizations rely on authorization and authentication based on log-in credentials. This reduces the risk associated with malicious users. 

Types of Roles

Roles within an organization can be assigned to team members based on their functions, seniority, and department. Let us now explore the types of roles under RBAC along with the level of authorization they have:

  • Analysts- Analysts have access to all the data to make their reports and find insights. However, they can't perform any actions inside the apps.

  • User- The user's role is to use the product to perform their core job. They can perform the basic functions but aren't authorized to make organization-wide changes or access any financial details.

  • Billing admin- The billing admin has access to the financial details and can manage team payments and plans. However, the individual does not have visibility into any of the team elements and can't perform any tasks or add or remove users from an app.

  • IT System Admin- The IT admin has access to all the details of the corporate and users' info. The admin can manage groups, team settings, and team members altogether. They can give or revoke access to apps to other users. 

  • Super admin- They have access to all the data, features and can make all the possible changes in an app. The role can perform all actions that billing, admin, community manager, and developer roles can do. The super admin can manage anything and almost everything within a team, including team settings, groups, members, and resources, to name a few. They can also perform all the actions on each of the public, team, or private workspaces and the elements they have within the team. 

Benefits of RBAC

The benefits of using the RBAC model for user access control are numerous. From the security to the flexibility point of view,  each of the following benefits calls for RBAC adoption.

  • You can improve overall security due to its relation to compliance, privacy, access management, and confidentiality, including other systems and sensitive data. 

  • Fosters separation of duties. This concept does not give sole control over a particular task. The separation of duties shields organizations as cyberattacks on one account will not cause much harm to systems. 

  • Provides granular control of the user or device access to help control, monitor, and manage applications easily. 

  • Fosters flexibility in an organization as IT teams can review and adjust permission related to particular roles periodically. 

Challenges Associated with RBAC

Nonetheless, RBAC is not free of challenges. The implementation process can be quite demanding, wherein any wrong step can lead to problems. Let us see what some of these challenges can be:

  • There is a risk of role explosion due to the granularity required for the access control. This can lead to complications of the access control, reducing the effectiveness of access control.

  • Another challenge is security risk tolerance. Whenever your organization is quite reactive to security risks, RBAC is not the best way of securing access to data, processes, and systems.

  • Sometimes, RBAC does not scale really well for modeling security policies within organizations. Through a robust identity and access management (IAM) working towards implementing RBAC, large-scale use of the same can be forged. 

Implementation Best Practices 

  • Build, understand and maintain an inventory of your software apps, devices, etc. - One of the initial steps in a good implementation of RBAC is to create a detailed list of all the servers, programs, documents, files, and records that exist in your organization. 

  • Set roles and responsibilities - You must carefully plan to find out what each member does and subsequently have access to. You also need to do this for non-employees like consultants, advisors, or third-party vendors who will access your systems, SaaS apps, data, etc. 

  • Integrate the system with ITSM- You must have an integrated system for timely support. Also, have a process for collecting employees' feedback regarding the adaptation of software and subsequent improvement. 

  • Stay put until your entire IAM program is mature - Implementation of RBAC very early in the IAM program can lead to greater chances of failure. RBAC might not necessarily require an IAM system. Although, RBAC can be implemented quite easily and efficiently if the system is in place. 

  • Assigning a role owner to portray each region from the business end - Identifying the people who have the best “insider knowledge” about the departments and giving them the role of the owners. 

Along with this, prepare a team of experienced business analysts and engineers who have good experience in interviewing IT staff and business owners in the RBAC program. 

RBAC vs. Other Types of Access Control Systems

There are other access control mechanisms that can serve as an alternative to RBAC. Let us see how these are different from RBAC. 

  • ACL vs. RBAC: ACL (Access Control List) is a table enlisting the authorizations associated with computing resources. It informs the OS which users can access an object and the actions that can be carried out. 

    RBAC is better than ACL for security and administrative overhead for a major chunk of business applications. However, ACL is more suitable for implementing security at the singular user level and low-level data. 

    On the other hand, RBAC fosters a company-wide security system with an overseeing administrator. For instance, ACL can give write access to a particular file, but it cannot tell how a user can change the file. 

  • ABAC vs. RBAC: ABAC assesses a set of rules and policies meant to manage certain access rights based on certain attributes like environmental, object, system, and user information. 

    RBAC generally depends on pre-defined roles, and ABAC is far more robust and uses relation-based access control. With the help of RBAC, you can find out access controls with broad strokes; meanwhile, ABAC gives more granularity. 

  • PBAC vs. RBAC: PBAC, also called Permission-Based Access Control, offers the flexibility to be fine-grained and coarse-grained. The same is not wholly possible with RBAC. PBAC supports both environmental and contextual controls, enabling the policies to grant access to resources at particular times and from set locations. 

    PBAC also offers transparency and visibility, helping visualize the relationship between the resources and the identities. This is the initial step in setting a robust access management policy.


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