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User Access Review Checklist: 6 Key Components

Chinmay Panda

21st February, 2024

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Safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring efficient workflows have emerged as pivotal priorities for IT managers across industries. A cornerstone of achieving these goals lies in conducting regular UARs. In this article, we’ll explore different components of the user access review checklist, which will help govern access effectively and ensure data integrity seamlessly. 

With your teams heavily dependent on diverse systems, applications, and data, overseeing user access to your organization’s resources becomes intricate. This is precisely where the user access review checklist steps in. It provides a structured framework to guide your efforts in systematically reviewing and managing user access privileges, ensuring access aligns with responsibilities and mitigates risks.

The UAR checklist cultivates a culture of responsibility within the organizational framework. By consistently overseeing and optimizing user access rights, you actively promote a heightened awareness of security considerations at all levels. This, in turn, fosters an environment where personnel are more inclined to exercise vigilance and discretion when it comes to managing access permissions.      

Before we dive into the user access review checklist components let’s first understand what is the purpose of user access review. 

Purpose Of User Access Review

The primary purpose of user access reviews is to verify that the access privileges assigned to users align with their assigned roles and to reduce unnecessary permissions granted to employees. It regularly assesses user access privileges, permissions, and accounts within an organization's various systems, applications, and resources. This practice helps streamline the systematic evaluation of user access rights, authorizations, and accounts across your organization's diverse systems, applications, and assets. 

Moreover, through the consistent execution of UARs, you can effectively curtail security vulnerabilities, uphold the sanctity of data, and diligently conform to pertinent regulatory mandates. To be more precise, UAR can help in the following areas:

1. Prevents Privilege Creep, Misuse, & Abuse

Addressing issues such as privilege creep, misuse, and abuse is crucial, and user access reviews play a vital role in mitigating these security threats. Privilege creep, for instance, occurs when employees gain access to more sensitive data than necessary, potentially resulting in unauthorized access and security breaches. So, privileged user access reviews help identify and rectify instances of privilege misuse where access privileges violate company policies. Furthermore, these reviews prevent privilege abuse, safeguarding against fraudulent activities that could compromise an organization's data integrity through unauthorized access, exfiltration, or corruption.

2. Enables To Promptly Identity Departing Employee

It is essential to promptly revoke access rights to sensitive information from employees upon their offboarding to prevent unauthorized access. Neglecting to remove these access rights could empower former employees or associates to access confidential data even after their departure, posing a risk of security breaches. This becomes particularly concerning if the departing party has the motivation to exploit their active credentials during the termination period. But how does user access review help in offboarding? So, by conducting a user access review, your IT team can promptly identify departing users and which apps and data they had access to. Accordingly, they can revoke app access and deactivate their account, minimizing the likelihood of security breaches. 

3. Efficiently Detects and Addresses Orphaned Accounts

Orphan accounts exist within a system or application but are not associated with any active or current user. These accounts often result from incomplete or improper user management processes, such as when an employee leaves an organization and their account remains without being deactivated or deleted. Orphan accounts pose a security risk as they can be exploited for unauthorized access, making it crucial to identify and address them promptly. So, by conducting periodic user access reviews, your IT teams can easily identify orphaned accounts, and they can further assign active users to those accounts and remove them from the system at once. 

4. Reduces Licensing Expenses

Neglecting to oversee and limit user access to particular apps may lead to unnecessary SaaS spend. Single licenses for various systems can be relatively costly, often reaching hundreds of dollars. For example, if an employee in the accounts department does not require an Adobe Photoshop license, access to systems utilizing the software should be withheld to avoid unnecessary expenses. So, with the help of User access reviews, you can optimize licensing costs by ensuring that employees only have access to apps necessary for their roles, preventing unnecessary expenses on irrelevant licenses.

Now, let’s understand why user access reviews are difficult to perform and the challenges associated with conducting regular user access reviews.

Challenges Associated With User Access Review

Here are some of the challenges organizations face when conducting user access reviews:

  • Extensive time and resources are necessary to examine and manage user access rights and permissions, especially for larger companies.

  • The complexity of IT systems poses a challenge, with many organizations employing intricate infrastructure that includes numerous applications, databases, and systems.

  • Identifying and reviewing all user access rights within organizations can be challenging due to the abundance of applications and systems in use.

  • The lack of access control tools often results in organizations having limited visibility into the systems and applications accessible to employees, making reviews time-consuming and error-prone.

  • High employee turnover further complicates tracking and timely revocation of access to specific systems and applications.

  • Changes in access rights during reviews may lead to employee disgruntlement, potentially affecting productivity and overall satisfaction with the organization.

  • Adhering to regulatory constraints for securing user access is another significant challenge, as compliance requirements vary based on industry and location and may evolve over time.

However, these obstacles cannot be eliminated completely, but organizations can navigate and overcome most of the above-mentioned challenges by thoroughly following the user access audit checklist. This strategic approach helps identify and rectify potential issues and ensures a more streamlined and efficient user access review process. 

Let’s understand what’s included in the user access review checklist.

User Access Review Checklist

Ensuring the effectiveness of user access reviews requires a well-structured checklist that outlines the entire process. So, here are some key components of the user access review audit checklist:

1. Clearly outline the apps & resources that needs to be audited

Defining the scope of the UAR process is a critical initial step in ensuring a comprehensive examination of user access privileges. This entails explicitly delineating the applications, systems, and resources that will undergo review. By establishing a well-defined scope, you can address all potential access avenues systematically.

A precisely outlined scope lays the foundation for an efficient and focused assessment of user access. It offers several advantages to the UAR process. Firstly, it enhances the organization and structure of the audit, minimizing the risk of oversights and streamlining efforts. Secondly, it facilitates resource allocation, personnel coordination, and time management for the review.

To further enhance the UAR process, incorporating risk assessment is invaluable. Prioritizing accounts based on their risk profiles accelerates the review, ensuring a thorough examination of high-risk accounts first. This approach expedites the audit and fortifies security measures by promptly addressing potential vulnerabilities.

2. Revoke permissions of ex-employees and verify completion of access revocation

Ensuring the swift removal of access privileges when employees leave the company is critical for maintaining top-tier security measures. It's not just about deactivating accounts; it's about completely removing their permissions from various systems and applications.

Verifying the completion of access revocation emerges as a pivotal initiative aimed at mitigating potential risks stemming from ex-employees who might exploit retained access for malicious purposes. This preventive measure serves as an indispensable safeguard for preserving the organization's digital landscape.

During regular user access audits, a meticulous emphasis on the status of accounts linked to former employees becomes imperative. Maintaining a comprehensive log detailing employees who have departed the organization after the access review is strongly advised. This systematic record-keeping facilitates the precise and comprehensive termination of their access privileges.

3. Enforce segregation of duties (SOD) & least privileges

Enforcing segregation of duties (SOD) and applying the principle of least privileges is a critical practice in organizational security and risk management. These principles aim to mitigate the potential for fraudulent activities within a company's operations. By adhering to these principles, your teams aim to safeguard your organization’s assets, data, and processes from unauthorized to inappropriate access.

SOD involves distributing tasks and responsibilities among different individuals or teams to establish a system of checks and balances. The rationale behind this practice is to prevent any single individual from having end-to-end control over a critical business process. When one person is responsible for multiple tasks within a process, it creates an opportunity for misconduct, error, or fraudulent activity to occur without detection.

On the other hand, applying the principle of least privileges involves granting individuals only the minimum level of access required to perform their specific job responsibilities. This approach ensures that employees can only access the resources necessary for their roles and tasks. Limiting access rights to what is essential can reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information and systems.

4. Adopt a zero-trust approach for privileged accounts

As cybercriminals increasingly target these high-privilege accounts after breaching initial defenses, a proactive and tailored approach is paramount to secure organizational assets effectively. In the context of privileged accounts, the pathway to unauthorized access becomes all too clear once an attacker breaches the initial layers of defense. Consequently, as an IT manager, you must cultivate a zero-trust mindset catered explicitly to these crucial accounts.

An integral stride in this direction involves automating privileged account lifecycle management. Through standardized automated workflows, your teams can ensure consistency, reduce human errors, and streamline security protocols. This automation mitigates potential vulnerabilities introduced by manual interventions and bolsters overall security.

Further enhancing the resilience of privileged accounts, auditors advocate for the implementation of predefined expiry dates. This proactive measure necessitates regular reviews of account necessity and access requirements. By setting expiration periods, your teams adhere to a cyclic reassessment process, accommodating roles, responsibilities, and operational dynamics shifts.

Moreover, continuous monitoring and access evaluation are at the nucleus of the zero-trust philosophy for privileged accounts. This practice mandates frequent assessments to ascertain who possesses access to high-privilege accounts, the scope of their access, and their activities within those accounts. This ongoing scrutiny is instrumental in swiftly identifying unauthorized or anomalous activities, thus preempting potential breaches and facilitating comprehensive audit trails.

5. Assess compliance with security policies

Ensuring compliance with security policies transcends a mere checklist exercise; it demands a strategic approach that revolves around identifying irregularities and anomalies.

Begin by prioritizing the monitoring and assessment of user access changes. This entails examining alterations to user accounts, permissions, and privileges. This meticulous examination allows for the swift detection of any unauthorized modifications that may signal potential security breaches or insider threats. 

Furthermore, this practice guarantees precise user access levels, minimizing the risk of unauthorized data exposure or misuse.

In addition, adopt an active surveillance stance by leveraging advanced tools to consistently monitor system logs, network traffic, and user activities. The objective is to pinpoint deviations from normal behavior patterns, which could indicate security breaches, unauthorized access, or the presence of malware. 

Moreover, regularly gauge your organization's cybersecurity framework against established access management policies and security guidelines. This comparison unveils discrepancies or deviations from the intended security posture. Taking prompt, corrective actions in response helps sustain a uniform and robust security landscape across your organization. This, in turn, safeguards sensitive data and digital assets from unauthorized access and exposure.

6. Document review process & share the UAR report with relevant stakeholders

Documenting the user access review process is paramount for upholding the security and efficiency of user access within an organization. This meticulous procedure methodically examines user access rights, permissions, and privileges pertinent to digital assets, such as critical systems, apps, and databases. The primary objective is to unearth any discrepancies, potential security risks, and operational inefficiencies entrenched in the existing access management framework.

Once the user access review concludes, it culminates in the generation of a report. This comprehensive report amalgamates the outcomes from the review process, meticulously delineating the identified issues, disparities, and plausible security susceptibilities. Furthermore, the report encompasses a comprehensive analysis of the present user access landscape, shedding light on areas necessitating refinement and optimization.

Subsequently, the UAR report is disseminated among pertinent stakeholders within the organization. This array of stakeholders may encompass IT admins, security experts, departmental heads, and upper management personnel responsible for supervising access management and cybersecurity endeavors. Disclosing findings and recommendations is pivotal as it stimulates consciousness and comprehension regarding the identified issues and potential risks.

In an ideal scenario, each instance of user access review should present an avenue for organizational enhancement. To extract the maximum utility from this process, diligently make note of and reflect upon all the issues unveiled during the periodic review. Consequently, your teams must compose a comprehensive summary that entails an exhaustive dissection of the identified issues, accompanied by well-considered measures to counteract these concerns.

By assimilating these actions within the user access review process, you can substantially elevate your organization’s overall security stance, rationalize access management protocols, and alleviate potential perils associated with erroneous or unauthorized user access. This proactive stance safeguards sensitive information and assets and nurtures an environment of ceaseless betterment in access management practices.

With the convenience of the user access review checklist, consider the potential for streamlining this procedure while gaining access to advanced functionalities that bolster your organization's security measures. Introducing Zluri, a prominent platform that offers access review solutions provider, offers a comprehensive approach to managing user identities and access privileges. Let’s find that out:

How Zluri Automates Your User Access Review Process?

Traditionally, conducting access reviews would be a time-consuming ordeal. Admins would need to manually review each employee's access rights across various applications, cross-referencing with their roles and responsibilities. This process not only eats up valuable time but also introduces the risk of human error, potentially leading to security vulnerabilities.

Zluri

With Zluri’s access review, you're no longer bogged down by the manual and traditional approach to access reviews. Instead, you're armed with a powerful tool that automates the entire process. As your company's employee count and application usage increase, Zluri's centralized platform keeps track of every user's access permissions across the entire spectrum of applications.

This efficiency ensures that your employees have the right access at the right time and allows your IT teams to focus on strategic initiatives rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks. Zluri becomes your reliable partner, guaranteeing that your company's growth is supported by a secure, agile, and fully automated approach to managing user access across your software landscape. Let’s take a closer look at its capabilities. 

Get Rid Of Error-Prone Manual Process By Automating User Access Review

Zluri's Access Review streamlines the user access review process by automating the identification of users with access to specific data and applications. This dynamic functionality empowers reviewers to promptly adjust or restrict user permissions as required. Also, the automated user access review mitigates the error-prone and time-consuming nature of manual assessments, effectively addressing challenges related to oversights in critical unauthorized access permissions.

Get Complete Visibility Into User Permissions & Monitor Them Effectively 

With Zluri's Access Review, IT teams attain a holistic view of user permissions, pinpointing unnecessary access rights unrelated to designated job roles. Continuous monitoring ensures swift detection of any discrepancies in access rights, enabling IT teams to align user permissions with their roles. This proactive approach mitigates risks associated with over-provisioning and potential compromises to sensitive data.

Strengthen Security By Enforcing Access Control Policies

Zluri's access review goes a step further by reinforcing security measures through the implementation of critical policies, including:

These policies, recognized as best practices for effective access management, are also mandated by compliance frameworks. By enforcing these security measures, Zluri's Access Review ensures the safety and security of critical data, establishing a well-governed access environment in alignment with industry standards and regulatory requirements.

Conducts Audits & Generates Curated Report 

Zluri's UAR conducts regular audits, reviewing existing access permissions, and generating reports upon successful completion. These UAR reports play a crucial role in identifying unauthorized users or those accessing critical applications with a high-risk profile. Proactive measures can then be implemented to safeguard sensitive SaaS app data from potential breaches. Moreover, the audit logs in these reports serve as evidence for auditors, showcasing compliance with regulatory rules and the effective enforcement of security policies.

audit logs

Now that you're familiar with the advantages provided by Zluri's access review, why not book a demo now? This allows you to witness its practical functionality firsthand.

User Access Review: A Proactive Step To Enhance Access Management

In conclusion, a User Access Review Checklist is essential for effective cybersecurity measures. Organizations can proactively manage access, mitigate risks, and ensure a secure digital environment by incorporating the six key components outlined. This checklist serves as a comprehensive guide to enhance the overall user access review process, reinforcing the foundation of a well-governed system.

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