Access Controls: What is the Difference Between Role-Based (RBAC) and Attribute-Based (ABAC)?

Protecting your company’s information should be a primary function of your organization at all times. Access controls build up walls and policies around your data, deciding who gets access to your information. These controls allow you to authenticate and analyze a team member’s credentials instantaneously, giving your IT team time back in their workday, and securely protecting your intellectual property and sensitive data

There are several types of access controls that you can employ. Two primary controls are role-based and attribute-based. Knowing which of these are right for your organization can be a daunting task. Whether your organization utilizes access control for architects, AED firms, CAD drawings, or other areas, understanding role-based and attribute-based designations is essential to the impact of your controls.

What is Role-Based Access Control?

Role-based access control (RBAC), also known as static-based access control, is a security approach that denies or allows access to internal assets based on the user’s respective role within their organization. This means that users only have access to the data that is necessary to their position. Data and IT teams determine different roles within their network and assign individual team members to these specific roles. 

It is possible to assign multiple roles to a team member. For example, your project manager may need access to edit each and every file, while your content team may only need access to those files with written copy. 

A major advantage to RBAC is that all policies are predetermined. Roles are figured out prior to onboarding a team member to a project, lessening the chance of your data team needing to scramble to build out unique access controls. RBAC also eases the process when someone leaves your organization. To keep your data privacy intact, simply remove that user from the role group, and their access is instantly cut off. 

What is Attribute-Based Access Control?

Unlike RBAC, attribute-based access control (ABAC) is an approach to data security that takes the user, as well as object, action, and environmental attributes into consideration. To fully understand how ABAC functions, you have to understand the underlying information that it is dependant on: 

  • User Attributes: Information specific to the user. Includes their name, title, and permission level. 
  • Object Attributes: Information specific to the data itself. Can include date created,   creator, and privacy level.
  • Action Attributes: Information about data manipulation. Includes reading, editing, and deleting. 
  • Environmental Attributes: Contextual information about the data, including location, date of access, and level of organizational threat.

ABAC is also commonly referred to as dynamic-based access control because it has a much larger number of variable controls as compared to RBAC. This increase in variables also provides greater protection against risk of unauthorized access and is a great safety net for companies relying on remote work

Choosing An Access Control

Every company has unique access control needs. There are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing the right method for your team. The main considerations are:

  1. What external threats are you protecting against?
  2. What internal threats are commonly posed?
  3. What critical assets do you have to protect?

The first step towards picking the best access controls is to do an internal evaluation of your company’s needs and ability to monitor your data security. If your IT team is small – or even nonexistent – it might be in your best interest to pick controls with fewer variables to monitor. Access controls for AED firms will greatly differ from access controls for CAD drawings, so it’s important to recognize where your organization is at and work from there.

It’s easy to feel like the more variable controls involved, the better for your company. However, it’s important to note that if a simple RBAC system works for your team and keeps your data safe, there’s no need to pile on more controls. Oftentimes an RBAC can be less time- and labor-intensive, so if your resources are limited this is a great option.

Whether your IT and data security team is extensive or non-existent, choosing access controls is a critical decision that affects your entire organization. Working with Datanchor can help ease the decision-making process for you, and guarantee that your data stays out of the wrong hands.

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