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Reviewing Access Control Strategy

September 11, 2014


Often in security we get so caught up in firewall rules, anti-virus alerts, answering audit or compliance surveys and such that we sometimes put the cart before the horse. We focus on implementing the little details without developing or updating our overall strategy. Security is, in essence, the art of defining and applying appropriate administrative, technical and physical controls to prevent unauthorized access and to provide authorized access to resources. We can streamline our security (and at times reduce our expenses) by reviewing our access control strategy on a regular basis.

Access Control Components

Access control is really a matrix of access control groups (administrative, technical, physical) and access control types (preventive, detective, corrective, recovery, deterrent, and compensating), as shown below (with a few examples):


Access Control Types 

  • Preventive: blocks access, preventing successful execution.
  • Detective: sees access violations in progress and either alerts (active) or logs (passive) the violation.
  • Corrective: fixes an access issue, such as anti-virus quarantining malicious code.
  • Recovery: if a corrective measure fails, recovery restores secure operations – for instance, reimaging a device on which an anti-virus quarantine failed.
  • Deterrent: a control which poses a threat that discourages access attempts. For instance, my ability to perform Chrome forensics is a deterrent for my children, which prevents them from surfing to inappropriate sites.
  • Compensating: a control which makes up for ineffectiveness in another control. An administrative control prohibiting the use of smart phones on corporate wireless network could be a compensating control for the lack of a technical control that prevents smartphones from joining the corporate wireless network.

Access Control Strategy – Rapid Assessment

As we step back and reconsider access control, we’d do well to spend some time ensuring we have good coverage horizontally and vertically throughout the matrix. Some things to look for:

  • Are we overly reliant on administrative controls, with few solid technical controls in place?
  • Most of us in IT security are technologists. Have we taken the time to consider our physical security? Do our doors open to a wide open area with little traffic control? Are our door lock mechanisms outdated or easily defeated? Have we put video surveillance in place to protect sensitive areas (like where our developers leave their laptops overnight)?
  • Do our technical controls actually contribute to overall access control or are we simply chasing the brightest star amongst the nebula of new sales pitches, promised, and threats?

Access Control Reviews

Many security and privacy frameworks require us to review our risks on a regular basis, and ensure we have appropriate countermeasures. As security leaders, we should take a similar approach to access control reviews—assessing our controls based on group and type, to make sure our matrix is balanced and effective. As we roll risks together into mediation projects, we should also be considering our access control matrix gaps and including those in mediation efforts as well.

Need help with reviewing your access control strategy? Caliber Security Partners can help you build and analyze your access control matrix. Contact us here.

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