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Access review refers to the process of monitoring, assessing and validating user access privileges and permissions. It helps reduce unauthorized access risks and maintain limited access control.

Why is Conducting Access Reviews Important?

Access governance is a core component of an organization’s data security framework. Access review is one of the critical steps that helps security teams ensure that optimal access governance strategy is practiced. Here are some of the following reasons why organizations must conduct timely access reviews sporadically:

  • Security is one of the top and most common reasons why access reviews must be conducted. These reviews help security teams identify and resolve any security risks. Security teams check if any unauthorized access activities have taken place or not. Organizations may prevent unauthorized activities or data breaches by continuously checking access reviews.
  • Another important reason why access reviews should be observed in a timely and systematic manner is compliance. Many businesses and even industries are subject to various regulatory laws or industry-specific frameworks, such as the PCI DSS for financial institutions. These regulatory requirements are enacted to make businesses responsible for appropriately processing and protecting customers’ data. These regulatory frameworks require that appropriate data security measures should be placed to prevent unauthorized access to data. Non-compliance may result in regulatory fines and financial loss.
  • Apart from data protection and compliance, access reviews can help improve operational efficiency across the organization. It can help streamline data management processes. Unnecessary access rights can be revoked or allocated elsewhere. Overall, it can help reduce or streamline administrative overhead.

How Are Access Reviews Conducted?

Following is a list of steps involved in the process of access reviewing.

  • Security teams help define the scope and objective of the activity. Access governance teams identify the systems and data that must be reviewed for security purposes.
  • The next important step is to gather the data. This step involves analyzing the access rights of the users. These rights may come from different sources, such as IAM systems, databases, directories, etc.
  • Experienced and knowledgeable users are then picked from the team to conduct the reviews. The reviewer must be a part of the access governance team and understand the organization’s access policies and the systems or data required for review.
  • The next critical steps involve comparing the selected access rights, roles, and permissions with the predefined list of policies and business needs. This helps identify any discrepancies and enhance security risks.

Whatever the review findings are, it is important that these findings be documented. Documentation helps the team log the activity or any security risks that may be common across the organization.

How Should Access Review Results Be Analyzed?

Next comes the process of analyzing and understanding the access reviews of different users, roles, and permissions. First of all, it is critical to look for various patterns to identify any anomaly in them. Identifying anomalies can help security teams to know about any potential security risks that may be lurking around. For instance, any user role may be accessing sensitive information that has never been accessed before from this role. Or, a user has access to sensitive data, but his historical records seem different than the current record, i.e., he may have recently accessed sensitive data more frequently than before. These are all indications of potential access security risks.

What Are the Best Practices for Access Reviews?

Access reviews can be made more effective with continuous improvements or by applying some best practices, such as:

  • Always conduct access reviews regularly. People change, and so job roles change throughout the year. Hence, some roles and permissions are often left unattended, causing security risks. With regular reviews, access governance teams can keep an up-to-date inventory of all the access policies, settings, and controls across the board and make sure that it is aligned with best industry practices and business needs.
  • Access governance teams should opt for a role-based access control (RBAC) model. This simplest and most effective model allows teams to assign permissions based on the users’ job roles or requirements. RBAC is also pretty effective in maintaining the least privileged access policies.
  • Assigning, managing, and reviewing access permissions is pretty complicated and resource-intensive, especially in large organizations. Therefore, businesses should strive for automation to simplify and streamline the process and to increase efficiency.
  • Lastly, provide employee training to ensure good access governance hygiene is practiced.

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