How to Perform User Access Review

Every company has valuable employees who have been working in many different departments for a long time and know all the processes. However, because these employees have access to sensitive data, they are dangerous. A review of user access regularly can help to mitigate this risk.

See Also: Which Privileged Accounts You Should Manage and Keep Safe

Examining user access is an essential part of access management. In our article, you can find the definition of user access rights review and user access review best practices to make the user access review process fast and efficient.

What is User Access Review?

User access review is part of an organization’s user account management and access control process that includes periodic review of access rights for all employees and vendors. A user access review usually consists of a reassessment of:

  • User roles
  • Access rights and privileges
  • Credentials provided to users

During the review, it is essential to pay special attention to user accounts of employees who have worked with the organization for a long time, recently changed positions, taken on new responsibilities, or left the company.

Reviewing user access reduces the following cybersecurity issues:

  • Excessive access privileges (privilege shift)
  • Errors related to user role and account configuration
  • Abuse and abuse
  • Legacy security policies

Why is it Essential to Review Access Rights?

The ultimate goal of user access review is to reduce the risk of security breaches by limiting access to critical data and resources. Preventing vulnerabilities that may arise from situations such as privileges and access to resources is one of the reasons for performing a user access review.

See Also: Privileged Access Management Considerations

Threats mitigated by a user access review can be listed as follows:

  • Privilege creep. Privilege creep occurs when employees gain access to many sensitive data while working in an organization. During an access inspection, a security engineer synchronizes user access rights with users’ current roles. New privileges arise when employees gain new responsibilities and access rights, but privilege shift occurs when old access rights are not revoked.
  • Excessive privileges. Typically, access privileges can only be granted to users who need them to do their job. In reality, however, permanent access is usually given when an employee only needs access once or may need it in the future. The timely review helps revoke unnecessary user access rights.
  • Access abuse and employee errors. A user access review helps limit access and reduces the likelihood of a costly mistake.
  • Insider threats. Insider threats pose the most significant risk because they have access to sensitive data and are aware of the organization’s security measures. Insider threats can be mitigated in part by reviewing and limiting access in accordance with the principle of least privilege because the attacker may have access to areas where he should not be. However, it’s best to combine reviews with establishing an insider threat policy and deploying user tracking, access, and identity management software.

In addition to mitigating cybersecurity threats, conducting a user access review is essential in adapting to most IT requirements.

What are the PCI DSS Requirements to Run a User Access Review?

PCI DSS is a global security standard for businesses that handle credit cards and cardholder data. PCI DSS Requirement 7 outlines mandatory access control measures such as granular access, the principle of least privilege, and periodic review of user roles and rights.

In addition, PCI DSS requirement 12 specifies that an access control policy should be reviewed at least once a year. As with NIST, the organization can self-assess the frequency and quality of reviews.

Best Practices for Reviewing User Access

A user access review can be fast, effective, and effortless if you keep your access control policies up to date and follow industry-recognized security procedures. Conducting a user access review is necessary for the access management process.

See Also: What is the Separation of Duties Principle and How Is It Implemented?

It lowers the risk of data breaches and mitigates many security issues, but the investigation can be time-consuming and slow down business processes.

1. Create and keep an access management policy up to date.

Any organization must have an access management policy, and you must:

  • Create a list of data and resources you need to protect.
  • Create a list of all user roles, levels, and access types.
  • Identify controls, tools, and approaches for secure access.
  • Identify administrative measures and software used to implement the policy.
  • Establish procedures for granting, reviewing, and revoking access.

You can adapt the above steps to create an access management policy quickly. Creating an access management policy is a one-time activity, but updating it as your organization grows is just as important. Be sure to document changes to protected data, user roles, and access control procedures.

2. Establish a formal access review procedure

A written procedure is part of the access management policy. This procedure should do the following:

  • Create a schedule for reviews.
  • Identify responsible security officers.
  • Set a time to notify employees.
  • Define a period for reporting and the content of the report.

Formalizing all these aspects helps you access review an ongoing process and maintain standards.

3. Implement role-based access control (RBAC)

Instead of configuring each user’s account individually, the RBAC access control model allows for creating user roles for positions. Each role is given a set of access privileges. RBAC expedites user access review because it will enable you to review roles rather than individual profiles.

This way, you can add users with similar privileges to groups and manage their privileges in a few clicks.

4. Implement the principle of least privilege.

According to the principle of least privilege, users should only access data when they need it. The fewer privileges a user has, the less time you spend reviewing them. The principle of least privilege is required for the best security standards.

With the least privilege policy, new users have a minimum number of access rights or privileges by default. For example, an administrator can add a user to a specific group, assign them to a privileged user role, or provide permanent or temporary access to resources.

5. Provide temporary access instead of permanent access

Don’t give indefinite access to a user who only needs it once or twice. It takes a long time to revoke such access rights during an access review. It is preferable to use features such as one-time passwords rather than assigning a new role or granting a user permanent access rights whenever possible.

Another option for providing temporary access is implementing just-in-time privileged access management (PAM). This approach relies on granting access only when users need to complete their work and canceling when the task is finished.

6. Involve employees and management

Employees frequently see cybersecurity measures as a hindrance to their daily work. On the other hand, employees should not regard user reviews as a chore. As a result, you can expedite the process by involving employees in the review and emphasizing its significance. You can, for example, send lists of access rights to users and administrators and ask them to specify which resources they no longer require access to.

7. Explain the purposes and importance of a review to your employees

Communication with employees is vital to cybersecurity. If employees don’t understand why it’s essential to implement a particular practice or use a specific tool, there’s a good chance they’ll find a way not to comply. For this reason, you should explain the principles and importance of access management to your employees during cyber security training.

What Are BAU Activities Required for PCI DSS Requirement 7?

PCI DSS requirement 7 restricts access to cardholder data and in-scope system components on a “need-to-know” or “least privilege” basis. “Need-to-know,” as defined in PCI DSS, is when access rights are granted to the minimum amount of data and privileges required to perform a job.

See Also: What Does the Separation of Duties and Needs-to-Know Principles Stand for the PCI Requirement 7

Although “need to know” is sometimes seen as synonymous with “least privilege,” the precise terminology of each is to some extent still debated. However, the purpose of both is to limit access rights, i.e., authentication and authorization, to only those strictly necessary for a particular role, as defined by the organization. Therefore, users should only have access to data, systems, and executive functions strictly necessary for their job role.

According to PCI DSS requirement 7, systems and processes must be in place to limit access based on the need to know and job responsibilities to ensure that critical data is only accessible to authorized personnel.

The seventh PCI DSS requirement focuses on defining job classifications and functions, assigning system roles based on these classifications and functions, confirming and verifying assigned access levels, and ensuring that any access other than the default of these parameters has a “deny all” configuration.

It is essential to understand that PCI DSS requirement 7 applies to individuals and applications and associated service accounts that typically have broad or privileged access and use non-expiring credentials.

“As needed” frequency can appear in several different ways and encompass a range of activities. The “as needed” frequency should be defined by an organization’s risk assessment but should be performed at least annually as controls must be evaluated annually.

Organizations should be prepared to consider the items in the following list when deploying new systems and applications, implementing changes in organizational structure, or creating new business processes that interact with PCI cardholder data (CHD) and sensitive authentication data.

Organizations should also ensure that these activities include third-party relationships where access roles can be defined for on-premises, such as remote connections, and external, like the cloud. Organizations should perform the following access control tasks to support an “as needed” BAU model:

  • PCI DSS requirement 7.1.1 requires you to define access needs and privilege assignments for each role, including data and system components.
  • PCI DSS requirement 7.1.2 requires restricting access to privileged user IDs to specific roles and enforcing the minimum privileges necessary to fulfill job responsibilities.
  • According to PCI DSS requirement 7.1.3, you must grant access rights to an account based on job classification and function.
  • PCI DSS requirement 7.1.4 requires electronic or written confirmation of access by an authorized person and that you save a list of specific privileges granted.
  • You should publish the necessary changes to the policies and standards that govern access controls for system components or data.
  • PCI DSS requirement 7.2.1 ensures that all PCI in-scope system components have an access control system to control user accounts, roles, and privileges.
  • PCI DSS requirement 7.2.1 ensures that access control mechanisms and supporting documentation demonstrate how account privileges align with job classification and function.
  • Ensure all access control mechanisms include a default “deny all” setting that applies, for example, when adding new accounts.
  • Ensure that all account management personnel know, understand and implement applicable security policies and standards for account and rights management for covered system components.

The frequency with which organizations believe that compliance with these requirements must be verified internally is primarily determined by the size and complexity of the environment and the results of the organization’s risk assessment.

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykara
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Cyberwise. Over the past 15+ years my professional career has included several positions beginning as a developer and IT administrator, working my way up to a senior Technical Performance Consultant before joining Biznet back in 2015. I had several different roles at Cyberwise, including Penetration Tester and PCI DSS QSA. In my job as a QSA, I found my passion and worked closely with the Audit and Compliance team. I've been working inside InfoSec for over 15 years, coming from a highly technical background. I have earned several certifications during my professional career including; CEH, CISA, CISSP, and PCI QSA.

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