What Do You Understand By the Principle of Least Privilege?


Simply put, the POLP or Principle of Least Privilege definition refers to the idea that any process, program, or user should be given only the minimum privileges they need to perform their intended function. For instance, when you create an account to pull database records, you don’t need to give it admin rights. Also known as the Principle of Minimal Privilege or the Principle of Least Authority, it is considered the most appropriate practice in information security.

Here, you will come to know more about this practice, how it works, and why it is so good.

Understand the Working of POLP

The Principle of Least Privilege is based on allowing only minimum access to a program, user, or process required to perform a particular job. In Information Technology, following this principle is highly effective in preventing attackers and hackers from getting access to sensitive data or critical operations of a device or application. Implementation of this principle helps contain compromises in the area of their origin, thereby avoiding spread to the whole system.

POLP can be applicable to different levels within a system, whether it is an application, database, network, process, end-user, or any other IT system aspect. Here are a few applications of the principle:

  • User Accounts: Data entry operators who only enter information into a system’s database need the ability to write records only. When malware attacks their computers or clicks on a link in their phishing mail, the malicious attacker will be unable to get a passage to the root access, and the infection will be stopped from spreading throughout the system.
  • MySQL Accounts: When multiple accounts are created to perform individual tasks, the application of POLP becomes necessary. A web-based form that allows users to sort out data must use MySQL accounts with sorting privileges only. This way, when an attacker tries to exploit the form, it gets access to record sorting only, and they cannot delete or copy anything.
  • Just in Time Privilege: Users who need root privileges only occasionally and work with limited privileges at other times can be given added privileges with password security. No one can access the credentials without giving a password, even if an attacker reaches there. Disposable credentials can also be applied to tighten security.

Benefits of Implementing the Principle of Least Privilege

There are several benefits of having the Principle of Least Privilege in place. Some of them are:

Enhanced Security:

The principle of Least Privilege definition states that only limited powers should be given to network members. Each user or program has their task to complete, and they should be given access to the database according to their requirements only. This idea limits the amount of access each individual or computer has so that there is no possibility of theft or breach even if an attacker manages to reach out to it.

Minimum Extent of Attack:

Despite all the security updates and features, malicious attackers are smart enough to reach out to your database. They will find one way or the other to gain access to your sensitive information. But when the user himself or the computer itself does not have access to all the important data, the attacker won’t reach there. So, even under a malware attack, the damage will be minimal compared to the situation if they got complete access to your network.

Limited Spread of the Malware:

Even when malware manages to infect your system, the POLP bolsters your system and prevents the infection from spreading out to other systems. This means that the malware stays contained within a small section of your system where it first entered.

Tips to Implement the Principle of Least Privilege

Here are a few tips that can help in the implementation of the POLP successfully:

  • Check all your existing processes, programs, and user accounts to ensure that they have limited permissions only that are needed to accomplish the intended task.
  • Initially, give the least privilege only to all accounts. If any specific privilege is needed, you can add it later.
  • Separate standard accounts from admin accounts.
  • Don’t let the high-level system functionalities with lower ones.
  • Give raised privileges to accounts only when they are needed. At other times, keep them password protected.
  • Keep track of user IDs, monitoring, audit, one-time passwords, etc., to limit the damage.

Now that you understand the significance of the Principle of Least Privilege definition, audit the granted privileges regularly so that they do not exceed the optimal level of privileges over time. Applying this principle in your network will help keep your database protected from any malicious attack.


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