What is Fine-Grained Access Control and Why Is It Important?

Role-based access control (RBAC) is one of the most popular methods for Identity and Access Management (IAM). This uses parameters to decide who can and cannot access data. This method identifies specific roles within a company and then gives permissions to each role. What if the company requires more than these authorizations? Access permissions for each role must be set every time a new data source, data platform or data set is created. Large, complex businesses or small companies that are growing rapidly may have dozens to hundreds of roles to manage.

RBAC could look like this in the simplest terms:

  • ROLE A
  • Include Employee X, Employees Y, and Employer Z
  • Access to Folder 3, Folder 4 and Folder 5,
  • ROLE B
  • Includes Employee A, EmployeeB, and EmployeeC

Access to Folder 1, Folder 2 and Folder 3.

This is how complex it can become. Fine-grained access control is a more powerful way to manage access to data and other resources.

What is Fine-Grained Access Control and how does it work?

Fine-grained access control allows you to restrict who has access to certain data. Fine-grained access control is more flexible and nuanced than generalized access control.

Fine-grained access control is most commonly used in cloud computing, where many data sources are stored together. Each item of data has its own access policy. This can be determined by a variety of factors including the role of the individual requesting access as well as the intended action on the data. One person may have access to modify and make changes to data while another individual might only be able to view the data.

What is the importance of Fine-Grained Access Control?

Cloud computing offers a significant competitive advantage in that it allows you to store large amounts together. This data can be different in terms of source and security, especially when considering regulations that relate to financial or customer data.

When data types can be stored independently, coarse-grained access can work. Access to certain data types can be simply assigned based on storage location (e.g. Tim can access X folder and Natalie can access the Y folder). As in on-premises environments. However, data stored in the cloud requires fine-grained access control. This allows data with different access needs to “live” in the same storage space without causing security or compliance problems.

What is Fine-Grained Access Control?

These are the most popular uses for fine-grained access control.

Case 1: Multiple data sources stored together

Large amounts of different data types can be stored in the cloud. These storage segments cannot be granted wholesale access based on roles. There may be data types that can only be accessed by certain roles, while others should be blocked. Because it allows you to set access parameters for particular data types even when they are stored together, fine-grained access control can be essential.

Case 2: Different Access Levels Based on Roles

Fine-grained access control has the advantage of allowing for different levels of access. This is in contrast to a pass/fail approach that relies on user role and organization. Data in coarse-grained systems may be classified into one of two categories, permitted or prohibited. This is depending on the user who is trying to access it. Fine-grained access control allows for more nuance and variation.

Imagine three employees each with different access levels and roles. You might create parameters that allow one employee to access a file, make changes, or move it. A second employee might be permitted to view the file, move it and access it. A third employee may only be allowed to view the file.

This level of detail can save your company from the frustration and inconvenience that comes with someone wanting to see data but not being allowed to do so because they have full access to it.

Use Case 3: Securing Mobile Access

Companies are increasingly offering remote access to data via smartphones and other mobile devices. As more people work remotely or from different hours, the workday is becoming longer. Companies may have to consider access controls that are not only based on identity or role but also on factors like time and location.

This is possible with fine-grained access control. You may be able, for example to restrict access to a particular location to prevent employees from accessing it via third-party wireless servers. This could help protect your company from potential breaches.

Case 4: Third-Party access

B2B businesses may wish to allow third parties access to certain assets in the cloud. This is without risking data loss or security compromises. These companies can grant third parties read-only access by using fine-grained access control, while keeping their data secure.

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