Role-Based Access Control: Experience Security and Workforce Happiness in Tandem

role based access control

Have you ever been notified like, “Access denied! Contact your administrator for permission” while trying to access a folder/file? This is because your organization has implemented Role Based Access Control (RBAC) for some security reasons or to reduce the administrative burden. Not every role in an organization requires access to all the data to fulfill their job roles. When everyone has access to every piece of information that is not about them, that obviously will result in a chaotic mess.

In 2004, the American National Standard Institute (NIST) officially adopted role-based access control as a standard industrial practice. It was initially formalized as the separation of different job roles/duty forms in 1992.

The implementation of role-based access control outlines a unified control methodology and laid the foundation to bring the access restriction live in your organization i.e. employees are given access to data/ information that are necessary to perform their jobs.

This blog walks you through the role-based access control models and examples, their importance, and their benefits. It also intends to identify the best practices to implement role-based access controls and how roles work in role-based access controls.

What is Role-Based Access Control?

According to a survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, around 72% of organizations report that they use role-based access control in their environment.

Role-based access controls ensure that a particular user has permission to access the data that pertains to him or is necessary for him to do his job efficiently. This is very essential when organizations deal with a huge workforce and everyone including the customers, vendors, and contractors has access to the organization’s network.

Effective monitoring of such networks is difficult and often results in a messy work environment. The role-based access controls assure organizations that lower-job role employees are prohibited from accessing sensitive data that they are not supposed to access or are not necessary for their job to be done. This works on the concept of roles and privileges.

For example, a newbie in the office assistant role accessing crucial data is unnecessary. To prevent any unintended changes from his end, the access is restricted for him while he has permission to access other files to perform his work without any delay. So, this creates a need for role-based access control which ensures to define things like, who should be given access to which information files/ data.

The role-based access controls security model restricts system access based on the roles assigned to individual users/ user groups within an organization. To be more specific, access rights are assigned to roles, rather than directly to individual users. Users are then assigned one or more roles based on their responsibilities and job duties within the organization. 

No organization would like employees accessing the company data outside their scope of work. This is where roles defined by the Role-based access controls model come into the picture. Role assignment helps organizations effectively manage access to a particular resource defining the scope. i.e., defining the extent to which a particular role has access and what they can do with that resource. To be precise, the roles define the permissions a user is granted to access the system.

The organization defines the roles of every employee and roles bring clarity in defining the responsibilities and granting access to the required resources accordingly. The responsibilities of an employee and their designated roles help the role-based access control model to limit access to specific resources.

The varying levels of role-based access controls allow different access controls to an administrator, end-user, and lower-level employee. The role of an administrator involves an entirely different set of tasks than a programmer and RBAC manages it prominently.

Examples of Role-Based Access Control

Example 1: Let us start with a simple role-based access controls example where the persons involved in the documentation process are granted varying levels of access and here is how it works.

The writer/owner of the document has permission to read, write and edit. The reviewer is also provided privileges to do all the actions as the writer while the viewer has limited access and has permission only to read. This is how role-based access control works and only intended persons are given access to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Example 2: Here is another example of how role-based access controls work in a hospital environment. There is a varying level of access to patient information for doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. The doctors might have access to a patient’s medical records, while a nurse might only have access to their current vital signs.

Example 3: Likewise, in a banking environment the role-based access control works as a teller has access only to a customer’s account balance, while a loan officer is given access to their credit history. 

In any organization, a security officer has access to sensitive information related to security, while an administrative assistant has access only to basic office applications. Likewise, a marketer will be provided access only to the organization’s media handles, marketing tools, and sales data.

Why Does A System Need Role-Based Access Control?

According to a survey conducted by the Cloud Security Alliance, around 90% of organizations reported that they use role-based access control to manage access to cloud resources

For any organization, security would be a prime concern and no one would like to compromise it. Role-based access control is a powerful security model that can help organizations better manage access to their resources and improve their overall security posture. Role-based access controls increase security by ensuring that users only have access to the resources they need to perform their job duties. This can help prevent insider threats and limit the potential damage caused by unauthorized access to sensitive information or systems.

With role-based access controls, access to system resources is more easily managed and controlled, since it is based on well-defined roles rather than individual user accounts. This can greatly reduce the administrative burden of managing access to resources across a large organization.

How to Implement a Role-Based Access Control Model?

The Role-Based Access Control model uses a rule-based approach while implementation. In role-based access control, access rights are assigned to roles, rather than individual users based on some rules. By implementing role-based access control using a rule-based approach, organizations can reduce the risk of security breaches and ensure that users have access to the resources they need to perform their job duties. The following steps explain how role-based access controls progress with roles and permissions.

The first step in implementing role-based access control is to define roles based on the specific job responsibilities and duties within the organization. Each role should have a clear set of access rights that are required to perform the job duties associated with that role.

Users are assigned one or more roles based on their job responsibilities and duties. For example, a Manager might be assigned the “Manager” role, which grants them access to certain systems and resources.

Access rights are granted to roles based on a set of rules defined by the organization. These rules might include criteria such as job title, department, or location.

For example, the “Manager” role might be granted access to financial data, but only for the department they manage.

The role-based access control system enforces these rules to ensure that users are only granted access to the resources they need to perform their job duties. If a user’s job responsibilities change, their roles can be updated to ensure that they only have access to the resources they need.

The role-based access control system should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that the rules accurately reflect current job responsibilities and duties. This can help prevent unauthorized access and ensure that access control policies remain effective.

How to Create Role-Based Access Control?

An organization defines roles based on the specific needs of its business. Users are assigned one or more roles based on their job responsibilities and duties. Access rights are granted to roles, rather than individual users. This means that all users assigned to a particular role will have the same access rights. For example, all users assigned to the “Manager” role will have access to the same systems and resources.

Defining roles, and their scope, identifying the right group of people allocated with the role (authorization), and assigning roles to the group makes the primary elements of the role-based access control system. Permissions are granted based on the roles and responsibilities of the user so that they have access to all the resources required to complete their job and never get delayed due to waiting for approval.

Defining the scope of a group would allow organizations to limit what resources the user group is allowed to access or manage. Users in a particular group can have different job roles but their access scope remains the same. Now let us discuss the different scenarios involved in role-based access control models.

When a new employee takes up a role in your organization, you must identify his role scope, add him to the corresponding role group, and assign him the required access privileges. Doing so would allow the user to have access to all resources about that particular group. Users can be assigned to multiple groups or can be added to groups temporarily whenever required and removed once the work is done.

But what happens when the job/role of an end-user changes? If a user’s job responsibilities change or they leave the organization, their roles can be revoked to remove their access to systems and resources. This helps to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information or systems.

Thus, role assignment in RBAC provides a flexible and scalable approach to access control, since they can be easily defined, assigned, and revoked based on the specific needs of an organization. By using roles to manage access to resources, role-based access controls can help improve security, simplify access management, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Benefits of Role-Based Access Control

Role-based access control is a rule-based type of access control where access decisions are based on a set of predefined rules. Here are some benefits of implementing a role-based access control model in an organization.

1. Improved Security:

Role-based access control model helps improve the security of an organization by ensuring that users only have access to the resources they need to perform their job duties. By limiting access to sensitive information and systems, role-based access control helps to prevent unauthorized access, reducing the risk of security breaches.

The role-based access controls model enforces the principle of least privilege (PoLP) and the principle of separation of duties (SoD) effectively diminishes the data breach or leakage risk.

2. Simplified Access Management:

The role-based access controls framework provides a more streamlined approach to access management since access rights are granted based on well-defined roles, rather than individual user accounts. This can greatly reduce the administrative burden of managing access to resources across a large organization. Every process management is now easy with role-based access controls and is a real win-win. 

3. Enhanced  Flexibility:

As already discussed, the flexibility of role-based access control makes it efficient under dynamic situations too. This flexible and scalable approach to access control, allows organizations to define roles based on their specific business needs. This can help accommodate changes in the organization’s structure or business needs without requiring significant changes to the access control system. 

4. Boosted Compliance:

RBAC helps organizations meet regulatory requirements related to access control and data privacy. For example, role-based access control can be used to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and is a must in regulatory bodies handling third-party data. With role-based access controls, any organization can ensure the privacy of their data as defined by regulatory bodies like HIPAA, SOX, and ISO 27001. 

5. Increased productivity:

Role-based access control helps increase productivity by ensuring that users have access to the resources they need to perform their job duties. By providing access to the right resources at the right time, role-based access control can help streamline workflows and reduce downtime.

IT admins can finally rest-a while role-based access control has assigned everyone with their pertaining roles and associated resources. Admins’ work is made easy with the role-based access control model and a happy workforce with better productivity and operational efficiency. 

By implementing role-based access control, organizations can thus reduce the risk of security breaches, simplify access management, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. This can help improve the overall efficiency and productivity of the organization while also reducing the risk of security incidents.

Types of Access Control

Access control is an important aspect of information security, and choosing the right type of access control depends on the specific security needs and requirements of an organization. Each type of access control has its advantages and disadvantages and let us discuss a few role-based access control models.

Discretionary access control (DAC):

DAC is a type of access control where the owner of a resource decides who is granted access and what level of access they have. In DAC, access decisions are typically based on the identity of the user and the sensitivity of the resource.

Mandatory access control (MAC):

In the MAC model of access control where access decisions are based on a set of predefined rules and policies. In MAC, access is granted based on the user’s security clearance and the sensitivity of the resource. 

Biometric access control (BAC):

Biometric access control uses physical or behavioral characteristics, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or voice recognition, to grant access to resources. 

Attribute-based access control (ABAC):

ABAC is a type of access control where access decisions are based on a set of attributes associated with the user, such as their job title, location, or security clearance. 

Role-based access control (RBAC):

The role-based access control is a type of access control where access rights are assigned to roles, rather than individual users. Users are then assigned one or more roles based on their job responsibilities and duties. The role-based access control model dissolves into three standard access control types: core, hierarchical, and constrained which is a rule-based approach. 

Though role-based access control provides several benefits over traditional access control models, organizations should carefully evaluate their options before deciding which approach to implement. 

Rule-Based Approach In RBAC: 

The rule-based approach in role-based access control provides a flexible and scalable approach to access control, as access rights are granted based on a set of predefined rules. This approach, when modeled as one of the access control models discussed below, can help organizations better manage access to their resources, improve security, simplify access management, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Core role-based access control:

The core role-based access control is the model that outlines the basic elements of access control like assignment and authorization of a role and defining the role permission.  Core role-based access control itself is a string control model against potential threats and lays the foundation for hierarchical and constrained models. 

Hierarchical role-based access control

The core role-based access control model is active enough to take stronger security measures against possible breaches. The hierarchical role-based access control focuses on minimizing the extent of the breach by assigning access permissions in segments so that when a breach occurs, the area exposed to it will be meager. In short, hierarchical role-based access control aims to minimize the impact of the breach, if it occurs. 

Constrained role-based access control:

The constrained role-based access control aims to separate duties that were already defined in the core model to a particular role group. This duty separation can be either static or dynamic. Static separation duty prohibits users to take two roles when a user creates a purchase order he can’t approve the same. Whereas, dynamic separation of duty allows users to take up conflicting roles. In such cases, two-step authentication or verification happens in a role authorization.

End-to-end workflow automation

Build fully-customizable, no code process workflows in a jiffy.

Best Practices to Implement Role-Based Access Control

Know The Current Scenario: The first step in implementing role-based access control is to create a list of hardware and software that has some security concerns. Never miss out on physical hardware setups which also contribute to data protection.  Make a clear list of their passcode or security details and whoever has access to them.

1. Fix Organization Roles:

Make arrangements to define roles based on the specific job responsibilities and duties within the organization. Each role should have a clear set of access rights that are required to perform the job duties associated with that role. 

2. Assign Roles Based On Need-To-Know:

Users should only be assigned roles that are necessary for them to perform their job duties. This ensures that users only have access to the resources they need to do their job, and reduces the risk of insider threats. 

3. Use A Role Hierarchy:

In some cases, it may be necessary to define a hierarchy of roles, where certain roles have higher levels of access than others. For example, a Manager role might have higher access rights than an Employee role. This can help ensure that access to sensitive resources is appropriately restricted. 

4. Document The Policy:

Documentation avoids loopholes and potential bottlenecks identification. Try articulating every scenario and the approach used. Find what works and what doesn’t. Keep updating so that it helps avoid future pitfalls. 

5. Regularly Review And Update Roles:

Role-based access control should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that roles accurately reflect current job responsibilities and duties. This can help prevent unauthorized access and ensure that access control policies remain effective. 

6. Implement A Least Privilege Approach:

Role-based access control should be implemented using a least privilege approach, where users are granted the minimum permissions necessary to perform their job duties. This can help reduce the risk of security breaches by limiting the potential damage caused by insider threats. 

7. Implement RBAC Thoughtfully:

Business evolves and so do the people in an organization. One-size-fits-all in role-based access control will be tedious as defining roles in a dynamic business is quite difficult. One should define roles and assign access permission or categorize role groups/permissions with utmost focus and ability. This is said so as one who knows the business model better (both technically and structurally) would be able to categorize roles and manage the access efficiently. 

8. Be Proactive:

Role-based access control implementation is a challenging task and requires more attention to detail as it can cause more destructive security threats and pitfalls in organizational goals. Inefficient role separation and access management can result in delayed productivity as users may have to wait for approval from the administrative end which eventually raises the IT burden.

There may be occasions when a user is overloaded with roles or creating ad hoc roles when new job roles emerge. This creates friction in work in the long run and would be difficult to handle if done unmindfully. Proactively take measures to enjoy network security with the fullest productivity. 

9. Use RBAC with Other Security Measures:

Role-based access control should be used in conjunction with other security measures, such as authentication, authorization, and auditing. Role-based access control is just one component of a comprehensive security strategy, and it should be used in combination with other security measures to provide the best possible protection against security threats. 

10. Continuously Adopt Implementing RBAC Model:

It can be a complex process and is imperative to take a gradual approach to implementation. Start with a small pilot project to test the role-based access control system before rolling it out to the entire organization. This can help identify any issues or challenges early on and ensure a smooth deployment of the role-based access control system.

Training and educating users, managers, and administrators on the use and benefits of role-based access control will help reap the best.  So, it is always necessary to ensure that everyone understands the implemented role-based access control system, how it works, and why it’s important for security.

Wrapping Up

Role-Based Access Control is a widely used access control method in modern IT environments. In today’s complex IT systems, role-based access control provides a flexible and scalable approach to access control, allowing organizations to manage access to their resources in a centralized and efficient manner.

Technological advancements can require managing your network across various horizons like cloud, mobile or other gadgets, IoT, and big data environments. Businesses thrive at a faster pace in such environments where every organization is looking forward to digitizing everything. 

Digital transformation of businesses acquires BPM solutions where approvals are automated and role-based access plays a vital role in managing different workflow approvals.

BPM solutions like Cflow offer easy role-based access and control over every business process automation. With Cflow, you can ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and that approvers are pre-assigned for every process workflow as required.

Say No To Operational Friction With Cflow! Sign Up For The Free Trial Now!

What would you like to do next?​

Automate your workflows with our Cflow experts.​

Get your workflows automated for FREE

    By submitting this form, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    • Platform
    • Workflow Templates
    • Quick Demo