The User Access Reviews Guide For Compliance

The User Access Reviews Guide For Compliance

Most of the employees of an organization switch roles or are assigned to new projects as they progress through their career journey. This is accompanied by changing IT permissions that they need to handle their new responsibilities. But have you ever wondered what happens to the access points they previously owned? Most companies fail to account for these, leaving the infrastructure open to data security threats. This is where user access reviews are super helpful.

Removing old IT permissions through periodic user access evaluations is critical in preventing data breaches, privacy violations, and privilege abuse. User access reviews also mitigate compliance risks and safeguard critical business assets, which is why it is an essential part of access management. In this blog, we will discuss what a user access review is, which compliance standards demand one, its challenges, and the key steps to follow if you want to conduct one effectively. 

What is a User Access Review?

User access reviews, also known as permission reviews, privilege reviews, or access recertification, regularly examine your organization’s current access privileges to identify and eliminate permissions that are not needed or are outdated. Regular access audits are required to maintain security and compliance. When users have access to files or systems they do not require; these resources are put at risk from both threats—employee data theft and outside attacks such as account hijacking.

As a result, keeping IT privileges to a minimum and only assigning permissions that are essential to a user’s position is a best practice of cybersecurity, often known as the principle of least privilege. Regular access assessments are the only way to ensure the least privileged access by providing that nobody can access sensitive information.

Now, let’s see which compliance standards demand periodic user access reviews.

Which Compliance Standards Require Periodic User Access Reviews?

The majority of widely accepted IT security and compliance frameworks require reviewing user access permissions, including:

  1. NIST 800-53 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory US government organization developing cybersecurity principles and standards used globally. The NIST Special Publication 800-53 AC-1 and AC-2 controls require organizations to evaluate access rights and rules periodically. Your company can set its schedule for user access reviews and employ a software solution to carry them out.

  1. HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a US statute that specifies data security procedures for businesses that handle healthcare data. Administrative Safeguards under HIPAA 164.308 requires a periodic evaluation of access policies and the execution of strategies to establish, document, review, and adjust user access rights. The US Department of Health and Human Services audits to ensure compliance with this requirement and the absence of infractions.

  1. PCI DSS

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a global security standard for businesses that process credit card and cardholder data. PCI DSS Requirement 7 defines mandatory access control mechanisms such as granular access control, the principle of least privilege, and periodic review of user roles and privileges. In addition, criterion 12 requires organizations to evaluate their access control policies annually. An organization like NIST can self-assess the frequency and quality of reviews.

  1. GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) unifies data privacy rules throughout the European Union (EU) and applies to organizations that collect and process the personal data of EU residents. Article 32 of the GDPR compels organizations to audit the data they process and the individuals who access it (including employees and third-party providers). Non-compliance with this GDPR could result in significant fines.

Even though most globally recognized compliance standards demand user access reviews as part of their guidelines, many challenges are associated with performing them periodically at your organization. Let’s see what these difficulties are.

What are the Challenges Associated with User Access Reviews?

Performing regular user access reviews in your company may be accompanied by the following challenges:

  1. Complicated IT infrastructure

Many businesses employ an overly sophisticated IT architecture. Numerous programs, databases, and systems are frequently present in modern IT environments, making identifying and assessing all user access rights and permissions challenging. 

  1. Lots of time and resources required

Examining all current and previous user permissions distributed in the organization can be time-consuming and resource-draining.

  1. High employee churn

If your company experiences a high staff turnover rate, tracking who has access to particular systems and applications can take time and effort. Additionally, access might be terminated after some time.

  1. Dissatisfaction amongst employees

Employees could become displeased if the review results in modifications to their access privileges, even if those adjustments are necessary to improve the organization’s cybersecurity. It could result in a loss of productivity and general dissatisfaction with the organizational norms.

  1. Meeting compliance requirements

Obeying security regulations is becoming prevalent in many different industries nowadays for securing user access. Compliance requirements vary and may evolve depending on the sector and region. Adhering to them takes a lot of work.

Now that you understand what user access reviews entail let’s see what steps you need to follow to conduct one at your organization.

7-Step Checklist to Conduct User Access Reviews

Here is a 7-step checklist for you to conduct meticulous user access reviews in your organization:

  1. Define the Scope of Your Review
  2. Rescind Permissions of Ex-employees
  3. Remove Shadow Admin Accounts
  4. Ensure Employees from Previous Positions Don’t Have Access
  5. Guarantee that Employees and Vendor Have the Fewest Privileges Possible
  6. Verify that Access Permissions are Given Only When Necessary
  7. Analyze Review Results and Make Improvements

Let’s delve into the details.

  1. Define the Scope of Your Review

It is essential to define the scope of the user access review process. You can conduct the audit more effectively, timely, and structured with a clear scope and plan. To speed up and improve the process, consider prioritizing accounts for reviewing user access rights based on risk profiles. 

  1. Rescind Permissions of Ex-employees

You should consider paying particular attention to whether the accounts of the company’s former employees are still active in your network when reviewing user access. To ensure their access rights are terminated, keep a list of the employees who have left since the last user access review report. The best course of action is to revoke user access rights immediately after resignation. 

  1. Remove Shadow Admin Accounts

Shadow admin accounts are user accounts that receive administrative access permissions directly but are not normally part of privileged Active Directory (AD) groups. These accounts may be targeted by hostile attackers who wish to escalate and abuse their privileges if they are not properly monitored. You may think about eliminating shadow admin accounts or, at the very least, adding them to administrative groups that are watched.

  1. Ensure Employees from Previous Positions Don’t Have Access

Employees’ access rights may increase as they shift roles within the company, known as privilege creep. While conducting a user access review method, checking that employees’ access permissions correspond to their current job responsibilities is advisable. You should also check if staff members who have changed departments still have access to their prior positions.  

  1. Guarantee that Employees and Vendor Have the Fewest Privileges Possible

The time you spend reviewing a user will decrease as their privileges decrease. Consider implementing the principle of least privilege in your company, which entails limiting access to resources and equipment to what is necessary for workers and vendors to perform their duties. This helps prevent insider threats and is mandated by the security standards we previously covered.

  1. Verify that Access Permissions are Given Only When Necessary

In keeping with the principle of least privilege, you must check to see if every user with privileged access permissions needs them all the time. Instead of giving users a new position or providing them permanent access permissions, consider employing one-time passwords (OTP) or implementing just-in-time PAM for users who only require access once or twice. The just-in-time method grants users temporary access automatically revoked once they complete their tasks.

  1. Analyze Review Results and Make Improvements

Every user access review procedure should advance the organization’s user access management. As a result, we advise that you take note of and account for all issues found throughout the inspection. After that, write a summary that analyzes those problems and outlines the activities necessary to mitigate them.

Security and Compliance with Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.

Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our compliance automation platform and services help our customers become compliance-ready and certified for security and compliance frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, NIST CSF, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, FedRAMP, CCPA, CMMC, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s Risk Management product for overall risk management for your company, Trust Center, and AI-based Automated Questionnaire Response product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently. 

The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.

Build customer trust. Choose Akitra TODAY!‍

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