principle of least privilege

Least Privilege Definition

Let’s start off by answering, “what is the principle of least privilege?”

The principle of least privilege is the idea that at any user, program or process should have only the minimum privileges necessary to do their job. For example, a salesperson account created for pulling records from a database doesn’t need admin rights while an employee who regularly updates old code lines needs access to financial records, and that is what is principle.


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Least Privilege Access

The principle of least privilege means giving employees only the access they need to do their job. In an IT environment, it reduces risk by preventing attackers from gaining access to sensitive systems or data, least privilege example.

Least Privilege Policy

The principle of least privilege access can be applied to everything in an IT environment. It applies both to end-users and the system itself, as well as all other facets, including least privilege cybersecurity.

  • With the principle of least privilege, an employee who only needs to enter information into a database should be granted as few privileges as possible. If malware infects that employee’s computer or if heshe clicks on a link in a phishing email, it will limit the malicious attacks to making entries into that particular system and not others.
  • If a MySQL account is made to only have sorting privileges, and not the ability to delete records, then an attacker will be limited in what they can do if they exploit that form.
  • With Just in Time Least Privilege, when someone only needs to use root privileges occasionally they should work with the least amount of access possible. The user can retrieve credentials for the root account from a password vault as needed. This increases traceability and security.

Least Privilege Example Failures

Implementing the principle of least privilege will help organizations from being hacked.

  • Edward Snowden was able to leak millions of NSA files because he had admin privileges, though his highest-level task was creating database backups. The principle of least privilege has been in place since the Snowden leaks; 90% of employees no longer have higher-level access.
  • Target exposed themselves to hackers by not following the principle of least privilege. They had a very wide attack surface because they gave too many people access.
  • Malware that is limited to just one part of the system can be contained by limiting its privileges.
  • The principle of least privilege also helps system stability by limiting the effects changes can have on other parts of a computer.
  • When the system is built on least privilege, it can reduce how much of its audit. It also makes compliance easier because many regulations call for POLP implementation.

Best Practices for Least Privilege (How to Implement POLP)

  • Make sure that all accounts, processes, and programs have the permissions they need to do their jobs.
  • You should start with the least privilege possible, and only add higher-level privileges as you need them.
  • Make sure you separate admin accounts from standard ones, and also make sure to divide system functions into at least two groups.
  • Give people just enough privileges to get the job done, but don’t give them more than they need. If you do have to grant someone higher-level access on one occasion, make sure it’s revoked afterward.
  • One way to limit the damage is by having individual actions trackable. This can be done with a user ID, one-time passwords, or monitoring.
  • Make it a routine. Regularly checking for old permissions, accounts, and processes can prevent one from accumulating privileges they no longer need.

Protect Your Organization from Cybersecurity Threats

SecurityStudio help information security leaders at organizations ensure they’re protected against cybersecurity threats, stay insurable, and legally defensible with our risk assessment and risk management software. Schedule a demo to learn how we can help.