Role-Based Access Control Best Practices: How to Keep Your Business Data Secure

Role-Based Access Control Best Practices: How to Keep Your Business Data Secure

One of the main challenges of managing large networks is the complexity of security administration that comes with it. To simplify this process and efficiently deal with permissions, role-based access control (RBAC) is the key.  

In this blog post, let’s examine role based access control best practices.

Background: why role-based access control matters

Security administration can be high maintenance. While every company has at its disposal sensitive documents and records, managing them requires a thoughtful approach. Protecting this information too strictly can hinder the work of your organization, while leaving it open may lead to disastrous security issues. 

According to Richard Bird, Forbes Technology Council:

Companies that haven’t solved for access control are not only putting themselves at risk - they are also suboptimizing every dollar of their cybersecurity spend.

With the rise of cloud and APIs, traditional security measures are no longer enough. Protection must be implemented at virtually every touch point between systems as compromising even a single account can get your company in trouble. The average cost of a data breach in the USA in 2023 is $4.45 million.

While the majority of companies all over the world depend upon access management tools such as Active Directory to manage access to IT systems and data, it simply cannot guarantee security. Protecting digital identities of users with access control rather than access management is what really matters right now. 

Role based access control allows one to manage security at a level that is fully compatible with an organization’s structure. This method makes sure only those who need access get it, fostering transparency, order and confidentiality. Implementing data tokenization best practices as part of your organization’s security strategy can complement role-based access control, enhancing data protection and privacy. 

What exactly is role-based access control?

In role-based access control best practices, the permissions are related to roles, and users get entrance to the exclusive system data each according to his/her role. Roles are designed and created for different job functions across the organization, and distributed to each user based on his/her responsibilities and qualifications.

The RBAC model has become the predominant one because it enables advanced access control with little to no inconvenience and at minimum cost. It offers flexibility as it allows to reassign users from one role to another, grant them new permissions when new applications and systems are being developed. 

Role-based access control systems all share the same fundamental elements, such as:

  • Administrators. Their function is to discern roles, give permissions, and ensure security system maintenance. 
  • Users. Workers in an organization are added to the system to do their job within a certain role.
  • Roles. The core principle that groups workers based on their responsibilities and tasks they need to perform.
  • Permissions. The actions and access restrictions attached to each role that define what employees are allowed and not allowed to do.

Role-based access control software

What RBAC software does not imply:

  • Taking into account each employee’s preferences. While access depends on a person’s role in the organization, not on his/her personal wishes, it makes it easy to manage permissions.
  • Assigning different permissions to each employee. Administrators have to deal with a large number of employees, so connecting permissions to certain roles which can be applied to even thousands of workers, saves time immensely. Even some changes to employees’ positions, such as promotions, require changing the role rather than rewriting all the permissions. 

RBAC software is not a novelty. Right after the introduction of RBAC concepts in 1992, they were readily embraced by the public.  And since then, thousands of companies have applied role-based access control best practices to manage security in their organizations. 

At present, the RBAC technology is finding its way into various industries from health care to defense, as well as the mainstream commerce systems for which it was initially created.

Roles within role-based access control software: how do they function? 

Roles are critical to your company’s proper functioning. Without a clear distinction of roles and permissions connected with them, employees can’t do their work properly. 

To define roles in your organization, take into account the following factors: 

  • Employees’ authority.  Access is distributed based on the seniority of managers, so that they process the data interns shouldn’t see.
  • Employees’ responsibility. Even senior managers with the same level of authority may have different responsibilities and functions in an organization, so the role division must reflect that.
  • Employees’ qualifications. You could trust an experienced staff member to work with sensitive information where a novice could make considerable mistakes and damages. Tailor-made solutions need to grant such access only to those who can handle the database properly.

Managing permissions in a role-based access control pattern

You need permissions to outline what people can and cannot do in the system. In a role-based access control pattern, permissions act as rules employees should follow according to the specified roles.

RBAC system permissions include:

  • Access restrictions. Outline who in your organization can open a specific file, program, or record. Limit access to these documents to those who don’t even need to know such data exists. 
  • Permissions to see and read. Some roles may be allowed to view the documents and reference them without the ability to edit. Contributing changes, in this case, is restricted and can only be done by other roles with the necessary permission. 
  • Editing and making changes. Consider who can edit the documents or change certain things in the system. One other important factor to think about is whether someone in the organization needs to approve those changes.
  • Sharing. Though certain users can view and edit the documentation, some information may require further security measures. Decide who can download the reports, share them as an email attachment, allow others to access them. Make sure the email domain is protected with DMARC as an important email security measure. 
  • Financial restrictions. This category is one of the most sensitive in terms of security and privacy. With the relevant permissions in the system, you can decide who processes payments in your organization, manages refunds and invoices, sets up credit accounts, or anything else based on your business needs. 

At this point, it’s essential to think through what each role should do and distribute permissions accordingly. Keep in mind that permissions follow roles in the RBAC system, not the other way round. 

Allowing employees to require permissions contrary to their current role and its limitations can create complete havoc in the system. As you begin to alter permissions for each employee individually, the role-based access control software may get impossible to manage. That’s where thinking through all of the permissions as well as roles beforehand will prove efficient. 
A user access review checklist can also benefit businesses, as following one will ensure nothing is missed. One incorrectly attributed role or permission could compromise your system, so consider calling an expert and triple-checking everything before initiating your process.

RBAC software development: best practices and role management

Who can benefit from role-based access control model: pros and cons described

Managing access to sensitive information is vital for any thriving organization. When there are hundreds or thousands of employees, maintaining security should be the number one priority. Moreover, continuous security monitoring can be a challenging task in itself and requires a strategic approach. Limiting unnecessary access to the database based on an RBAC model has plenty of advantages if set up appropriately. They include:

  1. Cutting down on administrative work and technical support. Role-based access control allows companies to reduce not only the need for paperwork. Whenever a new employee is hired or promoted, the RBAC system eliminates the need for manually changing passwords or permissions by assigning an appropriate role. The reduction in time spent on administrative tasks is one of the main economic benefits of the RBAC model.
  2. Achieving maximum operational efficiency. RBAC can streamline operations in your company if roles and permissions are clearly outlined and implemented throughout the entire organization. All of the roles can be aligned with and complement the structure of your business so that users are able to be more autonomous and efficient in their work.
  3. Minimizing errors. When administrators assign permissions individually, the process is much more likely to be error-prone because of its complexity. Using role-based access control allows you to ensure accuracy and seamlessness of distributing permissions by assigning proper roles. 
  4. Better compliance management.  Dealing with various types of regulations is a standard procedure for all organizations. However, establishing a role-based access control system can simplify this process and easily meet the necessary privacy and confidentiality requirements. It is especially critical for health care and financial institutions where the executives need to control who gets access to sensitive data and how it is used.

However, the RBAC model also has some weaknesses. Despite the fact that role-based access control considerably simplifies the process of managing access for business, organizations often struggle to implement the model. 

The main problem lies in initial data quality. To ensure a successful implementation of role-based access control, a well-structured data room with clearly outlined user data, roles, and responsibilities must be in place. The system doesn't support on-the-fly decisions as it can lead to role proliferation and other destructive mistakes. 

Keeping that in mind, let's look at some of the best practices that enable your organization to embrace RBAC as trouble-free as possible.

Role-based access control best practices: how your business can implement an RBAC system

Role-based access control implementation should be a well-thought-out process based on the right methodology. To create an RBAC system suitable to your business needs, each step is vital and should be completed in order. Implementing such complex software requires quite a bit of input from your side as well as professional development services to assist you in the process. 

So, to apply a role based control system in your organization, you need to:

  • Take inventory of your current system. Make a detailed list of all the programs, servers, documents, files, and records that make up your current business system. 
  • Determine roles and responsibilities. You need careful planning to determine what each team member should do and have access to. Even if your business doesn’t have a formal roster and list of responsibilities, think through how many roles in a system make sense for your company and the way they should collaborate so as not to stifle creativity. 
  • Create a plan for your role-based access control software. Outline the functionality and tech stack vital for your system development. If you need any professional assistance on this step, consider engaging the DevOps services. The expertise of team members helps businesses without a technical background outline their product’s infrastructure, set up testing and development processes, and make sure the software performs in agreement with their needs. 
  • Develop your project. Creating a system with functionality that supports all your business processes is the next vital step that defines the project’s future. After all, you need a high-quality platform that can stand the test of time and be easily scalable. Choose your development team wisely, as the project’s success depends on their skills and experience. 
  • Integrate and improve. Integrating the system into your organization also means bringing your employees on board. Collect their feedback in order to know where you need to adapt the software and improve. 

Wrapping up

Businesses cannot function properly without protecting their data. A role-based access control software can ensure the company’s information meets privacy and security regulations. With thorough planning and neat development processes in place, an RBAC system will become a valuable asset for streamlining your business operations. 

And don’t hesitate to contact Apiko expert team to help you with any part of the software development project!

Frequently Asked Questions


What are the main rules to follow while implementing Role-Based Access Control?

  1. Role assignment. When the subject has been assigned a role, only then can it exercise a permission.
  2. Role authorization. In the RBAC model, the role must be authorized for the subject. Together with role assignment, role authorization makes sure that users can engage only in those roles for which they are authorized. 
  3. Permission authorization. The subject’s active role is defined by its permissions and the user can exercise a permission only if it is authorized for his role. With all rules combined, you can ensure users exercise only those permissions for which they are authorized.

Why is Role Based Access Control important?

The RBAC security strategy has a number of benefits such as:
  • Operational performance improvements. With RBAC many operations become automated and users have access only to those applications and services they really need to fulfill responsibilities.
  • High confidentiality. The risk of security breaches and confidential data leakage greatly decreases with RBAC as the access to sensitive data is well regulated.  
  • Simplified administration. HR and IT departments don’t need to worry about the growing number of users, as the number of roles don’t necessarily have to change. That reduces the number of administrative tasks while onboarding new employees.

What are the advantages of RBAC over ACL?

RBAC outweighs ACL in terms of security and administrative management for most business systems. The main difference between these two models is where the permissions are assigned. In RBAC, the permissions are assigned to the users, while in ACL, they are attached to the objects.

The main advantage of Role Based Access Control over an Access Control List is its ease of management. While in RBAC, you administer a certain number of roles no matter how many users, in ACL, for each new user you have to go around all the resources that user needs access to and add them to the list.

It’s best to use RBAC for a company-wide security system with an overseeing administrator and ACL for implementing security at the individual user level and for low-level data.