Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022

What is Principle of Least Privilege and How to Implement It?

This blog post talks about the Principle Of Least Privilege (PoLP), which is considered a best practice in information security, the importance of..


This blog post talks about the Principle Of Least Privilege (PoLP), which is considered a best practice in information security, the importance of PoLP, its benefits, and how to implement it.

What Is The Principle Of Least Privilege (PoLP)?

The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is an information security concept in which a user’s access rights are limited to only those required to perform their jobs. This principle, sometimes called the access control principle, grants users permissions and access to only those resources that are strictly necessary to perform their job functions. By doing so the damage that can result from an accident or error is limited. For example, an organization can grant the appropriate access to an employee based on the location, department, or time of day. 

Any system or asset can be protected in two basic ways- first, by patching any weakness or vulnerability, and second, by limiting access and functionality. The first method aims at preventing security breaches while the second method goes one step further and additionally aims at limiting the damage in the case of breaches. This second method is referred to as the principle of least privilege.

PoLP is a cybersecurity best practice and is instrumental in the security of critical data and assets. This principle is not restricted to human access alone and can be applied to any application, system, or device that requires access or permissions to perform tasks. The access rights for applications, systems, and processes can also be restricted to only those who are authorized.



The principle of least privilege ensures that the humans, devices, as well as systems, have only the requisite access and nothing more. It requires a way to centrally manage access rights and privileges but the system should have the flexibility to balance security and compliance requirements with operational needs and end-user satisfaction.

What Are The Benefits Of A Least Privilege Model?

Implementing the principle of least privilege offers many benefits, the main benefits are as follows:

  • Improved Security

According to the Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report 2021 published by BeyondTrust, 56% of Critical vulnerabilities would have been mitigated by removing admin rights. Unrestricted access rights and privileges open up doors to unlimited potential for damage and financial loss. The more access and privileges a user has, the greater the possibility of abuse or error. Implementing least privilege protects your organization from insider threats, improving overall security.

  • Minimized Attack Surface

Most cyberattacks rely on exploiting privileged credentials. Limiting the privileges for users, systems, applications, networks, etc. reduces the number of endpoints that can be exploited. Thus, by limiting the user and administrator privileges, the implementation of least privilege reduces the overall attack surface.

  • Reduced Malware Infection And Propagation

Malware usually requires access and administrator privileges to elevate processes that allow it to install or execute. Implementing least privilege on endpoints ensures that the malware is contained within the section where it entered the network. Without the necessary elevated privileges, the malware cannot move laterally and propagate to other machines or systems.

  • Improved Operational Performance And Productivity

Deploying applications in a large environment is much easier if it requires few privileges. Applications that require elevated security privileges such as installing drivers need additional steps for deployment. Code blocks and programs are also easier to test because applications with restricted privileges will not be able to crash a machine or system. Therefore, removing administrator rights significantly reduces risks in addition to improving productivity and reducing IT helpdesk tickets.

  • Audit Readiness

PoLP minimizes the unwanted, or improper uses of privilege by reducing the number of potential interactions among privileged programs to the minimum required for correct operation. By doing so, it creates a simple and audit-friendly environment. The scope of an audit can be reduced dramatically because the number of programs that must be audited is minimized. Unsurprisingly, compliance regulations such as HIPAA, SOX, etc. require the implementation of the PoLP as a compliance requirement.

Key PoLP Terms

Here are some terms related to the principle of least privilege that you are likely to encounter:

  • Superuser

A superuser is an account whose privileges include full read, write and execute privileges. Such accounts are primarily used for IT administrators. Superusers have the ability to render system changes across the network, install software, change settings and configurations, and delete user accounts and data. Given the virtually unlimited power they have over the system, superusers are the most powerful and if misused, the most dangerous type of user account.

  • Privilege Creep

Privilege creep refers to the gradual accrual of unnecessary permissions, access rights, and privileges by individual users. It is a common occurrence in companies where account management is not properly controlled by the IT department. Privilege creep usually happens when IT teams forget to revoke privileges when personnel changes occur but more often they happen due to the sharing of login credentials, bypassing security policies and procedures.

Privilege creep means users wield more privilege than necessary and this poses a significant security risk. Allowing user accounts to move about the network unrestrained can cause security, compliance, and workflow issues. If such privileged credentials fall into the wrong hands, it can cause untold damage to the business. In addition, privilege creep compounds the potential for access abuse and insider threats attacking your most critical resources from within the network.

How To Implement The Principle Of Least Privilege?

The principle of least privilege is conceptually simple but implementing it can be very complex depending on your IT infrastructure. As we mentioned earlier, the principle applies not only to individual users but also to networks, devices, programs, and services.

Some of the main variables that impact implementation include:

  • The number of different account types and roles.

  • Operating system environment - Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.

  • Endpoints - desktops, laptops, smartphones, IoT devices, etc.

  • Computing environment - on-prem, cloud, hybrid.

  • Vendor or third-party access requirements

When implementing PoLP, the most important thing to remember is that the principle must apply to all entities because the compromise of any one endpoint, system, or process can potentially put the entire organization at risk.



The implementation of the principle of least privilege typically involves the following steps:

  1. Conduct a privilege audit to locate all privileged accounts and credentials for employees, contractors, vendors, applications, processes, etc. Once discovered, bring them under policy management to ensure that they only have the permissions required to do the job.

  2. Remove admin rights on endpoints. Make standard privileges as default for all users. If elevated privileges are required, the user must request approval using a defined procedure.

  3. Remove all root and admin access rights to critical assets such as servers.

  4. Enforce separation of privileges. Separate admin accounts from standard account requirements. And separate system functions such as read, edit, write, execute, etc. as well as higher-level system functions from lower ones.

  5. Enable just-in-time privileges where possible. Restrict elevated privileges only to the time when it is actually needed by using expiring privileges or one-time-use credentials.

  6. Segment networks to separate users and processes based on different levels of needs, and privilege sets.

  7. Ensure that individual actions are traceable through the use of user IDs, one-time passwords, monitoring, and automatic auditing tools, to provide oversight and accountability.

  8. Constantly review all IAM permissions and privileges in the cloud environments and strategically remove unnecessary elevated permissions to cloud workloads.

  9. Consistently monitor all the activities related to administrator accounts to ensure rapid detection and mitigation of in-progress attacks.

  10. Harden your systems. Eliminate unnecessary accounts, services, programs, and unneeded firewall ports.



The principle of least privilege is the concept of restricting access rights of users to only those resources that are required for performing their legitimate functions. Least privilege applies not just to users but also to applications, systems, processes, and devices such as IoT. Modern businesses rapidly adopt emerging and evolving technologies combined with greater employee mobility and the use of cloud applications make for a highly heterogeneous and complex technology environment.

Such a complex technology landscape has resulted in an increase in attack surfaces making it imperative to get your security controls right. It is a security best practice and a foundational element of a zero-trust security framework. Implementing least privilege is instrumental in reducing security and business risks that may result from external attacks as well as internal threats and errors.

Are you following all the industry best practices when it comes to security? Are you confident in your security controls? Reach out to us by clicking the button below and find out how we can help you level up your security.

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By: Hari Subedi
Title: What Is Principle Of Least Privilege And How To Implement It
Sourced From: www.itjones.com/blogs/2021/10/22/what-is-principle-of-least-privilege-and-how-to-implement-it
Published Date: Fri, 22 Oct 2021 08:00:00 +0000

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