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Access Control

ABAC: An Introduction to Attribute-Based Access Control

|Chief Scientist
Access management has evolved to incorporate need-to-share authorizations in addition to need-to-know information. The authorization and access control has traditionally focused on constructing walls to sensitive data and limiting access to a select few. However, this norm is shifting, as businesses seek to extract more value from their data and make it truly useful. Authorization is now about allowing users to access the appropriate data, at the right time, and under the right circumstances.   Effective strategies for identity management are employed to safeguard sensitive digital assets. Many businesses and individuals rely on these assets to protect their most sensitive data. Digital protections are frequently reliant on sloppy details and, in some cases, simple word of mouth. Even if those digital safeguards keep your data safe, you should still be cautious about what you do with such sensitive data. In order to understand the significance of attribute-based access control, we will discuss the following topics in this article:

Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Before anything else, you should understand the distinction between ABAC and RBAC.


What Is Role-Based Access Control?

In current networks, role-based Access Control (RBAC) has more dynamic properties to utilize enhanced access control. RBAC has many features, such as access to an operating system limited to specified functions, including generating, altering, or viewing a file. You can ensure the security of a company's essential data and mission-critical applications with RBAC. RBAC allows you to control both broad and specific features of end-user activity. When you add a user to a role group, they gain access to all of its roles. If they are later removed from the group, this user will be unable to enter the role. Users may also get granted access to certain data and applications for specific projects, which gets erased once the tasks are completed.  

What Is Attribute-Based Access Control?

Attribute-based access control (ABAC) is built to maintain data, network devices, and IT resources protected by preventing unauthorized personnel and activities from accessing them while adhering to the organization's security policies. ABAC is a versatile, fine-grained technique for regulating identity-based processes. Further, ABAC is also a logical access control approach that determines authorization to conduct a sequence of operations. This sequence is determined by comparing features associated with the subject, object, requested processes, and, in certain situations, environmental parameters that describe the permitted operations for a given set of inputs.   Moreover, ABAC is a variation on traditional role-based access control. Roles define prerogatives that are flexibly determined based on any attribute of the actor trying to enter or modify data, any characteristic of the data to be handled or adjusted, or any contextual data available throughout a transaction.  

ABAC Terminologies or Attributes

It is important to keep the following terms or attributes in mind:  
  • Subject: The person's identification number, title, job roles, group and organizational affiliations, management level, and security clearance are all included in a user profile.
  • Resource: Resource attributes include all identifying elements, such as a file's publication date, owner, name, and type, as well as data sensitivity.
  • Action: The action denotes what the user is trying to achieve with the specified resource.
  • Environment: All applications are a part of the environment, and contextual factors link to every environmental component.

Methodology of ABAC

Below is the summary of the steps involved in implementing attribute-based access control:
  • First, you will need the following information:
    • User or subject attributes
    • Environment or environmental attributes
    • Information asset or resource and action attributes
  • You then pass this information on to the Authorization Engine.
  • The Authorization Engine subsequently determines whether the action is permitted or denied.

Are ABAC and RBAC Mutually Exclusive?

While it may seem that ABAC and RBAC are two competing methodologies for access control, they can actually coexist. There are times when neither RBAC nor ABAC on its own covers all potential use cases. For this reason, most businesses use a hybrid approach. This hybrid approach combines the simplicity of RBAC rules with the versatility and adaptive decision-making of ABAC policies. The hybrid solution is future-proof since it allows organizations to design and enforce rules depending on individual profiles and business environment factors. The ARBAC (Attribute and Role Based Access Control) hybrid technique integrates the IT and business frameworks, allowing the system to use both methods simultaneously. Basic access is granted automatically, but you can also tailor access for specific people based on the organization's structure. The hybrid approach simplifies access to employee accounts, making it easier for businesses to choose who receives what data access. When the methodology is combined with a user-centric configuration tool, IT can finally delegate user acquisition and deployment to business decision-makers.    

ABAC Pros and Cons

ABAC offers many advantages such as those listed below:  
  • When canceling or granting permissions, it becomes significantly easier to change attributes without needing to create new roles.
  • Establish a specific access control policy. Administrators can choose from a variety of criteria to design rules that are customized to their needs.
  • Existing restrictions do not need to be changed to accommodate new users. Administrators simply configure it so new users need to satisfy the conditions.
As with everything, ABAC also has its disadvantages:
  • Rebuilding from a botched ABAC deployment can be a lengthy and difficult task.
  • ABAC deployment requires more time, resources, and expensive tooling, all of which add to the overall cost. On the other hand, a successful ABAC implementation can prove to be a financially sound and long-term investment.
  • ABAC is not easy to implement, especially when you are short on time.
  • Controlling the updating and visibility of ABAC policies can be tricky.
  • Implementing ABAC within data architecture can be time-consuming, as it necessitates the use of views, resulting in complex coding that can degrade performance.
  • Various technologies have different features and implementation approaches, a challenge that is exacerbated when multiple data stores are spread across various technologies.

ABAC With Satori

Satori allows you to set attribute-based access control on all your data platforms, regardless of their native capabilities. This can be done with different attributes, such as the IP, country or tool used by the user accessing the data. As an example, BI users can be locked-in to only use BI tools, or geo-fencing can be applied.  


  The more technology people rely on, the more entry points each of us will need to accommodate. ABAC is the most efficient way to deal with the complexities of determining who should have access and how the information should get handled. Satori is here to help apply the access control that suits your needs to your databases. If you’d like to learn more, fill the form below to set a demo meeting.  
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About the author
|Chief Scientist

Ben is an experienced tech leader and book author with a background in endpoint security, analytics, and application & data security. Ben filled roles such as the CTO of Cynet, and Director of Threat Research at Imperva. Ben is the Chief Scientist for Satori, the DataSecOps platform.

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