A Brief Overview of the Principle of Least Privilege

Ensuring that all the critical company data is secure is among the most challenging yet essential tasks for any business owner. Several vital things must be considered when it comes to information security, such as the need for dependable software and trusted employees.

Fortunately, the principle of least privilege (or PoLP) has made things much easier for companies in recent years. You can click here to learn more about the in-depth details of how it works.

For now, carefully consider the following information about the fundamentals of this concept and how it can help your company keep its data safe.

What it means

PoLP is an indispensable part of information security for any company, helping them form a solid base to build a sound security system to shield themselves from data thefts.

At its core, it addresses access control, making it clear that an individual or program has access only to those rights needed to perform their tasks. It eliminates the need for everyone to have access to everything.

For instance, consider an employee tasked with processing payrolls for all the other people in the organization. This person will have access only to that specific function and not administrative control over the employee database.

Along the same lines, a marketing manager need not have access to the employee payroll database to do their job effectively. In the same way, an amateur government employee should not have access to sensitive, confidential information.

What it should not be confused with

The principle of least privilege is often confused with two other critical data security aspects: the “separation of duties” and “need to know” functions.

The separation of duty is as vital to security as PoLP, but both concepts do not mean the same thing. As the name suggests, separation of duties segregates tasks or jobs to various individuals in an organization.

The aim of giving segregated jobs is that no person has complete control over any aspect of the company. For example, with limited access, you can prevent account managers from setting up fake seller accounts and making payments to those with the toxic intention of stealing from the company.

In the same way, the need-to-know feature is not the same as PoLP. In straightforward terms, it means access to critical information based on the need. So, if area managers do not have access to employee databases all the time, they may be given access to them occasionally only if they need to.

Why it is pivotal for data security systems

While it has been established that PoLP is a crucial part of the security planning process, many organizations fail to give it due importance. As a result, they have a higher amount of security breaches, hacks, and unfortunate data thefts.

To better understand this, you should study details of the 2019 Capital One breach, where the company was fined $80 million because over a hundred million credit card applications were hacked.

The hack was partly due to a firewall assigned extra privileges, which allowed unnecessary access to critical information on cloud-based storage. Had this not been the case, the hack may well have been prevented.

Here are some other straightforward and quick examples to help you understand how needless access can impede the proper functioning of an organization and put it at high risk of data thefts and hacks.

  • An advertising professional who has access to the employee salary database violates the principle of confidentiality.
  • A clerk whose primary responsibility is to process payrolls with access to detailed information about customers may end up using that information in unethical ways.
  • If an accountant has the access and ability to change source codes, gross misconduct leads the company to dire losses.
  • An entry-level consultant with access to top-secret company documents might end up violating confidentiality and integrity.

Therefore, if your company practices least privilege, it protects itself from threats within the company (or from the users and employees) and not just outside attacks. That’s because overly privileged users can quickly put valuable information at risk, either willingly or through error.

Sometimes, there may be intentional fraudulent and malicious acts by vengeful employees. Implementing and enforcing this exceptional principle effectively will help your company achieve regulatory compliance and better prepare you to pass audits.


As you already know, company data security can be a complex task that requires a maximum amount of effort, skill, investment, and time.

However, if you diligently follow the basic PoLP formula and strive to implement it effectively, you can protect yourself a lot more quickly. You will reduce the attack surfaces and manage employee access a lot more efficiently.

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