What is role-based access control (RBAC)?

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Role-based access control (RBAC) is a method of managing user access to systems, networks, or resources based on their role within a team or a larger organization.

An alternative to configuring specific system or network access for each individual user, RBAC allows IT administrators to identify the necessary level of access for all users with a particular job function and assign those users a role with the appropriately configured set of permissions. This gives IT teams the ability to easily add, modify, and remove permissions for all users in a group at once, or quickly change a single user’s access level by assigning or removing a role.

At its core, every role-based access control system follows the same basic principles:

  • Each user is assigned one or more roles.
  • User roles are assigned permissions.
  • Users gain access to permissions by being active members of a role.

In many cases, RBAC models establish a role hierarchy, in which the role structure resembles the hierarchy of the organization and may include roles for administrators, end users, and guests, and any specialized group in between. Some role hierarchies may be inheritance hierarchies, where more senior user roles are automatically granted the roles beneath them along with their privileges. In other cases, the hierarchy may be arbitrary and users granted a senior role do not necessarily inherit descendent roles by default. 

Depending on the use case, organizations using RBAC may also enforce separation of duties by requiring involvement from multiple users with different roles to initiate a specific task or action. This practice, along with regular auditing of role permissions, is implemented to reduce risk by ensuring that no single user has more privileges than they actually need.

While organizations may choose from several user provisioning methodologies, RBAC is one of the most common. It provides a more granular approach to identity and access management (IAM) than access control lists (ACLs), but remains simpler and easier to implement than attribute-based access control (ABAC). While other methods of IAM—like mandatory access control (MAC) or discretionary access control (DAC)—might be effective for specific use cases, RBAC is a good choice for most organizations looking for an easy-to-manage governance solution that scales.

Increased operational efficiency and less down time

RBAC makes the assignment of permissions consistent and repeatable, which can increase efficiency for operations teams that would otherwise need to configure individual user access or object permissions. If a team decides that users assigned to a role need access to a new resource, they only need to adjust permissions for the relevant role instead of configuring permissions for each person. Additionally, when a team member takes on a new job duty or responsibility, their permissions can easily be updated by changing their role or assigning a new one.

Scalability

Since roles are tied to the organizational structure, it’s an effective approach to IAM for teams of any size. Organizations undergoing rapid growth or transformation will find that roles can be assigned, removed, or modified quickly, ensuring minimal disruption to daily operations. 

Improved security and data protection

RBAC follows the principle of least privilege (PoLP), a core tenet of zero-trust security, which means that a user is only granted the privileges they need to do their job. By limiting access in this manner, organizations are able to minimize unnecessary threats and reduce the risk of data breaches—as well as the associated costs.

Improved compliance

The use of role hierarchies allows for better visibility, oversight, and auditing. Administrators can quickly identify and correct mistakes in user permissions, allowing for better compliance with regulatory standards and more precise management of access to sensitive information and systems.

Implement zero trust principles through automation with Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform.

Businesses that lack IT automation can be impeded by inefficient, manual processes that increase costs and pose security risks. Automation tools can help teams implement RBAC, particularly in cases where system administrators want to automate the assignment of roles to users or groups with specific attributes. Automating RBAC policies can lower the incidence of human errors—like assigning the incorrect role to a user or outfitting a role with incorrect permissions—and protect sensitive data. 

Additionally, a strong RBAC system is necessary for managing access to automation resources including inventories and specific projects. Automation teams can use RBAC to establish an efficient, scalable role hierarchy with carefully configured permissions to ensure better security, compliance, and coordination across the enterprise.

As the leading provider of enterprise open source software solutions, Red Hat gives you the tools necessary for managing role-based access control across environments. 

Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform helps you automate manual tasks and speed up time-to-value while facilitating automation at the scale, complexity, and flexibility required of the modern enterprise. As the control plane of Ansible Automation Platform, Automation controller allows administrators to define, operate, and delegate automation across teams. It provides granular, built-in RBAC capabilities and integrates with enterprise authentication systems to ensure that automation includes the security and compliance to meet business standards.

RBAC in automation controller helps reduce the repetition of manual tasks by providing predefined roles to grant access to controller objects like credentials, inventories, job templates, and more. You can also establish collections of controller objects, called “organizations,” and assign users as members with specific read, write, or execute privileges. 

If you’re looking to bring improved security, compliance, and operational efficiency to IAM in container orchestration, Red Hat OpenShift® can help you manage user access to pods, nodes, and entire clusters. An enterprise-ready hybrid cloud application platform, Red Hat OpenShift allows you to manage, deploy, and scale containerized applications while taking advantage of powerful Kubernetes components—including security features like Kubernetes RBAC.

Automate governance, risk, and compliance processes with Policy as Code

Building on Infrastructure as Code (IaC) strategy, organizations are beginning to use these practices to automate IT processes at every stage of the operational life cycle. Just as IaC standardizes the build, provisioning, and deployment of infrastructure, IT teams can adopt Ops as Code and Policy as Code to codify the management, maintenance, and governance of systems after they are deployed.

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