CMMC: What Is the Principle of Least Privilege?
The principle of least privilege is one of the cornerstones of most cybersecurity frameworks, and the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is no exception. Keep reading to learn everything about the principle of least privilege: What it is, how to implement it, and what it means for CMMC.
About the Principle of Least Privilege
The principle of least privilege is a cybersecurity principle that restricts the access privileges of authorized personnel (for example, file modification privileges) to the minimum necessary to perform their jobs.
Applying the principle of least privilege is key because it limits the potential damage that can be done if a user account or process is compromised.
Here are some examples of what the principle of least privilege looks like in some real-life scenarios:
- Systems administrators should use non-privileged accounts for regular tasks and only use their privileged accounts when necessary.
- Database analysts may need read-and-write access to a database, but they don’t necessarily need the ability to delete entire tables or databases.
- Software applications should only have the minimum required permissions to function correctly. For example, an image editor doesn’t need the same access privileges as an antivirus software.
The Principle of Least Privilege and CMMC
The principle of least privilege has a dedicated CMMC practice: AC.L2-3.1.5 – Least Privilege.
This practice requires defense contractors and subcontractors to “Employ the principle of least privilege, including for specific security functions and privileged accounts.”
Applying the principle of least privilege under CMMC means doing two fundamental things:
- Restricting user access to only the machines and information needed to fulfill job responsibilities.
- Limiting what system configuration settings users can change.
This principle must be applied to all enterprise systems but is particularly critical for devices and users that access and handle Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).
Privileged Accounts vs Non-Privileged Accounts
CMMC makes a distinction between two basic types of accounts: Privileged accounts and non-privileged accounts.
A privileged account is a user account authorized to perform security functions that non-privileged accounts are not authorized to perform.
In other words, privileged-account users can perform more tasks, access more information, and take more critical system actions than users with a non-privileged account.
That’s why users with privileged accounts (such as system administrators) must be trained not to use their privileged accounts for everyday tasks, such as doing internet searches or browsing social media.
The Principle of Least Privilege: CMMC Assessment
If you aim to obtain CMMC Level 2 certification or higher, you need to observe the principle of least privilege.
In order to verify that this principle has been implemented, the CMMC ASSESSOR will use the methods at their disposal (examinations, tests, and interviews) to determine if:
- Privileged accounts are identified.
- Access to privileged accounts is authorized in accordance with the principle of least privilege.
- Security functions are identified.
- Access to security functions is authorized in accordance with the principle of least privilege.
Some questions you can ask yourself before to ensure you are fulfilling the least privilege requirement include:
- Are privileged accounts documented?
- Have you defined when privileged accounts can be used?
- Are users assigned privileged accounts only when necessary?
- Are necessary security functions identified that must be managed through the use of privileged accounts?
If you need help making sense of the principle of least privilege, or any other CMMC practice, don’t hesitate to contact us today. Our whole team stands ready to assist you!
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