6 Examples of Role Based Access Control (RBAC) Architecture
March 20, 2024

Dotan Nahum
Check Point Software Technologies

The humble password has evolved with the needs of modern digital users. Without access to systems, employees would be unable to do their jobs, and without access control measures, it would be impossible to verify who is who in the digital world.

Role Based Access Control (RBAC) is a method for regulating access to computer or network resources based on the roles of individual users within an organization. In RBAC, access permissions are grouped by role name, and access to resources is restricted to users who have been authorized to assume the associated role.

The RBAC architecture provides a flexible and scalable framework for simplifying access rights management and assignment. It helps organizations see identity security as a continuous and comprehensive process rather than just a siloed stack of tools.

Growth, Change, and Market Developments

The RBAC market is showing significant growth and evolution, driven by the increasing complexity of IT environments. The fusion of Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) platforms with RBAC solutions is a prominent trend. It aims to deliver comprehensive access control by combining RBAC's role-focused methodology with IGA's functionalities and streamlining governance, risk management, and compliance efforts. ​

The core RBAC segment continues to dominate the market, with organizations adopting more intricate and detailed access control policies. Meanwhile, the hierarchical RBAC segment is expected to boom, especially with the rising use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and edge computing. Organizations adopt hierarchical RBAC models for decentralized environments like IoT ecosystems, enabling structured access control for a variety of devices and sensors.

A Series of Moving Parts

Roles: Roles are created to reflect the job functions within an organization. Each role is assigned specific permissions that define what the users in that role can and cannot do.

Users: Individuals within the organization are assigned to one or more roles. By assigning a user to a role, they inherit the permissions associated with that role.

Permissions: Permissions are specific access rights to resources or systems. In the context of RBAC, permissions are not assigned directly to users but are bundled into roles.

Constraints: These are the rules that govern role assignments and permissions. Constraints can be used to enforce policies like separation of duties, ensuring that conflicting roles are not assigned to the same user, or limiting the number of users who can have a particular role.

Session: In some RBAC systems, a session is defined as a mapping between a user and an activated subset of roles to which the user is assigned. A session allows users to activate only certain roles at a given time, depending on the task at hand.

Role hierarchies: Many RBAC systems implement role hierarchies, where roles can inherit permissions from other roles, allowing for efficient permissions management as higher-level roles can encompass the permissions of lower-level roles.

Administrative functions: Functions include creating and managing roles, assigning users to roles, and defining and modifying permissions and constraints. In many organizations, these administrative functions are performed by system administrators or specialized RBAC managers.

Auditing and reporting: RBAC architectures often include tools for auditing and reporting to track which users have accessed what resources and when.

6 Examples of Role Based Access Control (RBAC) Architecture

Example 1: Hierarchical RBAC in Healthcare

In healthcare, RBAC is implemented hierarchically. Nurses have access to patient records but not administrative functions, whereas senior doctors access both. This model ensures data confidentiality while enabling necessary access for patient care.

Example 2: Core RBAC in Financial Services

Financial institutions often employ Core RBAC. Different roles, like tellers, branch managers, and auditors, are assigned specific permissions. This system safeguards sensitive financial data, ensures regulatory compliance, and helps prevent internal fraud.

Example 3: Constrained RBAC in Government Agencies

Government agencies utilize constrained RBAC to manage complex data access needs. Constrained RBAC includes separation-of-duty policies where individuals can't access conflicting roles, like budget creation and approval, enhancing security, and reducing internal fraud risks.

Example 4: Dynamic RBAC in Tech Companies

Tech companies often implement dynamic RBAC, in which the system adapts to changing roles and permissions in real time. It's essential for fast-paced, innovation-driven environments and supports flexibility without compromising security.

Example 5: RBAC in Educational Institutions

Students, faculty, and administrative staff can be assigned different roles. Students may have access to learning management systems and library databases, while faculty members have additional permissions to access student grades and contribute to course materials. Administrative staff may have broader access, including financial and personal records of students and faculty.

Example 6: RBAC in E-commerce Platforms

An e-commerce company might use RBAC to control access based on the role of employees. For example, sales staff may access customer order details and inventory databases but not payment processing systems. Meanwhile, the finance team may have access to payment gateways and transaction records but not to customer service tools.

Passwords: A Thing of the Past?

There is a swift move away from passwords altogether, with many organizations turning to strategies like MFA, web authentication, and tokens to seek more robust access control and deliver better user experience.

RBAC's design adaptability across different sectors underscores its importance. For CISOs, embracing these architectures streamlines operations and fortifies our defenses against ever-evolving security threats.

So, the humble password is not so humble after all.

Dotan Nahum is Head of Developer-First Security at Check Point Software Technologies
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