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How do you perform quarterly access reviews?

How do you perform quarterly access reviews?

Savvy organizations usually deploy some type of identity and access management (IAM) solution. IAM solutions leverage the principle of least privilege (POLP), role-based access control (RBAC), or other such mechanisms to manage access to data, applications, and IT infrastructure.

However, every organization's structure and human resources capacity typically change over time as new employees are brought on board and existing ones quit. For large organizations, this can result in hundreds, or even thousands, of employees changing roles or leaving every year.

Without some form of periodic user access review in place, there's a very real risk that former employees may still retain access to sensitive corporate data and systems after being terminated. The same applies to current employees who accumulate user privilege access over time as they move through different roles and departments. 

User access reviews are a great way to prevent these security risks from occurring and transforming into full-blown threats.

What is a user access review?

Access reviews describe the process of monitoring the rights and privileges of everyone who can interact with data and applications. This includes management personnel, employees, vendors, service providers, and other third parties. Also known as entitlement review, account attestation, or account recertification, access reviews are essential to the management, monitoring, and auditing of user account lifecycles.

Access reviews ensure that the access rights to an organization's information system (granted to a user) are authorized and appropriate for that user's role and functions. This review applies to all existing access rights to a company's data, applications, and infrastructure. Reviews pinpoint:

  • which access rights are authorized and approved
  • what level of access each user has
  • who has access to what within the organization

In addition to protecting an organization's data and IT assets, a user access review is an essential prerequisite for the thorough implementation of security and compliance frameworks

It is a mandatory control mechanism used by companies in industries and verticals subject to the following standards: HIPAA, CRBF, Solvency, CMMC, SOC 1 and 2, SOX,  ISAE 3402, ISO 27002, and ISO 27001, among others. It also helps companies adhere to security best practices and risk management by facilitating the separation of duties, the principle of need-to-know, and the principle of least privilege.

How often do you perform access reviews?

Providing unauthorized users with access rights to sensitive corporate data and IT assets can result in risks, inadvertent mistakes, or malicious attacks that are detrimental to an organization's reputation and bottom line. Other risks include:

  • Outdated user access policies
  • Account misconfiguration
  • Internal threats, malicious and accidental
  • Access abuse
  • Fraud
  • Inappropriate or unauthorized access
  • Privilege creep

To prevent these risks from becoming full-blown security incidents, access reviews must be undertaken at regular intervals. Smaller companies may find it easier to frequently review user access due to a manageable number of employees and systems. However, such companies typically don't have high employee turnover, and as such, can afford to review their user access once or twice a year. 

Conversely, larger corporations often have a slew of employees that are constantly leaving, changing roles/departments, or being onboarded as new hires. While frequent access reviews are beneficial from a security standpoint, the vast array of systems, IT assets, and data makes it a challenging task. 

For such organizations, it's a good idea to audit high-risk assets more often than lower-risk systems and then perform biannual access reviews. For best results (regardless of company size or industry), access reviews should be performed quarterly to stay on top of constantly changing access rights and prevent potential security problems.

Who should perform access reviews?

The first step in performing a quarterly access review is the creation of a report which lists all systems, applications and databases, in addition to users and their access rights. This includes employees, management personnel, and third parties such as consultants, service providers, and vendors. 

This report is sent to asset owners who will determine each department's needs and either approve or reject the access rights of that department. Department managers can then determine if users should be allowed access to the approved data and applications based on their functions.

Although this sounds counterintuitive, performing access reviews and recertifying access rights doesn't automatically fall within the purview of the IT department. Ideally, your organization should have a security lead or asset owner who manages, oversees, and supervises system access across all infrastructure and applications. 

There should also be a dedicated admin to manage access for individual users for any given application and infrastructure. This can be a team lead or departmental manager because they are conversant with employee roles and responsibilities

How automated compliance platforms can help

Access rights and privileges are implicated in an organization's data, servers, applications, and infrastructure. The nature of these rights can change and the type of processes and tools needed to perform quarterly access reviews depends on a myriad of factors, including logic and access delivery mechanisms, reporting requirements, the nature and number of protected assets, and compliance objectives.

Although manual user access reviews can be done through the use of Excel spreadsheets, this adds a layer of complexity and difficulty to an already tedious process. Manually retracing and verifying all assigned access rights is time-consuming and prone to errors. It can quickly become a nightmare if the volume of data and the number of users involved is substantial. In fact, without the right solution to provide an overview of existing permissions, performing quarterly access reviews may seem impossible.

This is why savvy companies leverage robust compliance platforms to automate the access review process. The best automation solutions: 

  • come with reporting tools that provide you with a view of all existing access rights and privileges across your entire IT infrastructure.
  • have an intuitive user interface that enables reviewers to easily confirm or reject access rights. 
  • come with predefined responses to be triggered when data owners don't perform required actions.
  • save time by automating the procedures required in quarterly user access review campaigns.
  • provide auditors with ready-to-use reports at the click of a button.
  • automatically identify and correlate the responsibility of each user with the permissions needed to access specific resources.
  • provide comprehensive mapping of the access rights within the targeted scope.
  • enforce security and compliance policies within your organization by simplifying the performance of quarterly access reviews. 

The right compliance platform can easily implement a single, comprehensive process to meet access review requirements of all major standards, such as ISO, SOC 2, PCI, and HIPAA. The platform should be highly flexible and customizable and provide you with the option to build out access review procedures with custom policies and controls. You should also receive alerts when users, individual departments, or the entire organization is due for user access review.

Vanta’s Access Review

Vanta’s Access Review solution reduces the need for spreadsheets by using automated, pre-built content and intuitive workflows to guide you through the quarterly access review process. With Access Reviews, your team can pass audits and accelerate revenue by gaining attestations and certifications faster. 

Reduce the time and cost of an access review up to 90% with continuous, automated management. Our enhanced solution allows you to proactively reduce the risk of both employees (the main surface area of risk within an organization) and external threats.

Learn more about Vanta’s enhanced Access Review solution.

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Access Review Stage Content / Functionality
Across all stages
  • Easily create and save a new access review at a point in time
  • View detailed audit evidence of historical access reviews
Setup access review procedures
  • Define a global access review procedure that stakeholders can follow, ensuring consistency and mitigation of human error in reviews
  • Set your access review frequency (monthly, quarterly, etc.) and working period/deadlines
Consolidate account access data from systems
  • Integrate systems using dozens of pre-built integrations, or “connectors”. System account and HRIS data is pulled into Vanta.
  • Upcoming integrations include Zoom and Intercom (account access), and Personio (HRIS)
  • Upload access files from non-integrated systems
  • View and select systems in-scope for the review
Review, approve, and deny user access
  • Select the appropriate systems reviewer and due date
  • Get automatic notifications and reminders to systems reviewer of deadlines
  • Automatic flagging of “risky” employee accounts that have been terminated or switched departments
  • Intuitive interface to see all accounts with access, account accept/deny buttons, and notes section
  • Track progress of individual systems access reviews and see accounts that need to be removed or have access modified
  • Bulk sort, filter, and alter accounts based on account roles and employee title
Assign remediation tasks to system owners
  • Built-in remediation workflow for reviewers to request access changes and for admin to view and manage requests
  • Optional task tracker integration to create tickets for any access changes and provide visibility to the status of tickets and remediation
Verify changes to access
  • Focused view of accounts flagged for access changes for easy tracking and management
  • Automated evidence of remediation completion displayed for integrated systems
  • Manual evidence of remediation can be uploaded for non-integrated systems
Report and re-evaluate results
  • Auditor can log into Vanta to see history of all completed access reviews
  • Internals can see status of reviews in progress and also historical review detail

PCI Compliance Selection Guide

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