ROLE-BASED ACCESS CONTROL RBAC: Definition, History, and Examples

role based access control

This article gives a complete explanation of role-based access control (RBAC) as well as a step-by-step guide to deploying, maintaining, and extending RBAC to meet your organization’s needs. You’ll learn about roles, how to define them, and how using them to regulate access may help secure your network, reduce administrative costs, and ensure regulatory compliance. We’ll also see some examples of role-based access control. Let’s get started.

What is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)?

The concept of providing permissions to people based on their role within an organization is referred to as role-based access control (RBAC). It provides a basic, controlled approach to access management that is less prone to error than individually providing permissions to users.

When you utilize RBAC for Role Access Management, you examine your users’ demands and group them into roles based on shared duties. Then, for each user, you assign one or more roles and one or more permissions to each role. Because users no longer need to be managed indiscriminately, the user-role and role-permissions relationships make it straightforward to undertake user assignments.

History of Role-Based Access Control

Since at least the 1970s, people have utilized roles and responsibilities to control access to commercial computer systems. These methods, however, were ad hoc and frequently had to be modified on a case-by-case basis for each new system.

Researchers at the American National Standards Institute (NIST) did not begin to define the system known as role-based access control until 1992. In that same year, Ferraiolo and Kuhn published a paper defining a general-purpose access control mechanism suitable for civilian and commercial use, laying the groundwork for the model we use today.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Ferraiolo, Kuhn, and others refined RBAC, building on previous work to investigate the economic benefits of RBAC, specify a unified model, and, most importantly, define the division of duty forms. RBAC was officially adopted as an industry standard by NIST in 2004.

How Does Role-Based Access Control RBAC Work

Before deploying RBAC in a business, the organization should thoroughly specify the permissions for each role. This includes precisely specifying permissions in the categories listed below:

  • Data modification permissions (e.g., read, write, full access)
  • Access to use company software
  • Permissions within a program

To get the most out of RBAC, you must first model roles and permissions. Assigning all staff responsibilities to particular jobs that establish suitable privileges is part of this. The organization can then assign positions based on the tasks of the employees.

Organizations can use role-based access control to assign one or more roles to each user or to assign permissions individually. The idea is to set permissions that allow users to complete their duties without making any additional adjustments.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) technologies are used by organizations to implement and monitor RBAC. IAM primarily serves large organizations by logging, monitoring, and updating all identities and permissions. The process of assigning permission is known as “provisioning,” and the process of revoking permission is known as “deprovisioning.” This type of system necessitates the establishment of a uniform and standardized set of roles.

What Is a Role-Based Access Control RBAC Role?

Roles are semantics within the RBAC architecture that organizations can utilize to build their privileges. Authority, responsibility, cost center, business unit, and other factors can be used to define roles.

A role is a grouping of user privileges. Traditional groups, which are aggregates of users, are not the same as roles. Permissions are not directly related to identities in the context of RBAC, but rather to roles. Because they are organized around access management, roles are more trustworthy than groups. Identity changes more frequently than features and activities in a normal business.

The Role-Based Access Control RBAC Model

The RBAC standard defines three forms of access control: core, hierarchical, and confined.

#1. Core RBAC

The core model defines the key components of any role-based access control system. While fundamental RBAC can be used as a stand-alone access control approach, it also serves as the foundation for both hierarchical and restricted models.

As a result, all RBAC must follow the three rules outlined below:

  • Role selection or assignment: A person can only exercise a permit if he or she has chosen or been allocated a role.
  • Role authorization: The active role of a subject must be authorized.
  • Authorization of permissions: A subject can only exercise permissions that are permitted for the subject’s active role.

#2. Hierarchy RBAC

By believing your defenses have already been breached, you can take a stronger security posture against potential attacks, reducing the effect of a breach. Limit the “blast radius” of possible damage caused by a breach by segmenting access and decreasing your attack surface, confirming end-to-end encryption, and monitoring your network in real-time.

#3. Constrained RBAC

This third RBAC standard extends the core model’s division of roles. Separation of duties relationships is classified as static or dynamic.

  • A single user cannot hold mutually exclusive responsibilities in Static Separation of Duty (SSD) relationships (as defined by the organization). This ensures that, for example, one person cannot both make and approve a purchase.
  • A user under the Dynamic Separation of Duty (DSD) model can have contradictory roles. However, the user may not perform both tasks in the same session. This constraint aids in the control of internal security concerns by, for example, implementing the two-person rule, which requires two unique users to authorize an action.

Role-Based Access Control Examples

RBAC allows you to control what end users can do at both the broad and granular levels. You can specify whether the user is an administrator, a specialist user, or an end-user, and you can match responsibilities and access permissions to your employees’ organizational positions. Permissions are only granted with enough access for employees to accomplish their tasks.

What if an end-job user’s description changes? You may need to give their role to another user manually, or you can assign roles to a role group or use a role assignment policy to add or delete role group members.

An RBAC tool may include the following designations:

  • Management role scope – it restricts which items the role group can handle.
  • Management role group – You can add and remove members from the management role group.
  • Management role – these are the types of tasks that a given role group can accomplish.
  • Management role assignment- This is the process of assigning a role to a role group.

When a user is added to a role group, the user gains access to all of the roles in that group. When they are removed, access is restricted. Users may also be assigned to numerous groups if they require temporary access to specific data or applications and then deleted after the project is over.

Other user access possibilities may include:

  • The key contact for a certain account or role.
  • Billing – access to a billing account for a single end-user.
  • Technical users are those who conduct technical duties.
  • Administrative access is granted to users who conduct administrative activities.

RBAC Alternatives: Access Control Types

Other access control mechanisms could be used in place of role-based access control.

Access Control List (ACL)

An access control list (ACL) is a table that lists the permissions that are associated with computing resources. It informs the operating system about which users have access to an object and what actions they can do on it. Each user has an entry that is linked to the security properties of each item. For classic DAC systems, ACL is typically employed.


In terms of security and administrative cost, RBAC outperforms ACL for most business applications. ACL is more suitable for implementing security at the individual user level and for low-level data, but RBAC is better suited for a company-wide security system overseen by an administrator. An ACL, for example, can enable write access to a certain file but cannot define how the file will be changed by the user.

Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)

ABAC assesses a set of rules and policies in order to control access permissions based on certain qualities such as environmental, system, object, or user information. It uses boolean logic to permit or deny people access based on a complicated evaluation of atomic or set-valued properties and their relationships.

In practice, this enables you to define rules in eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML) that use key-value combinations such as Role=Manager and Category=Financial.


RBAC is based on pre-defined roles, whereas ABAC is more dynamic and uses relation-based access control. RBAC can be used to define access controls in broad strokes, whereas ABAC provides more granularity. An RBAC system, for example, grants access to all managers, whereas an ABAC policy only grants access to managers in the financial department. ABAC does a more complicated search, which demands more processing power and time, thus use it only when RBAC is insufficient.

RBAC Advantages

  • The management and auditing of network access are critical to information security. Access can and should be allowed based on need-to-know. Security is more easily managed with hundreds or thousands of employees by limiting unnecessary access to critical information based on each user’s stated role within the business. Other benefits include:
  • Administrative and IT support will be reduced. When an employee is hired or changes roles, you can use RBAC to decrease the requirement for paperwork and password changes. Instead, you may utilize RBAC to swiftly add and transfer roles across operating systems, platforms, and applications. It also decreases the possibility of error while granting user permissions. One of the many economic benefits of RBAC is the reduction in time spent on administrative activities. RBAC also facilitates the integration of third-party users into your network by assigning them pre-defined roles.
  • Increasing operational efficiency. RBAC provides a streamlined approach with logical definitions. Instead of attempting to administrate lower-level access control, all roles can be aligned with the business’s organizational structure, allowing users to accomplish their duties more efficiently and autonomously.
  • Increasing compliance. Federal, state, and municipal restrictions apply to all organizations. Companies can more easily meet statutory and regulatory standards for privacy and confidentiality with an RBAC system in place because IT departments and executives can govern how data is accessed and utilized. This is especially important for health care and financial organizations, which handle a large amount of sensitive data like PHI and PCI.

Best Practices for RBAC Implementation

Implementing an RBAC in your organization should not be undertaken lightly. There are a number of general stages to take in order to bring the team on board without producing unnecessary confusion or workplace irritations. Here are a few ideas to start with.

  • Current Status: Make a list of every piece of software, hardware, and app that has security. The majority of these will require a password. You may, however, want to include server rooms that are under lock and key. Physical security can be an important component of data protection. Also, specify who has access to each of these programs and places. This will provide you with a glimpse of your current data situation.
  • Current Duties: Even if you don’t have a formal roster and list of roles, determining what each individual team member does may be as simple as a quick talk. Attempt to arrange the team in a way that does not impede creativity or the current culture (if enjoyed).
  • Create a Policy: Any modifications should be documented for all present and future workers to view. Even if you utilize an RBAC solution, having a paper that clearly articulates your new system will help you prevent problems.
  • Changes: Once the present security status and roles are known (and a policy is in place), it is time to implement the changes.
  • Continually adapt: It’s likely that the first RBAC iteration will need some modification. Early on, you should frequently assess your duties and security status. Assess first how well your creative/production process is working, and then how secure your process is.


Data protection is a critical business function for any corporation. An RBAC system can ensure that the company’s information complies with privacy and confidentiality laws. Furthermore, it can secure essential business activities, such as access to intellectual property, which has a competitive impact on the organization.

Role-based Access Control FAQs

What are the three primary rules for RBAC?

RBAC components such as role permissions, user-role, and role-role relationships make user assignments simple.

Why is ACL used?

Reduced network traffic for improved network performance. A network security level that specifies which sections of the server/network/service a user can and cannot access. Granular tracking of traffic entering and exiting the system.

What is the difference between role based access control and rule based access control?

Employee access levels are not determined by rule-based access controls, which are preventative in nature. They instead work to prevent unwanted access. Role-based models are proactive in that they present employees with a set of conditions under which they can acquire approved access.


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