What is AAA in Cybersecurity?
Identity and access management (IAM) is crucial to effective cybersecurity. By only allowing legitimate users to access corporate resources, an organization dramatically lowers the potential risks of data breaches and other cyber threats.
The AAA acronym is a core concept in IAM. It refers to the three main tasks of an access management system: Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting.
What is AAA?
AAA stands for Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting. Each of these tasks plays a crucial role in protecting an organization’s systems from potential threats and maintaining important visibility for incident response or compliance reporting.
Access management systems are intended to ensure that only authorized users have access to corporate resources. In order to determine if a user has legitimate access, the system needs to be able to verify their identity.
This authentication process can be performed in various ways. A user may be asked to enter their username and password. Alternatively, users could authenticate via biometrics, using facial, fingerprint, or voice recognition.
More advanced and secure authentication systems will use multiple types of authentication factors to verify a user’s identity. This is called two-factor authentication (2FA) if two factors are used or, more generally, multi-factor authentication (MFA). For example, a user may be asked to provide a password and have their fingerprint scanned to provide additional proof of identity.
At the end of the authentication process, the user’s identity should be firmly established. The next step of the process is verifying that the user has the right to access the requested resource.
This process is called authorization and may be accomplished in various ways. For example, a system may have an allowlist or blocklist that specifies those users that are permitted to access the system and those that should be prevented from doing so.
Alternatively, a system may have a more extensive and granular collection of permissions assigned to a user that defines the exact level of access that they have. For example, one user may have read-only access to certain data, while another may have the ability to edit that data, and a third may have no access to the information whatsoever.
Permissions can be managed via various different schemes. For example, role-based access control (RBAC) assigns certain permissions to a role that an employee may have within the organization. Employees are then assigned one or more roles based on their duties, and they receive the sets of permissions associated with those roles.
If a user receives authorization, they are granted access to the requested resource. However, the organization may continue to monitor their activities during the session.
This is called accounting and is invaluable for incident response and regulatory compliance. For example, if an incident occurs, the organization will be able to determine which user account was involved, which can help in assigning responsibility or identifying a compromised account. For compliance purposes, the ability to prove that only authorized users accessed certain data or resources is essential to meeting an organization’s regulatory responsibilities.
An IAM solution or program should incorporate functionality for Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA). This not only ensures that only authorized users can access certain resources but also that the organization knows who performed a particular action if that information is needed in the future.