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February 18, 2024
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 min read

The Insider's Guide to User Access Reviews

The user access review process ensures users have necessary access rights, reducing risks of errors, misuse, and security vulnerabilities.

The Insider's Guide to User Access Reviews
Calendar Icon White
February 18, 2024
Clock Icon
 min read

The Insider's Guide to User Access Reviews

The user access review process ensures users have necessary access rights, reducing risks of errors, misuse, and security vulnerabilities.


  • User access reviews are crucial for protecting sensitive data and preventing breaches.
  • Various regulations like PCI DSS, SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, and SOX emphasize the importance of access controls.
  • Conducting regular audits, embracing least privilege, and automating processes are key to effective user access reviews.
  • Strac automates user access reviews by collecting data, real-time monitoring access, analytics and educating users.

The user access review process ensures users have necessary access rights, reducing risks of errors, misuse, and security vulnerabilities.

Let's kick things off with a relatable scenario: Ever lent a friend your streaming service password for a weekend binge-watch? Harmless in the world of streaming, but when it comes to your company's sensitive data, it's a whole different ball game. That simple act of sharing could open the floodgates to potential data breaches.

A staggering 82% of breaches were linked to stolen credentials, phishing, or plain old mistakes, according to Verizon's 2022 Data Breach Insights. The silver lining? You have the power to fortify your defenses with something as straightforward yet powerful as user access reviews.

Deep Dive into User Access Reviews

User access reviews are like conducting regular security audits on who can access what within your organization. It's not just about employees; it extends to anyone under your digital umbrella—partners, vendors, contractors. The goal? To ensure that only the right people have the right access at the right time.

The Critical Importance of Access Reviews

In a world where data breaches are as common as colds, ensuring tight access control is your best defense. Take the Cash App breach that affected 8 million users; it's a stark reminder of the risks. Here's what's at stake if access spirals out of control:

  • Privilege Creep: When employees accumulate access rights like they're collecting trading cards, creating unnecessary risk.
  • Privilege Misuse & Abuse: From installing rogue software to intentionally misusing data, these actions can open up a can of worms you'd rather keep shut.

The Regulatory Why: Navigating the Maze of Standards and Laws

Various frameworks, regulations, and laws provide guidance for organizations to implement and manage user access controls effectively. Below, we explore several key security standards and their approaches to user access reviews.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The PCI DSS is a security standard ensuring the safe handling of cardholder data by businesses. It is transitioning to version v4.0 by March 31, 2025, introducing new guidelines for access reviews. These guidelines mandate:

  • Biannual reviews of user accounts and their access rights, including those of third parties and vendors, to confirm their appropriateness.
  • Establishing application and system accounts based on the minimum necessary privileges.
  • Restricting employee access to only what is necessary for their job functions, aligning with Role-Based Access Control principles.
  • Developing policies and procedures for the allocation and management of account access rights.


SOC 2 sets standards for managing and safeguarding customer data, emphasizing Trust Services Criteria (TSC). Key recommendations for access management include:

  • Automating access restrictions upon employee termination to prevent potential security breaches.
  • Managing physical access points, such as security gates and employee ID cards, in addition to digital controls.
  • Utilizing Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) to enhance login security and reduce the risk of improper access sharing.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data in the U.S., with specific guidelines under the HIPAA Security Rule for access management, including:

  • Establishing policies for granting role-based access to Protected Health Information (PHI) and electronic PHI (e-PHI).
  • Defining the appropriate use and access to workstations and electronic media.
  • Implementing mechanisms to log and audit access and activity in systems containing or using e-PHI.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR governs the collection, processing, and storage of personal data for EU residents, emphasizing security measures appropriate to the risk level, which encompasses identity and access management (IAM). This includes:

  • Adhering to the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) to minimize user permissions.
  • Employing segregation of duties to prevent a single user from controlling a process end-to-end.
  • Verifying user identities through methods such as two-factor authentication (2FA) or MFA.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

The SOX Act aims to protect investors from corporate fraud, with its IT General Controls (ITGCs) focusing on the security of IT systems. Key aspects of access management under SOX involve:

  • Managing access rights throughout the employee lifecycle, including onboarding, role transitions, and offboarding.
  • Implementing Segregation of Duties (SoD) to prevent conflicts of interest.
  • Keeping an access control matrix updated.
  • Conducting regular access audits to ensure compliance and security.

These regulations collectively emphasize the importance of stringent access controls and regular reviews to protect sensitive information and maintain compliance.

The Ultimate Checklist for Effective User Access Reviews

Rolling out user access reviews doesn't have to be a Herculean task. Here's how to tackle it efficiently:

  1. Start with a Full Audit: Map out who has access to what. Surprises here can lead to headaches later.
  2. Embrace Least Privilege: Only grant access levels necessary for someone to perform their duties. This keeps things neat and minimizes risk.
  3. Automate the Mundane: Leveraging tools can turn a tedious process into a manageable one. Automation is your friend.
  4. Schedule Regular Reviews: Make this a routine part of your security posture, not a once-a-year afterthought.
  5. Educate and Engage: Cultivate a security-aware culture. When your team understands the why, they're more likely to follow the how.

How to conduct User Access Reviews?

Here’s a condensed overview:

1. Identify User Accounts and Permissions for Review: Spot which user accounts and permissions need scrutiny to ensure they align with current roles and responsibilities, mitigating security risks and ensuring efficient resource allocation.

Employee access to SaaS and Cloud apps

2. Assess User Access Based on Roles and Job Criteria: Align access permissions with the user's job functions, adhering to the least privilege principle to minimize unauthorized access risks.

3. Document and Track Changes to Access Rights: Keep a detailed log of all access changes to maintain transparency, accountability, and compliance, and to aid in incident response.

4. Implement Automated Audits for User Accounts and Entitlements:  Use automation to efficiently, accurately, and consistently audit user access, enhancing security and compliance while optimizing resources.

5. Educate Privileged Users on Data Security and Compliance: Increase awareness among users with elevated access about their critical role in maintaining security, emphasizing the importance of following established protocols.

How Strac can automate User Access Reviews?

Strac, with its comprehensive integration with all SaaS applications and robust protection against data leaks, can streamline the user access review process significantly. Here’s how Strac can automatically generate user access reviews:

- Automated Data Collection: Strac automatically gathers and aggregates user access data across all integrated SaaS applications, eliminating the need for manual data collection and reducing the risk of errors.

Strac SaaS, Cloud and Endpoint Integrations

- Real-Time Monitoring and Alerts: It continuously monitors user access and permissions, providing real-time alerts on any unauthorized or suspicious activities. This proactive approach ensures that any potential security issues are identified and addressed promptly.

Strac Real Time Monitoring Alert

- Automated Role-Based Access Reviews: Leveraging the role-based access control model, Strac DLP can automatically assess whether the current access levels of users align with their job functions and responsibilities. This assessment is based on predefined roles and permissions, streamlining the review process.

- Comprehensive Audit Trails: Strac maintains detailed logs of all access changes, activities, and reviews, supporting compliance requirements and facilitating audits. These logs serve as an invaluable resource for tracking and documenting access management over time.

- User Education and Awareness: Through automated notifications and alerts, Strac can inform and educate privileged users about security best practices, policy updates, and their roles in safeguarding sensitive data. This feature helps build a culture of security awareness and compliance throughout the organization leveraging Strac's capabilities, organizations can automate and enhance their user access review processes, ensuring that access rights are always aligned with current roles, responsibilities, and compliance requirements. This not only boosts security and efficiency but also significantly reduces the administrative burden on IT and security teams

Conclusion: Making User Access Reviews Part of Your DNA

In the grand scheme, user access reviews are more than a compliance tick-box; they're a fundamental component of your cybersecurity strategy. By adopting a thorough, regular review process, you're not just protecting data; you're building a culture of security that permeates every level of your organization.

Remember, in the digital age, your approach to access management can be the difference between a secure operation and headline-making data breach. Let's make sure it's the former.

Expanding on the original outline, this version provides a deeper understanding of the importance, execution, and benefits of user access reviews, equipping IT, Security, and Compliance leaders with the knowledge and tools to implement effective access control measures.

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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