Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) in SAP: How to Implement it Seamlessly
Data breaches and insider threats are a constant concern for securing critical business systems. And there is the ongoing challenge of balancing strong security with business productivity and agility. This is where a Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) model can help.
By aligning user access to business roles and responsibilities, RBAC provides a structured approach to managing permissions while enabling workforce productivity.
In this article, we will focus on implementing RBAC in SAP’s cloud HR platform: SuccessFactors, with a walkthrough of the basic steps required.
The Concept of Role-based Security
Role-based access control (RBAC) provides a straightforward yet powerful approach to managing user access permissions within an organization. With RBAC, access rights are grouped by role, rather than assigned directly to individual users.
This is related to the principle of least privilege, which requires that each user within a network should access the minimum set of resources they need to perform their requirements. For large organizations, which use RBAC more, going through a list of thousands of employees and granting access by user is a hassle and frankly, unnecessary.
With RBAC, though, organizations can easily assign access authorizations to users who perform the same or similar roles within the organization. Groups of users are defined based on department, job function, position, and hierarchy to determine what permissions are appropriate for users in each group.
Of course, a person may fall into more than one group. This makes access management simple and intuitive. When a new employee joins or a current employee changes their position, roles and permissions can be easily identified.
Even among smaller organizations, RBAC’s role-centric model is increasingly popular because it reflects how organizations operate. Employees take on specific jobs that require certain access. Focusing on roles rather than individual users mirrors this reality.
Overall, RBAC strikes an effective balance between security and usability for organizations of all sizes. The following are some of the advantages that flow out of RBAC implementation:
- Tying access to roles reduces the risk of users accumulating excessive permissions over time or gaining unauthorized access. This is known as a privilege creep.
- Conflicting permissions can be separated through role design, improving accountability.
- Role permissions are standardized across the organization, simplifying access management.
- RBAC provides a simple, manageable approach to access management that is less error-prone than individually assigning permissions.
- It is easier to meet compliance regulations that require certain access restrictions and controls.
- RBAC helps organizations combat shadow IT challenges effectively by improving visibility into who can access what. Any anomalies or unapproved access patterns stand out.
Basics of RBAC
RBAC follows a structured approach to access control that is manageable, secure, and aligned with business needs. So, while every company will implement it differently, these three factors are general considerations:
- Identity Authentication: For RBAC to be applied successfully, users must have been identified and validated before they can access a system. Methods like usernames/passwords, multi-factor authentication, biometrics, etc. are used to authenticate user identities.
- Role Assignment: Once a user’s identity is authenticated, they are assigned one or more roles within the system. Roles are logical groupings that relate to job functions, such as “manager,” “clerical,” “IT staff,” etc. Users acquire permissions by being made members of appropriate roles.
- Permission Authorization: Each role has predefined permissions or access rights. These permissions authorize what actions the user can perform within the system, such as read, write, edit, delete, etc. For example, unit members may have “read” access to certain files, while managers have “write” access. Permissions are granted to users only for the resources needed to perform their duties.
SuccessFactors is a cloud-based human capital management (HCM) software solution offered by SAP. It provides various HR functionalities, including recruiting, onboarding, learning, performance monitoring, compensation management, employee development, etc.
It can also be integrated with SAP Cloud Identity Services Identity Authentication to manage users in SAP cloud and on-premise. This integration is important to be able to use SAP SuccessFactors for identity management and access governance.
Note that SAP SuccessFactors tenants created after December 9, 2022 have Identity Authentication and Identity Provisioning enabled by default. Otherwise, the following steps must be completed to perform the integration:
- In SAP SuccessFactors, via Admin Center, navigate to Upgrade Center and select Optional Upgrades.
- Initiate the SAP Cloud Identity Services Identity Authentication Services and select Upgrade Now.
- Enter your S-User information and select Validate to confirm your company credentials.
- Once this is successful, you’ll be able to select a tenant or request a new tenant.
- Follow the rest of the prompts to begin the integration process.
The integration process might take up to a day to be finalized. Once done, you’ll receive an email notification. Once done, you can add new users, create user groups, configure your organization’s password policy, configure two-factor authentication, or even select your branding style. These are optional, and you don’t have to go through all the processes simultaneously.
Permission Roles and Groups
Creating permission roles and assigning them to groups is straightforward as well. SAP allows role-based permissions to be defined for organizations with up to 1.5 million employees.
To assign and manage roles, search for Manage Permission Roles from the Admin Center. Once you have created a permission role, select Permission Detail and then navigate to Grant this role to.
This allows you to select the group and define other options. For instance, you can exclude users granted certain access to roles from being able to perform certain actions by themselves.
In addition, sometimes, certain classes of users (such as managers) must be empowered to perform certain actions on behalf of users, who have no such permissions. This can also be enabled, by determining the target population of a permission when you are defining roles.
RBAC offers immense advantages for securing and managing access within SAP systems. By mapping permissions to business roles and responsibilities, organizations can boost security, compliance, and operational efficiency.
However, realizing these benefits requires careful planning and governance during implementation. This includes thoughtful role design, automated provisioning, user-access reviews, auditing, and ongoing administration.