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SAP Access Controls: How RBAC and ABAC Work Together

By Michael Cunningham • August 18, 2021

To ensure employees remain productive in a dynamic and hybrid work environment, organizations use SAP access controls to allow their workers remote and secure access to ERP data, transactions, and self-service modules. Unfortunately, the existing SAP role-based access controls (RBAC) have reached their limitations in a dynamic workplace because static roles do not leverage contextual attributes.

Understanding SAP Access Control Using RBAC

Functionally, role-based access control (RBAC) is a policy-neutral approach to granting (or restricting) SAP access based on the roles of individual users in the company. Since RBAC was intended for on-premises data access from behind a corporate firewall, it creates a very strict, static set of permissions. You either have access or you don’t.

RBAC has always provided a strong foundation for setting SAP access controls. However, the way people are interacting with data resources is constantly evolving and RBAC is struggling to keep up.

Enhancing RBAC by Using Attribute-Based Controls in SAP

Organizations are looking for more flexible and secure ways to grant users access to only the information and resources they need to perform a particular task. This dynamic approach to SAP access controls enhances RBAC by considering different “attributes,” enabling security policies to be dynamic and “data-centric” and leveraging a user’s context of access to determine access to data. By incorporating these attribute-based access controls (ABAC), organizations can control user access more precisely, and better balance policy and security requirements.

The more attributes you can incorporate, the more precisely you can define what, how, and when a user or group of users can access data. Unlike RBAC, ABAC allows you to use contextual information such as project ID, company code, IP address, location, device type, and more to authorize access.

The RBAC + ABAC Hybrid SAP Access Control Model

Appsian Security extends and enhances existing SAP access controls by combining RBAC security capabilities with attribute-based policies. Starting with RBAC, organizations set the foundation of their access policies. ABAC begins the moment users start to access data and transactions and considers the context of access (who, what, where, when, and how) before allowing a user to access transactions or data.

The key benefits of the RBAC + ABAC hybrid model from Appsian Security include:

  • Reducing Attack Surface
    Organizations can reduce their amount of accepted risk by applying granular business policies and contextual access controls to strengthen data-level and transaction-level security.
  • Dynamic Data Masking
    You can dynamically enforce data masking or outright restriction policies to any field in SAP when using real-time contextual policies that balance security and usability.
  • Reinforcing SoD Policy Violations
    Adding ABAC to RBAC allows you to apply preventive controls in segregation of duties (SoD) exception scenarios. By doing so, you can prevent SoD violations while still allowing the flexibility of conflicting roles to be assigned (when necessary) and reinforces role-based policy to mitigate over-provisioning.

Without a solution like Appsian Security, the closest organizations can come to granting policy-based access to SAP is through customization or adding role derivations to a user for each attribute. Both options are costly and add complexity and overhead to role management in the long run.

Contact us today and schedule a demo to see how Appsian can help you enforce SAP access controls beyond the standard RBAC model.

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