Role Based Access Control and Policy Based Access Control: Understanding the Basics

About well-defined Access Control in Enterprises

A well-defined access control mechanism is quintessential for maintaining security and managing user access permissions. Organizations always strive hard to strike the right chord when it comes to IT security, IT efficiency and IT operational continuity.

Now, streamlining access control mechanisms can be done in two separate ways.

  • Role Based Access Control (RBAC)
  • Policy Based Access Control (PBAC)

Now the question is which one is better and relevant for your organization? RBAC streamlines access management by allocating users’ rights and privileges according to their assigned roles. PBAC, on the other hand, bases access rights and permissions on policies. The decisions about which users can access which system and when are completely based on these policies.

The formulation of any of these access control policies depends on the organization’s size, IT security practices, deployment of solutions, and policy management. In this blog, we have done a deep-delved analysis of RBAC and PBAC. It explains which access control model is suitable for which organization, how and why.

What is Role Based Access Control (RBAC)?

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) mechanism plays a pivotal role in managing and controlling access to multiple digital resources within an organization. This approach assigns permissions and privileges to individuals or entities based on their roles and responsibilities. According to RBAC,

  • Roles are created for various job functions within an organization.
  • Permissions to perform specific operations are assigned to these roles.
  • Users acquire permissions indirectly through their assigned roles, simplifying common tasks like adding users or changing departments.

The three primary rules that govern RBAC are:

  • Role assignment: A user can exercise a permission only if they have been assigned a role.
  • Role authorization: A user’s active role must be authorized under any circumstance.
  • Permission authorization: A user can exercise permission only if it is authorized for their active role.

Role Based Access Control can be used to facilitate security administration in large organizations with numerous users and permissions. It is different from mandatory access control (MAC) and discretionary access control (DAC) but can enforce these policies without complications.

What is Policy Based Access Control (PBAC)?

Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC) mechanism manages user access to critical systems and data repositories as per organizational policies. In PBAC, the role of the user combines with access policies to determine the privileges they should be granted. Here is how it works:

  • Flexibility to be Fine-Grained: PBAC supports contextual controls that allow policies to be set up to allow access to resources from specific locations and times, as well as to assess the linkages that exist between identities and resources. It is simple to create, remove, or modify groups of users, and it only takes a click to remove outdated rights.
  • Easy to Create and Test Policies: It is less challenging for the SRM (Security Risk Management) team to create a policy that must be followed by users or group of users irrespective of their roles and strength in respective departments. Not only that, but there is also regular testing of the policies to ensure that new additions or amendments are incorporated successfully.
  • PBAC gives Transparency and Visibility: Establishing a robust access management policy begins with visualizing and mapping the relationship between the identities and the resources. Administrators can see who has permission to do what regarding all organizational assets thanks to PBAC. It improves cybersecurity, fills up security loopholes left by RBAC, and provides a proactive approach to complying with Data and Privacy regulations.

Unlike Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), PBAC allows rapid privilege changes based on new regulations or corporate policies without extensive role adjustments throughout the organization. Benefits of PBAC include consistent security policy enforcement, reduced administrative overhead, improved security, and the ability to audit and report user activity for compliance purposes.

Differentiating Analysis

Here is a detailed comparison of the two access control mechanisms/models.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC)
This works as per individual roles and
responsibilities of users or group of users
in any department of an organization
This works as per access control policy of an organization or any department of the organization irrespective of the number of users and their roles
RBAC provides more granular level
monitoring and access control security to
the IT Infrastructure
PBAC helps organizations to enforce an overall access control that is applicable to the entire organization or a department
RBAC can be implemented without PBACPBAC cannot be implemented without RBAC i.e., the role of the user combines with organizational policies
It restricts user access based on static
It does not restrict user access based on roles but only on pre-defined policies
Being role-based authorization
mechanism, it does not consider other
security controls, e.g., user IP or time of
the day
Authorization in PBAC is based on device, location, time, and other security controls
RBAC requires manual intervention/
PBAC on the other hand is dynamic and automated
Scaling RBAC could be difficult, may lead
to role explosion
PBAC is flexible and easily scalable
It helps organizations to stay compliant
with the IT standards and regulations
Might have limitations in staying compliant with the regulatory bodies, organizations might require do amendments in the IT security policies once latest updates/ amendments happen in the standards

How ARCON Supports RBAC and PBAC

ARCON | Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution provides IT security and risk management team with adequate security capabilities needed to manage, monitor, and control privileged users. The solution provides best-in-class security features that includes fine-grained controls, rule, and role-based access control (RBAC), just-in-time (JIT) privileges, multi-factor authentication (MFA), password vaulting, session monitoring, customized reporting, and many other classic PAM capabilities to address some of the most complex use-case challenges.

ARCON | Endpoint Privilege Management (EPM) ensures rule-based (policy-based) access control mechanism for enterprises seamlessly. Moreover, endpoint privileges are granularly controlled and restricted through time-based, day-based, and duration-based parameters. ARCON | EPM offers File Integrity Monitoring (FIM) feature that helps IT administrators to identify unapproved or unauthorized changes made on files in end-user devices and take necessary actions (rollbacks if needed) while keeping track of file history. This is an advantage of PBAC.


RBAC and PBAC models are common parts of Identity and Access Management (IAM) practices in organizations worldwide. However, which one best fits your IT infrastructure depends on organization to organization. According to business needs, IT security requirements, IT operational efficiency and compliance mandates, SRM leaders opt for the suitable model.


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