Person using mandatory access control to access sensitive files.

 

Key takeaways

  • Mandatory access control is a security approach that restricts access to certain assets and resources based on varying authorization levels.
  • MAC is usually used to safeguard classified information, protect financial data, secure patient records, and is often used in industrial control systems, as well as shared servers.
  • Advantages of MAC are that it boosts security, is consistent and uniform, offers heightened data confidentiality, enhances protection in shared environments, and provides detailed audits.
  • The limitations of MAC are the upfront costs, complexity of implementation, lack of flexibility, and collaboration challenges.

 

Maintaining a heightened level of security for properties and their assets is a crucial responsibility for property and asset managers. So, mandatory access control is a useful access control model that empowers managers and owners to enforce security policies uniformly. As a result, this proactive approach maintains a secure environment while streamlining operations for industrial and commercial spaces.

Read on to learn what MAC is. Then, explore examples of MAC. Finally, discover the advantages and limitations of a mandatory access system.

In this guide, we cover:

 

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What is mandatory access control (MAC)?

Mandatory Access Control (MAC) is an access control design that restricts access to certain assets and resources based on different authorization levels. What’s more, MAC is centrally managed and enforces a strict, predetermined set of rules.

With this in mind, mandatory access control models enhance security by ensuring that only authorized individuals with the proper clearance level accesses specific data or performs certain actions.

 

Why use mandatory access control?

Use MAC if you manage a property that requires heightened security and data confidentiality. For example, secure facilities like government agencies, industrial buildings, banks, hospitals, airports, and campuses often use MAC.

 

Discover how the ButterflyMX access control system works:

 

What are examples of mandatory access control?

There are a variety of examples where MAC is employed to protect sensitive information.

Examples of mandatory access control are:

  • Safeguarding classified information. In government and military environments, MAC is widely used to control access to classified or sensitive information.
  • Protecting financial data. At banks, MAC is used to deal with highly sensitive customer and financial records. So, MAC is employed to ensure that only authorized personnel with the appropriate clearance levels access or modify those records.
  • Securing patient records. In healthcare, MAC is utilized to control access to electronic health records (EHRs) and ensure patient privacy.
  • Industrial control systems (ICS). Critical industrial systems, like power plants, water treatment facilities, and transportation systems, leverage MAC to protect against cyber threats. As a result, access control systems and sensitive data are controlled and restricted by authorized personnel.
  • Shared servers or workstations. In shared computing environments, such as servers or workstations accessed by multiple users, MAC prevents one user from interfering with or accessing the data of another user.

 

What are the advantages of mandatory access control?

  • Boosts security. MAC offers a heightened level of security by enforcing strict access control that’s based on predefined rules and policies. As a result, these systems protect sensitive data and resources from unauthorized access or potential tampering.
  • Consistent and uniform. MAC offers security policies that are consistently applied across the system, so they’re uniformly enforced. Thus, this reduces the risk of human error and helps maintain a standardized security protocol.
  • Heightened data confidentiality. MAC models ensure that information and sensitive data are only accessible by authorized users or processes.
  • Enhanced protection in shared environments. In shared computing environments, such as servers or cloud platforms, MAC maintains security and privacy by preventing unauthorized access between different users.
  • Elevated audits and record-keeping. MAC systems offer robust audit capabilities, allowing organizations to track and monitor access to resources in the event of security incidents.

 

Woman implementing mandatory access control on a computer.

 

What are the limitations of mandatory access control?

  • Upfront costs. Implementing and maintaining a robust MAC system incurs significant costs. To illustrate, costs often include the initial setup, ongoing monitoring, policy updates, and training.
  • Can be complex to implement. Implementing MAC requires significant planning. So, developing and managing security policies is a challenge, particularly in large and dynamic environments.
  • Not flexible. MAC systems are often rigid, making it difficult to adapt quickly to changing user roles or organizational needs. So, this lack of flexibility is a limitation in dynamic environments where access requirements evolve frequently.
  • Difficult to manage in emergency situations. In emergency situations or rapidly evolving security incidents, the strict enforcement of access controls may hinder rapid response efforts. In fact, the need for quick adjustments to access permissions often conflicts with the rigid nature of MAC.
  • Collaboration challenges. Coordinating access permissions between users with MAC is usually difficult. So, collaborative work environments often face challenges when using MAC, especially if users need to share information across different security levels.

 

Mandatory access control FAQ

Here are some commonly asked questions about MAC:

  1. What are the 3 levels of access control?
  2. What is the difference between mandatory access control and discretionary access control?
  3. Which is better: role-based or mandatory access control?

 

1. What are the 3 levels of access control?

The three levels of access control are mandatory access control (MAC), discretionary access control (DAC), and role-based access control (RBAC).

 

2. What is the difference between mandatory access control and discretionary access control?

The difference between mandatory and discretionary (DAC) access control is that MAC is rule-based, and DAC is owner-based.

This means that MAC enforces access permissions based on predetermined rules, whereas DAC enforces access permissions based on who owns that particular asset.

 

3. Which is better: role-based or mandatory access control?

Role-based (RBAC) and MAC serve different functions. So, the effectiveness of mandatory access control vs role-based access control depends on what your particular needs are.

Role-based access control is more flexible and easier to implement in large organizations. On the other hand, MAC is stricter and is often necessary for organizations that require heightened access control.

 

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Author

Tiara Sutton

I’m an Atlanta-based writer who enjoys exploring the ways that tech benefits residents & tenants of multifamily & commercial properties.