White Paper: Enhancing Information Security through Effective Access Reviews

Managing Partner, CISO


As businesses usher in a new year, it’s an opportune time to reassess and strategize their information security programs. This is particularly crucial for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which often grapple with limited resources. While continuous improvement in information security is ideal, it may not always be feasible for these businesses. This white paper underscores the importance of access reviews as a vital component of an organization’s information security strategy, especially for SMEs.

The Importance of Access Reviews

Access reviews, or user access reviews, are critical in determining who has access to specific resources within an organization. This process involves scrutinizing the rights and privileges of individuals or entities interacting with data, applications, systems, or other sensitive resources. The primary objectives of access reviews are:

  1. Preventing Unauthorized Access: By ensuring that only authorized users have access to resources, access reviews play a pivotal role in preventing data breaches.
  2. Adhering to Least Privilege and Zero Trust Principles: These reviews help in maintaining the minimum necessary access for users to perform their job duties, aligning with the principles of least privilege and Zero Trust.

Regular and relevant access reviews are not only essential for security but may also be legally or contractually mandated.

Regulatory Requirements for Access Reviews

Access reviews are mandated or implied in various regulations and standards, including:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)
  • Service Organization Control 2 (SOC2)
  • Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT)
  • ISO 27001
  • NIST 800-53 and NIST CSF
  • Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

These regulations often consider access reviews as reasonable and customary controls within a comprehensive enterprise security strategy.

Conducting an Access Review Campaign

Performing access reviews can be manual or technology-supported, with AI and Machine Learning increasingly streamlining the process. The typical steps involved are:

  1. Identify Resources: Determine the applications, systems, data types, or repositories subject to review.
  2. Identify Users: List all users with access, including employees, contractors, and vendors.
  3. Identify Decision Makers: Determine who will make decisions about access, such as managers or data custodians.
  4. Create and Distribute Review Requests: Develop communications and distribute documents to reviewers, setting a response deadline.
  5. Conduct Reviews and Make Decisions: Reviewers should decide whether to modify, remove, or maintain existing access.
  6. Compile Results: Follow up with non-respondents and compile responses for remediation.
  7. Remediate Access: Methodically adjust access as indicated by the review.
  8. Archive Documentation: Retain all documents and logs for future reference and proof of activity.

Tips and Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Adhere to Schedules: Preschedule reviews and stick to timelines.
  • Use Role-Based Access: Define access based on job functions.
  • Include All Account Types: Review service and local accounts, which are often high-access targets.
  • Align HR and IT Systems: Ensure consistency between HR and IT records.
  • Distinguish Between Reviews and Monitoring: Access reviews are moment-in-time checks, while monitoring is continuous.
  • Automate Processes: Leverage tools to automate reviews, reducing time, labor, and errors.


Access reviews are a critical component of an effective security program. Regular, predictable, and methodical execution of access reviews is essential for maintaining the integrity and security of an organization’s data and systems. SMEs, in particular, should prioritize these reviews as part of their annual security strategy planning, ensuring compliance with various regulatory requirements and safeguarding against unauthorized access. By integrating access reviews into their security protocols, businesses can significantly enhance their overall security posture.

About Bridge Security Advisors

Bridge Security Advisors offers a comprehensive range of cybersecurity services and solutions, including advisory, managed detection, compliance, identity management, and expert staffing. They focus on cutting-edge security practices and maintain a global network of highly accredited professionals to ensure robust business resilience and security for their clients.

Ready To Get Started?
Contact Us!

Get a free personalized consultation with one of our experienced partners