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Your guide to FGA: What is it, how it can be used, and how to get started

This is part one of a three-part series.

Part 1: What is FGA and why is it essential for today’s business?

Fine Grained Authorization, commonly referred to as FGA, is a security approach that provides highly granular control over the access to resources within organizations. It also allows organizations to maintain better control over their data, streamline workflows, and meet compliance standards more effectively.  

But before we get into more detail on how your business will benefit, let’s clarify a few terms. Authorization is different than authentication. Authentication is validating the identity of a user or device prior to permitting access to systems or data. Authorization grants or denies access to certain resources based on whether that user or machine has been given permission to access it.

Authorization has three main types:  

  • Role-based access control (RBAC) is based on roles assigned to the user, or a group of users, and governs their access and actions based on that specific role.  
  • Relationship-based access control (ReBAC) helps organizations govern access and actions based on the relationships between users and resources rather than solely on individual user attributes. 
  • Attribute-based access control (ABAC) manages access based on various attributes associated with the user such as department, location, manager and time of day. 

Unlike old-school access control, which would sort users into big groups, FGA lets you set rules and permissions with a high level of granularity. That means you can customize access exactly how you want for each user or app, considering things like their role, their relationships, where they are, when they’re accessing, and what kind of data they’re getting into, all down to the finest detail.  

But the challenges in today’s digital world have been for security and the user experience to coexist. While FGA provides much tighter access control, the common misconception is that the tighter the security controls, the worse the user experiences.  Not only are both possible; the combination should be the standard that businesses strive to achieve, i.e., a secure total experience. 

The best way to achieve that experience is developing a digital identity blueprint, including FGA. With data breaches far too common and regulatory compliance constantly changing, security professionals need an adaptive clear, long-term plan.  

A one-size-fits-all strategy is not sufficient to protect sensitive information and ensure user privacy. Fine-Grained Authorization should be an essential part of your long-term strategy, offering a nuanced approach to managing who can see and do what within an organization’s digital ecosystem.

Why FGA is essential for today’s businesses:

Enhanced Security Through Granular Permissions: Coarse-grained authorization provides broad access rights while FGA is flexible; customizing permissions down to individual data fields or actions. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access and data leakage and ensures users only interact with the data and resources necessary for their roles. 

Compliance with Regulatory Requirements: Various industry regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States, require strict controls over data access and privacy. Fine-Grained Authorization helps support these requirements by providing tools that enforce data access policies while aligning with regulatory standards.  

Facilitating Secure Collaboration: Today’s work is inherently collaborative, often involving multiple stakeholders from different departments and even external partners. FGA helps teams work together safely by letting them share resources securely. It ensures everyone has the information they need to be productive without access to sensitive information. This is essential, especially in fields like healthcare, finance, and government, where sharing data without permission can lead to major problems. 

Adapting to Dynamic Business Needs: Businesses are constantly changing, with new roles, teams, and projects happening all the time. Fine-Grained Authorization controls provide flexibility allowing for rapid adjustments to access rights in response to changes within the organization. FGA makes sure everyone’s got the right access to the right data at the right time, keeping the business secure as the business evolves. 

Easier Maintenance and Troubleshooting: FGA keeps access rules decentralized from applications. This means developers can define who gets access without digging through a ton of code. And if there’s a problem with access, developers can easily fix it because everything’s in one spot instead of multiple points in the application. 

Faster Development Cycles:  
FGA accelerates development cycles by providing reusable access controls that can be integrated into new applications. Instead of building access rules from scratch for every new project, you can use FGA tools to handle complex scenarios, letting developers concentrate on the important functionality. 

Part 2: “What are some common use cases and how do they apply” is coming soon

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Neeraj Methi

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