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Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)

Katie Ginder-Vogel
Contributing Author
Last updated on: December 13, 2022

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What is Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)?

Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) is a runtime decision-making strategy for what features and/or data a user can access based on policies and user attributes.

Attributes may consist of:

  • user demographics include name, organization, job title, or security clearance.
  • resource properties such as owner, creation date, or file type.
  • environmental specifics such as time of day, location of access, and threat levels.

By evaluating attributes of both subjects and resources, ABAC allows for more flexibility in policy creation and enforcement. With ABAC, access is dynamic. Decisions can be made according to context and risk at runtime. ABAC policies can be enforced on servers, databases, clusters, and a host of other resources.

However, granularity introduces complexity, which can create implementation hassles and extra administrative busywork for IT.

Key benefits of ABAC include:

  • Granularity. Because it uses attributes rather than roles to specify relationships between users and resources, administrators can create precisely targeted rules without needing to create additional roles.
  • Flexibility. ABAC policies are easy to adapt as resources and users change. Rather than modifying rules or creating new roles, admins need only assign the relevant attributes to new users or resources.
  • Adaptability. ABAC makes adding and revoking permissions easier by allowing admins to modify attributes. This simplifies onboarding and offboarding as well as the temporary provisioning of contractors and external partners.
  • Security. ABAC allows admins to create context-sensitive rules as security needs arise so they can more easily protect user privacy and adhere to compliance requirements—without requiring a high degree of technical knowledge.

However, ABAC, whether stand-alone or as part of an RBAC and ABAC hybrid approach, takes time, effort, and resources to implement. Teams must define attributes, assign them to users and objects, and generate rules to govern the attributes and their application.

You may also be interested in RBAC vs. ABAC | Pros, Cons, and Major Distinctions.


About the Author

, Contributing Author, has been writing about technology for over 15 years. She enjoys telling stories about how people use software and hardware to grow their businesses, keep their customers' information secure, and transform industries. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from Stanford University. To contact Katie, visit her on LinkedIn.

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