Separation Of Duties

Separation Of Duties

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Separation of Duties
Separation of Duties is a term defined as “a security principle that says no one person should be able to effect a breach of security” (Definition of: separation of duties, 2008). What this means, is that one person should not be, on the whole, responsible for both the design and implementation of security within an organization. The goal being that there is not one single point of failure where one person can subsequently take advantage of a process inside a company and benefit from ill-gotten gains.
This principle is readily practiced in the area of finance and is becoming more popular within the Information Technology field. For example, within the area of finance, the Department of General Services of California has a section within its State Administrative Manual that quotes the requirements of the Financial Integrity and State Manager’s Accountability Act of 1983, which “…requires that the head of each State agency establish and maintain an adequate system of internal control within their agencies. A key element in a system of internal control is separation of duties” (Department of General Services of California, 2008). The manual then goes on to list explicitly how entities are designated, the actions they may take, the number of actions each entity may take, and the level of authorization for each duty.
In general, Information technology takes the same approach, by following the same principle; that certain key duties should be performed by different individuals. Such duties may be the physical custody or access to certain assets; authorization or approval of transactions affecting those assets; recording transactions for those assets; control or review responsibility for those assets. (The University of British Columbia, 2006). By having these and other duties performed by separate individuals, there becomes a system of checks and balances that is established. This also creates a system of reducing errors and/or fraud from going undetected. The adage of John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton’s “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the core principle; making sure that no one person has total control of an asset.
According to the SANS Technology Institute, “Intellectual property is the lifeblood of an organization and process should be designed to protect it,” (SANS Technology Institute, 2008) and Riordan would be well advised to take this into account as well. SANS goes on to outline several suggestions that are well advised, such as:

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• Not allowing software developers access to production systems.
• Not all administrators or super users should have access to creating backups since this allows access to intellectual property.
• Outsourced maintenance personnel should be restricted to the systems they are working on.
• Network and Security administrators have the ability to see anything that is sent across the network.
• Database administrators should only have the appropriate authority, not root or administrator.
• Generic administrative accounts should be disabled and an alert should be issued if they are used.
• Logging for systems, network equipment, databases, etc., should be directed to a write-only logging system.
These policies not only create a separation of duties, but also attribute functions and security based on Role-based access control.
With role-based access control, users are granted access dependent upon their job function within the organization. They are granted enough security permissions to perform their job duties and accomplish their responsibilities; however they are granted no more permissions beyond those they need. This allows for users to be categorized by their role and for access membership to be assigned to groups of individuals based on that role. Operations the users are able to perform are limited, thereby securing the organization. As duties evolve or change for an individual or group throughout the evolution of the organization, new roles and groups are created and assigned the appropriate permissions. (National Institute of Te
For example, previously it was stated that a Database Administrator should be granted enough permissions to perform their job, however not granted administrative privileges. While it would be easier to grant administrative permissions to a Database Administrator, it gives the Database Administrator permissions that are outside their role of responsibilities; allowing them potential access to information and privileges that are outside their role and that would also potentially compromise security. (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 1995)
Riordan would gain great advantage by instituting Separation of Duties by Role-Based Access. It is a proven model that has been implemented in finance from small businesses, enterprises, to national agencies. It promotes a system of checks and balances that ensure increased detection of security’s weakest point; people. Riordan would be well suited to investigating what other companies have done to successfully implement similar security policies and developing them to their own needs.

Definition of: separation of duties . (2008). In Encyclopedia [Web]. New York: The Computer Language Company Inc.. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from,2542,t=separation+of+duties&i=51110,00.asp
Department of General Services of California. (2008). State Administrative Manual. Retrieved August 6, 2008, from
National Institute of Standards and Technology. (1995). An introduction to role-based access control. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from
Sans Technology Institute. (2008). Separation of Duties in Information Technology. Retrieved August 6, 2008, from
The University of British Columbia. (2006, August 30). Separation of duties – The most important internal control. Retrieved October 6, 2008 from
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