The Evolution of Access Control: A Deep Dive with PlainID’s Gal Helemski

Access control is at the heart of IT security, evolving over the years to adapt to the rising challenges and demands of an ever-complex digital landscape. One company at the forefront of this evolution is PlainID. In a recent conversation with Gal Helemski, co-founder and CTO/CPO of PlainID, we discussed the evolution of access control, the role of policy-based access control, and how the current cybersecurity landscape is shaping up.

The Evolution of Access Control

Access control’s story is one of constant change. From rudimentary methods that revolved around physical barriers to more complex role-based systems and beyond, it has always been about ensuring that the right people have the right access at the right time.

In the early days, Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems primarily centered on defining, managing, and authenticating identities. However, as Helemski mentioned, the IAM journey didn’t end there. “The identity journey is not completed. It’s not enough just to manage the identity. And to have the identity authenticated in a very well and secured manner.” Comparing the situation to giving someone a key to a house, she inquired, “Can they go everywhere they want in that house? Can they open the fridge, take whatever they want? No, they can’t. And that’s authorization.”

This gap in authorization management and control was the driver behind the founding of PlainID. The company’s vision was clear – address the missing link in the IAM journey.

Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC) vs. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

The shift from role-based access control (RBAC) to policy-based access control (PBAC) is significant. While RBAC focuses on the identity context, PBAC provides a holistic view, considering both the identity and the assets it accesses in the business context. Helemski elaborated, “Policies consider both what we know about the identity and what the identity is trying to access, and on top of that, any condition like environmental factors, time of day, and risk metrics which are currently in play.”

This comprehensive approach allows for dynamic, context-rich decisions about access, providing a much-needed solution to the limitations and complexities of traditional role-based systems. The policies governing policy-based access are flexible and can be defined or adjusted based on various attributes, including user attributes, resource attributes, and environmental conditions.

Flexibility & Scalability

One of the strengths of PBAC is its inherent flexibility. Whether it’s a change in job roles, introduction of new services, or organizational restructuring, PBAC can easily adapt without requiring a massive overhaul. This adaptive nature ensures that PBAC systems are scalable, catering to both small startups and vast multinational corporations.

Integration and Real-time Evaluation

Modern PBAC systems are designed to integrate seamlessly with other enterprise systems, such as HR or CRM platforms. This integration ensures that any change in a user’s status, like a job change or department transfer, can be immediately reflected in their access permissions. Real-time policy evaluation ensures that users have the right access at the right time, enhancing security without compromising on user experience.

Granularity and Context Awareness

PBAC excels in its ability to make context-aware decisions. Whether it’s distinguishing between access requests made from a secure office network versus a public Wi-Fi, or between regular working hours and unusual late-night requests, PBAC considers it all. This granularity ensures that access decisions are not just binary but are based on the comprehensive context surrounding the request.

Simplifying the Complex

While PBAC can handle complex policy definitions, it actually simplifies access management. Traditional systems might require defining and managing thousands of roles, leading to ‘role explosion’. In contrast, PBAC, with its dynamic policies, reduces the need for such extensive role definitions, making management more straightforward and more efficient.

Continuous Compliance and Audit

In an era where regulatory requirements are stringent, PBAC shines in ensuring compliance. Its detailed logging capabilities provide clear insights into who accessed what, when, and based on which policy. Such detailed audit trails not only help in regulatory compliance but also in internal reviews and investigations.

Insider Threats and Access Control

One of the considerable advantages of a policy-based approach is its nuanced understanding of risk. By considering the dynamic context of an access request, PBAC systems can respond to high-risk situations effectively. Helemski explained, “If the identity is trying to access from the office itself at 10:00 AM, that’s a low-risk access. But if they’re trying to access from a different country at 8:00 PM, that’s a high-risk access.”

Such a dynamic and granular approach is invaluable in managing insider threats, ensuring that risk metrics are continually updated and relevant.

PlainID and Zero Trust

The Zero Trust model posits that trust needs to be re-established at every point, from network access right down to data access. While many companies focus on network-based Zero Trust, PlainID believes in extending the model. “PlainID enables you to make those decisions dynamically and granularly. It does not end at the network. It continues all the way through applications, APIs, services, data and so on,” Helemski said, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive Zero Trust approach.

Recommendations for Organizations

For organizations seeking to enhance their security posture, Gal Helemski’s top three recommendations are:

  • Awareness of Visibility Gaps: Recognize that as digital space grows, there’s a pressing need to detect where digital identities are and their capabilities.
  • Provision of Tools: Equip application owners with the necessary tools to ensure consistent and secure authorization across the board.
  • Embrace the Zero Trust Program: Remember, Zero Trust is an ongoing journey. It’s essential to set clear foundations and objectives, gradually onboarding more applications to reduce overall risk.

Looking Ahead

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the need for dynamic, context-aware access control mechanisms like PBAC becomes even more apparent. By focusing on policies rather than static roles, PBAC provides a forward-thinking approach to access control, ensuring that organizations remain secure in an ever-changing digital world.

For more information, visit


No posts to display