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Access Control Vulnerabilities and Privilege Escalation


Setting proper access control and privilege rules is one of the most effective strategies for preventing attack vectors from successfully breaching your networks and systems. The 2021 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report indicated that the elevation of privileges was behind 44% of all Microsoft vulnerabilities, which they could have prevented with proper access control and privilege rules.

What is access control?

Access control is a data security measure that determines who can access or use the corporate resources and data. In conjunction with proper authorization and authentication protocols, access control policies enable the systems to ensure that the users are who they claim to be. 

Through access control measures, enterprises can grant appropriate access levels. It recognizes users by verifying login credentials like passwords, biometrics, security tokens, magic links, PINs, etc. Enterprises can also leverage multi-factor authentication as part of access control to add an extra security layer. Access control works in conjunction with authentication, authorization, and session management.

It has three major components:

  1. Access control: It specifies whether the user can perform the activity, they are trying to execute.

  2. Session management: It determines the login session duration and all subsequent HTTP requests made by the user.

  3. Authentication: It determines whether the user is legitimate by confirming their identity.

Access control vulnerability

Access control vulnerability is a security flaw in the mechanism, which malicious agents can misuse to bypass access privileges or security control measures. It enables them to steal sensitive information or gain unprivileged access to enterprise resources. 

Broken access control features in the OWASP top 10, an industry standard to measure and mitigate security risks. By exploiting this vulnerability, cybercriminals masquerade as legitimate users & gain access to sensitive resources. 

What is a privilege escalation attack?

A privilege escalation attack occurs when an attacker gains privileged access to enterprise resources or user accounts. In this attack, the malicious players bypass access control measures and grant themselves permission to use or access data. 

The weak configuration of access control measures is a significant reason behind privilege escalation attacks. Some privilege escalation attack vectors are:

  • Access control misconfiguration

  • Vulnerability in authentication protocols, web browsers, network infrastructure, or cloud systems

  • Credential exploitation through various techniques like password spraying, dictionary attacks, brute force, pass-the-hash, credential stuffing, etc.

  • Gaining unauthorized access through malware like rootkits, Trojans, bots, etc.

Types of privilege escalation

There are two main types of privilege escalation. These are:

1. Horizontal Privilege Escalation

In this privilege escalation attack, the cybercriminals profoundly understand a given vulnerability. Once the attackers compromise a system, they gain access to the privileges of another account or functionalities with similar ownership. 

Within the compromised systems, cybercriminals perform phishing campaigns and other social engineering attacks to broaden the sphere of accessibility.

2. Vertical Privilege Escalation

In this privilege escalation attack, the cybercriminals dig deep into compromised accounts to gain more privileges, even beyond what the user gets or already has associated with their account. Such a privilege escalation entails the desire to move from low-level to high-level privileges by exploiting more flaws or overriding access controls.

How to prevent access control vulnerability and privilege escalation attacks

  • Enterprises should incorporate multi-factor authentication for additional layers of protection for access control.

  • Security professionals should use vulnerability scanning solutions to identify unpatched OS, insecure versions, misconfiguration, weak passwords, etc.

  • Security professionals should maintain an inventory or checklist of all accounts, their status, purposes, and privileges configured for each.

  • Enterprises should enforce robust password policies like providing long-length passwords and changing them periodically, especially for administrative accounts and sensitive systems.

  • Businesses should periodically check for better security & prevention protocols from zero-day.

  • Enterprises can also contact expert security professionals like


    to bolster security against access control vulnerabilities and privilege escalation.


Access control vulnerabilities and privilege escalation attacks are dangerous for enterprises as they enable cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive resources. By following the preventive measures mentioned above, businesses can significantly reduce the chances of such attacks.

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