Privilege creep is the gradual accumulation of access rights beyond what an individual needs to do his job. In information technology, a privilege is an identified right that a particular end user has to a particular system resource, such as a file folder.
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Privilege creep often occurs when an employee changes jobs within the organization and is granted new privileges. While employees may need to retain their former privileges during a period of transition, those privileges are rarely revoked, resulting in an unnecessary accumulation of access privileges.
Privilege creep, which is a common problem in IT organizations of all sizes, creates a two-fold security risk. First, an employee with excess privileges may be tempted to abuse them by accessing applications and data in an unauthorized manner. Second, if an intruder gains access to an end user's account -- and that end user has excess privileges -- the intruder will also have excess privileges. Either scenario can result in data loss or theft.
Privilege creep can be minimized by conducting periodic access rights reviews. This is a process in which system owners and managers confirm each employee's need to access specific roles and rights in an effort to discover and revoke excess privileges. An identity and access management system can facilitate a review by providing administrators with the ability to instantly view and change access rights.
See also: privilege escalation attack