The vital role of Segregation of Duties in cybersecurity and compliance

by | May 2, 2023

Segregation of Duties (SoD) is a fundamental internal control principle that aims to reduce the risk of fraud, errors, and conflicts of interest within an organization by dividing critical tasks and responsibilities among different individuals or departments. By separating these responsibilities, it becomes more challenging for a single individual to commit fraudulent activities or errors without detection, ultimately protecting the organization’s assets and data.

The purpose of Segregation of Duties


SoD serves as a critical risk mitigation strategy in the context of cybersecurity. It helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information, data breaches, and other security incidents by ensuring that no single individual has complete control over a process or system. For example, the person responsible for creating user accounts and the person who assigns access rights or approves access requests should not be the same. This separation reduces the potential for insider threats and prevents unauthorized access to confidential information.

SoD plays a crucial role in maintaining an organization’s cybersecurity posture. Inadequate segregation of duties can lead to security vulnerabilities and increase the likelihood of cyberattacks and data breaches. For instance, if a single individual has control over both system administration and network security, they might have too much access, making it easier for them to compromise the organization’s systems, either accidentally or intentionally.

Furthermore, SoD helps organizations comply with various regulatory requirements related to IT security and data protection, such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and the NIS Directive. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in significant financial penalties, legal action, and reputational damage. By implementing effective SoD controls, organizations can ensure compliance with these regulations and demonstrate their commitment to protecting sensitive data.

Industry segments subject to Segregation of Duties in the United States

In the United States, several industry segments are particularly subject to SoD requirements, including financial services, healthcare, e-commerce and retail, and government agencies. In this section, we will explore each of these segments and their unique SoD considerations.

Financial services

In the financial services industry, SoD is crucial to maintaining the integrity of financial transactions and preventing fraudulent activities, such as embezzlement or insider trading. Key regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and Dodd-Frank, mandate strict adherence to SoD principles to ensure the accuracy of financial reporting and protect investors. Key areas where SoD is enforced include the approval of financial transactions, access to sensitive financial data, and reconciliation processes. For those operating in the FinTech sector, understanding fintech compliance regulations is equally essential for navigating the complex landscape of access controls and user entitlements.


The healthcare industry is subject to SoD requirements to protect sensitive patient data and ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). SoD is essential in preventing unauthorized access to electronic health records (EHRs) and other sensitive patient information. Key areas where SoD is enforced include access to patient records, billing and coding processes, and the administration of prescription medications.

E-commerce and retail

E-commerce and retail businesses must adhere to SoD principles to maintain the security of payment card information and comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). SoD is crucial in preventing payment card fraud, identity theft, and other cybercrimes that can result in significant financial losses and reputational damage. Key areas where SoD is enforced include payment processing, inventory management, and customer data protection.

Government agencies

Government agencies are subject to SoD requirements to ensure transparency, prevent corruption, and maintain the integrity of public funds. The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and other regulations mandate that government agencies adhere to SoD principles to protect sensitive information and national security interests. Key areas where SoD is enforced include procurement processes, access to classified information, and the management of public funds.

Examples of technical roles and responsibilities subject to the Segregation of Duties

SoD is essential not only for preventing fraud and conflicts of interest but also for ensuring robust security and data protection. Many technical and business roles are subject to SoD since these professionals can access sensitive systems, data, and configurations. In this context, we present a few roles as examples of positions subject to Segregation of Duties (SoD) requirements for security. It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, as many other roles in your company may also be subject to SoD, depending on an organization’s specific needs and security requirements.

System administrators

System administrators manage and maintain an organization’s IT infrastructure, including servers, operating systems, and applications. To comply with SoD principles and minimize the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches, it is essential to ensure that access to critical systems is limited to authorized personnel and that no single individual has the ability to both configure systems and approve changes.

Database administrators

Database administrators are responsible for managing and maintaining an organization’s databases, which often contain sensitive data such as financial records and customer information. Under SoD requirements, database administrators should not have the ability to both modify data and authorize changes to database structures. By segregating these duties, organizations can reduce the risk of unauthorized data manipulation or theft.

Network engineers

Network engineers design, implement, and manage an organization’s network infrastructure, including routers, switches, and firewalls. Applying SoD to designing, implementing, and configuring network infrastructure ensures that no single network engineer has complete control. Implementing SoD principles enhances network configuration security and limits access to critical network components.

Security analysts

Security analysts are responsible for identifying, analyzing, and mitigating cybersecurity risks within an organization. In accordance with SoD principles, security analysts must maintain an objective perspective on potential threats and vulnerabilities, which means preventing a single individual from having the ability to both identify security vulnerabilities and implement changes to systems or network configurations.

DevOps professionals

DevOps professionals develop, test, and deploy applications within an organization, granting them access to critical systems and sensitive data. Their responsibilities include minimizing the risk of fraud, errors, and security breaches in software development processes. In this context, implementing SoD ensures that no single individual can create and deploy code without oversight, thus reducing the likelihood of vulnerabilities or unauthorized changes.

DevSecOps specialists

DevSecOps specialists focus on integrating security practices into the DevOps lifecycle, ensuring that applications are developed and deployed with robust security measures. According to SoD, part of their responsibilities involves maintaining an objective perspective on potential threats and vulnerabilities, meaning that identifying vulnerabilities and implementing security changes must be done by two separate individuals.

Strategies for implementing and maintaining Segregation of Duties controls

Implementing and maintaining effective SoD controls within IT systems and processes is essential for mitigating security risks, preventing fraud, and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. Organizations should carefully evaluate and implement SoD practices across all relevant IT roles to ensure robust security and data protection.

Here are some strategies that can help you achieve SoD compliance within your organization:

Role-Based Access Control

Implementing robust access control mechanisms is crucial for enforcing SoD principles. One effective approach is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), which assigns permissions to users based on their roles within the organization. By carefully defining and managing roles, you can ensure that no single individual can access multiple functions that could create a conflict of interest or allow fraudulent activities.

Data classification and protection

Classifying and protecting sensitive data is essential for maintaining SoD compliance. Develop a data classification framework that identifies different sensitivity levels and assigns appropriate access controls and protection measures to each data category. By doing so, you can limit access to sensitive information and reduce the risk of unauthorized access or data breaches.

Regular reviews and audits

Conduct regular reviews and audits of your IT systems and processes to ensure continuous compliance with SoD policies and procedures. This includes reviewing access logs, transaction records, and other documentation to identify any potential violations or control deficiencies. By proactively identifying and addressing issues, you can maintain the effectiveness of your SoD controls and prevent security incidents.

Security training and awareness programs

Educating employees about the importance of SoD and their role in maintaining compliance is essential for the success of your SoD program. Implement security training and awareness programs to ensure that all staff members understand their responsibilities and the potential consequences of non-compliance. By fostering a security-conscious culture within your organization, you can improve adherence to SoD policies and reduce the risk of violations.

Measuring the effectiveness of Segregation of Duties controls

To ensure that your organization’s SoD controls are effectively mitigating risks and maintaining compliance, it is crucial to measure their effectiveness regularly. Here are some key methods for evaluating the success of your SoD controls in the IT environment:

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

Establishing and tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to SoD can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your controls. Some examples of SoD-related KPIs include:

  • Number of access control violations or policy breaches
  • Time to detect and remediate SoD conflicts
  • Percentage of employees who have completed security training and awareness programs

By monitoring these KPIs, you can identify trends, measure progress, and make data-driven decisions to enhance your SoD controls and processes.

Internal and external audits

Conducting regular internal and external audits is a vital part of measuring the effectiveness of your SoD controls. Internal audits can help identify potential gaps or weaknesses in your IT systems and processes, while external audits can provide an independent assessment of your compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards. By addressing audit findings and recommendations, you can continually improve the effectiveness of your SoD controls.

Incident response and remediation

Evaluating your organization’s incident response and remediation capabilities is another critical aspect of measuring the effectiveness of your SoD controls. Track the number of incidents related to SoD violations, the time taken to detect and respond to these incidents, and the effectiveness of your remediation efforts. By analyzing this data, you can identify areas for improvement and ensure that your SoD controls are effectively preventing and mitigating security incidents.

How can Zilla Security help?

Identify and remediate conflicting and toxic permission combinations

Zilla Security offers a powerful solution to help you implement SoD policies that detect risky permission combinations and ensure compliance with mandated regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA). This enables your organization to prevent fraud and errors and effectively manage risks associated with conflicting permissions.

With Zilla Security, you can define SoD policies that capture the permission conflicts you want to prevent and apply them to critical business functions in your organization. Zilla’s cross-application solution allows you to import and implement SoD policies based on conflicting functions and the corresponding permissions across one or more applications. Zilla continuously monitors all permission changes, ensuring that SoD conflicts are never ignored.

Highlight SoD conflicts in access reviews

Zilla Security supports the decision-making process of reviewers by providing detailed contextual information about SoD conflicts and related policies during access reviews. This helps maintain transparency and ensures that reviewers are aware of any potential risks associated with granting or revoking permissions.

Implement SoD in IT, DevOps, and DevSecOps

Zilla Security’s SoD policies help you capture conflicts in permissions held by developers, security staff, scripts, and service accounts. This automated approach ensures that your IT, DevOps, and DevSecOps practices align with best practices for SoD, preventing errors and enhancing overall security.

Ensure compliance with regulations

With Zilla Security, you can identify, address, and monitor SoD conflicts to maintain security and compliance by mapping SoD policies to the permissions that represent potential conflicts. This comprehensive approach ensures your organization remains compliant and avoids the risks associated with non-compliance. To learn more about IT, DevOps, and DevSecOps roles that require SoD controls and how Zilla can help you implement them, contact us.


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