The Principle of Separation of Privilege

Understanding Separation of Privilege

The Separation of Privilege principle can be seen as an extension of the Principle of Least Privilege. While the Principle of Least Privilege ensures that users are granted the minimum levels of access necessary to complete their tasks, the Separation of Privilege takes it a step further by requiring two distinct privileges for certain actions.

The concept of Separation of privileges is designed to prevent any single person from being able to compromise a critical part of the system. In essence, it’s a strategy for reducing risk by spreading the ability to perform sensitive operations across more than one point.

Key Benefits of the Principle of Separation of Privilege

Implementing the Principle of Separation of Privilege can provide substantial benefits:

  • Increased Security: By requiring multiple conditions or checks to perform an operation, the risk of malicious attacks or insider threats is significantly reduced.
  • Reduced Errors: When two or more parties are required to approve an action, the likelihood of mistakes is minimized.
  • Enhanced Accountability: With the involvement of more than one individual, there is increased accountability, making it harder for malicious activity to go unnoticed.

Examples of Separation of Privilege

Let’s look at some examples of how the Principle of Separation of Privilege can be applied in practice:

Financial Transactions:

In many banking systems, significant transactions require approval from two separate individuals. This measure ensures that a single person cannot unilaterally move large sums of money, providing a check against fraud or mistakes.

System Administration:

In a corporate network, certain administrative functions, such as creating new user accounts or granting elevated privileges, could require approval from two administrators. This practice would prevent any single administrator from making critical changes without oversight.

Software Deployment:

In a DevOps environment, deploying a new version of software into production might require separate approvals from a developer and a system administrator. This separation of privileges ensures that no single individual can push changes to production without review.


In Android development, this principle can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Running different components of an application under different user IDs to limit the scope of permissions. For example, a feature of an app that requires network access might run under a user ID that is allowed network access, while a different component that doesn’t require network access runs under a different user ID without such privileges.
  • Using Android’s permission model to request only the permissions that are absolutely necessary for each component or feature within the app.
  • Implementing role-based access controls within the app so that different users have different capabilities, depending on their role.

A powerful approach for boosting security and accountability in systems where delicate procedures are carried out is the principle of separation of privileges. Organizations can reduce risks and guarantee better control over critical operations by demanding more than one set of credentials or requirements for certain actions. Although putting this idea into practice may appear difficult, especially in terms of operational effectiveness, the increased security it offers makes it a crucial factor in the design of safe systems. In terms of security, keep in mind that a second opinion is frequently preferable to one.

Link to Book: Secure Android Development: Best Practices for Robust Apps

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