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SAP Authorizations and Access Violation

12. März 2024


Jens Kettler



Central to the functionality and security of SAP systems are its authorization and role management features, which serve as the backbone for defining and controlling how business operations are executed. SAP authorizations (technical: authorization objects with certain values) are essentially permissions or access rights that determine what actions a user can perform within the system, ensuring that employees can only access the information and functions necessary for their roles. Roles, on the other hand, are predefined sets of authorizations grouped to facilitate the assignment of permissions based on job functions or tasks. We are skipping over authorization profiles and reference users here to make the text easier to read.

This authorization and roles framework not only streamlines operational efficiency by aligning employee activities with organizational workflows but also plays a pivotal role in safeguarding sensitive data and processes. By enforcing segregation of duties (SoD), SAP authorizations prevent the concentration of critical functions with a single individual, mitigating the risk of fraud and ensuring compliance with internal and external audit requirements. Thus, understanding SAP authorizations and roles is fundamental for any organization looking to optimize its business operations while maintaining stringent security standards.

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Creating and maintaining a clean, efficient SAP authorizations and roles concept presents numerous challenges for organizations, largely due to the dynamic nature of business operations and the complexity of the SAP system itself. The difficulties in this area stem from several key factors:

1. Dynamic Business Processes: Businesses evolve, and with this evolution comes changes in processes, procedures, and the need for access to different parts of the SAP system. As companies introduce new products, enter new markets, or adjust their business strategies, the SAP system must adapt accordingly. This constant state of flux makes it challenging to keep authorizations and roles aligned with current business needs.

2. Changing Job Roles: Employees' roles within an organization can change frequently, whether through promotions, departmental shifts, or the restructuring of teams. Each change potentially requires updates to SAP authorizations to ensure individuals have access to the necessary resources. Over time, this can lead to a proliferation of roles, some of which may no longer be relevant or are only partially aligned with the current organizational structure.

3. Complexity of SAP System: The SAP system itself is inherently complex, with thousands of possible transactions, each with its own set of permissions. Designing roles that are both comprehensive enough to allow employees to perform their duties and restrictive enough to maintain security is a delicate balance. This complexity can lead to overly broad or overly restrictive access permissions.

4. Segregation of Duties (SoD) Conflicts: To prevent fraud and errors, organizations must ensure that conflicting tasks are not assigned to the same individual. However, maintaining an effective SoD can be difficult, especially in smaller teams where roles are more fluid, or in complex processes where segregation is hard to define. This can result in either inadequate segregation, risking security, or overly stringent controls that hinder operational efficiency.

5. Lack of Expertise: Properly configuring SAP authorizations requires a deep understanding of both the SAP system and the organization's business processes. Organizations often struggle to find or develop this expertise internally, and external consultants can be costly.

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Examples of these challenges include:

Challenge 1

A large multinational corporation underwent a major restructuring, merging several of its departments to streamline operations. The restructuring resulted in numerous role changes and the creation of new business processes. The SAP team found it challenging to keep pace with these changes, leading to a backlog of role updates and revisions, some of which caused users to have either too much or too little access, affecting both security and productivity.

Challenge 2

A medium-sized manufacturing company introduced a new product line, requiring changes to its supply chain management processes within SAP. This necessitated adjustments to roles and authorizations for dozens of users, a task complicated by the company's limited in-house SAP expertise and resources. The resulting confusion and delays in access adjustments led to operational inefficiencies and frustration among users.

Challenge 3

A financial services firm identified several SoD violations during an internal audit, exposing the company to potential fraud risks. Correcting these violations required a comprehensive overhaul of their roles and authorizations model, a task made difficult by the sheer number of roles accumulated over the years, many of which were poorly documented.

These examples highlight the complexities and challenges organizations face in maintaining a clean SAP authorizations and roles concept. The dynamic nature of business, coupled with the intricacies of the SAP system, requires ongoing attention, expertise, and a strategic approach to role design and management.

Deleting obsolete roles, or removing them from user profiles, is probably the most classic example. In the end, the business’ requirements to be able to work, will always win over security concerns, or documentation of roles, or maintaining the clean role concept, and the SAP authorizations team often is overwhelmed by requirements coming in.

Tools for managing SAP authorizations and roles such as SAP GRC Access Control or tools by independent software vendors can help, but often we see that there are still residual access risks, and organizations typically just accept them. (They are documented risks, someone signs off and re-certifies access for users, and the backlog keeps growing.)


Jens Kettler

Jens verfügt über mehr als 20 Jahre Erfahrung in den Bereichen SAP-Sicherheit, Compliance und interne Kontrollen. Er ist ein ehemaliger Wirtschaftsprüfer, immer neugierig, bereit zu lernen und Wissen zu teilen. Bei VOQUZ Labs ist Jens für die Risiko- und Compliance-Produkte verantwortlich. Es macht ihm Spaß, mit Kunden zu interagieren und schnelle und einfache Wege zu finden, um Produkte zu verbessern und den Kunden einen Mehrwert zu bieten. Pragmatisch und kundenorientiert? Dann Jens :)


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