Coarse grained vs fine grained access control

Published by Alex Olivier on March 21, 2024
Coarse grained vs fine grained access control

To the average DIYer, the terms “coarse grained” and “fine grained” refer to different types of sandpaper. When it comes to protecting your company data, however, coarse-grained refers to a simplistic method of granting or denying access, while fine-grained refers to a much more involved method of enforcing access control. Let’s take a closer look now at both access control methods.

Coarse grained access control

As we mentioned, coarse grained access control is a relatively simplistic way of determining whether to grant someone access. It is typically based on only a single attribute such as the person’s IP address, geographical location, date of hire or the platform (mobile phone, PC etc…) they are using to attempt to gain access. As is the case with most things there are pros and cons to coarse grained access control.

Pros include simplicity, speed and ease of setup. Coarse grained access control protocols can be baked right into an application dramatically reducing the amount of time needed to manage them.

On the downside, coarse grained access controls are extremely rigid. They are a black & white solution in a world where most things exist in shades of grey. And because there are fewer aspects of this access control method to figure out, hackers tend to love coarse grained access control.

Fine grained access control

In contrast to coarse grained access control, fine grained access control entails a far more detailed and involved process of granting access to digital resources. 

Fine grained authorization is well suited for dealing with large, complex data structures. It is typically employed by organizations that are geographically spread out, have time-sensitive resources, have several levels of management or who deal with large amounts of personal data and are aiming to meet the standards of SOC2 and ISO27001.

The pros of fine grained access control include greater confidentiality, the ability to eliminate disparate data storage facilities, and the ability to implement very precise levels of access. It can also be used to tailor access for outside stakeholders in certain instances.

The downside to fine grained access is that it can be more time-consuming to implement.


Both coarse grained and fine grained access control have their pros and cons so it is important that you choose the right approach for your business. Installing coarse grained access when fine grained is required could produce catastrophic results.


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