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Understanding Cisco IOS Permissions: A Comprehensive Guide

Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System) is a robust network operating system that powers many of Cisco’s network devices, including routers and switches. Understanding how permissions work in Cisco IOS is essential for maintaining network security and ensuring appropriate access levels for users and groups. This guide will explain how permissions work in Cisco IOS, covering security permissions, their options, uses, and providing tips and tricks for effective permission management.

Cisco IOS Permissions Overview

Security Permissions

Security permissions in Cisco IOS determine who can access and configure network devices. These permissions are managed through user roles, privilege levels, and access control lists (ACLs). Properly managing these permissions is critical to securing network infrastructure.

Types of Permissions

Cisco IOS permissions are primarily managed through privilege levels and role-based access control (RBAC).

  1. Privilege Levels: Cisco IOS has 16 privilege levels (0-15), with each level providing different access rights. The higher the level, the more access and control the user has.
  • Level 0: Limited access, typically only allows basic commands like logout, enable, disable, exit, and help.
  • Level 1: User EXEC mode, provides access to basic monitoring commands.
  • Level 15: Full access to all commands, including configuration and administrative tasks.
  1. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): RBAC allows defining custom roles with specific permissions. Each role can include a set of commands that a user can execute.

Permission Structure

Permissions in Cisco IOS are structured around privilege levels and command authorization. Commands are assigned to different privilege levels, and users are granted access based on their assigned privilege level or role.

Managing Permissions in Cisco IOS

Configuring Privilege Levels

Privilege levels can be configured to control access to specific commands. By default, most commands are at privilege level 15, but they can be moved to other levels.

Viewing Current Privilege Levels

To view the current privilege levels of commands:

show privilege

Changing Privilege Levels

To change the privilege level of a specific command:

privilege exec level [level] [command]

For example, to move the show running-config command to privilege level 5:

privilege exec level 5 show running-config

Creating and Managing User Accounts

User accounts can be created and managed with specific privilege levels.

Creating a User Account

To create a user account with a specific privilege level:

username [username] privilege [level] secret [password]

For example, to create a user admin with privilege level 15:

username admin privilege 15 secret adminpassword

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC provides more granular control over user permissions. Custom roles can be created and assigned to users.

Creating a Custom Role

To create a custom role:

role name [role-name]

For example, to create a role NetworkAdmin:

role name NetworkAdmin

Assigning Commands to a Role

Commands can be assigned to a role:

role name [role-name]
 command [mode] [command]

For example, to assign the show running-config command to the NetworkAdmin role:

role name NetworkAdmin
 command exec show running-config

Assigning a Role to a User

To assign a role to a user:

username [username] role [role-name]

For example, to assign the NetworkAdmin role to the user admin:

username admin role NetworkAdmin

Access Control Lists (ACLs)

ACLs are used to control network traffic and restrict access to network resources. They can be configured to permit or deny traffic based on various criteria such as IP addresses, protocols, and ports.

Configuring ACLs

To create and apply an ACL:

  1. Create the ACL: Define the ACL and specify the rules.
   access-list [ACL-number] [permit|deny] [protocol] [source] [destination] [eq port]

For example, to create an ACL that permits HTTP traffic from a specific IP:

   access-list 100 permit tcp any eq 80
  1. Apply the ACL: Apply the ACL to an interface.
   interface [interface-id]
   ip access-group [ACL-number] [in|out]

For example, to apply the ACL to incoming traffic on interface GigabitEthernet0/1:

   interface GigabitEthernet0/1
   ip access-group 100 in

Tips and Tricks

Use Custom Privilege Levels for Enhanced Security

Assign commands to custom privilege levels to provide users with only the necessary access. This minimizes the risk of unauthorized changes to the network configuration.

Regularly Review User Accounts and Roles

Periodically review user accounts and roles to ensure they align with current security policies. Remove or modify accounts and roles as needed to maintain security.

Utilize ACLs for Network Traffic Control

Implement ACLs to restrict access to sensitive network resources and control traffic flow. Regularly update and review ACLs to ensure they are effective.

Backup Configurations

Before making significant changes to permissions or configurations, backup the current device configuration. This allows for easy recovery in case of misconfigurations.

Monitor and Audit Access

Regularly monitor and audit access logs to detect and respond to unauthorized access attempts. Use logging and monitoring tools to keep track of user activities on the network devices.


Understanding and managing permissions in Cisco IOS is essential for maintaining a secure and well-organized network. By leveraging privilege levels, RBAC, and ACLs, you can effectively control access to network devices and resources. Regular reviews and adherence to best practices will help keep your network secure and efficient.