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What are Service Accounts and What Role Do They Play in Security?


When it comes to accessing a particular system’s resources, the first group that comes to mind is typical user accounts. These correspond to individual human users with their own access credentials enabling them to access resources and data. However, service accounts are just as important to consider when it comes to information security. 

Service accounts, while able to access system resources and data, do not belong to any one individual. Generally, when a service or (application that acts as a service) gets installed on a network, a service account is generated so that the service can complete its designated task. Without a designated service account, the service cannot receive authorization to access data within the system. 

Organizations that fail to count service accounts as playing a critical role in their cybersecurity protocols are leaving themselves vulnerable. If an organization is to assign an employee as a service account user, that individual can access the resources the service account has been authorized to. This means that organizations should be diligent when assigning this role, as the service account may have the authority to view sensitive information. 

Since a new service account is likely created each time a service is added to an organization’s network, it is possible for hundreds, or even thousands, of service accounts to exist. If a company is unaware of the number of service accounts they have authorized, it is likely unable to properly audit the permissions of these accounts. This leaves service accounts a potentially appealing target for hackers and cybercriminals wishing to gain access to secure data. 

As organizations perform their periodic access reviews, assessing the user accounts and their authorizations within the network, they should include a complete audit of the service accounts as well. While this is likely to be a lengthy and time-consuming task, the benefits are far greater. When an organization has a complete picture of the accounts that are authorized to access information within their network, it strengthens their ability to maintain information security and compliance with federal regulations such as HIPAA and SOX.
Organizations must consider all accounts when developing their cybersecurity policies. While user account management plays a central role in an organization’s security posture, service accounts are equally as important as they also have access to sensitive information. Ensuring that service accounts are correctly reviewed and audited will better help protect against potential data breaches and cybersecurity threats.

YouAttest automates the creation and review of these access reviews. To learn more about YouAttest, please register for our next webinar, AD Best Practices for Audit with Okta’s Jennifer Galvin. Or write us @