What is Service Account ?

Service accounts are dedicated non-human accounts used by systems, applications, and services to interact with other systems. They perform important scheduled actions automatically and repeatedly – such as updating machines, scanning an environment, or running health checks – typically operating in the background of an IT stack. 

Today, the number of non-human accounts used by organizations (and the number of applications that rely on these accounts) is increasing exponentially, driven by the use of AI to configure software “robots” to critical perform business tasks, known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Why Are Service Accounts At Risk?

Since service accounts are spread across an organization and used not by human users but by business applications, they are often neglected or forgotten about entirely. This means their activity is completely unmonitored, with no processes in place to alert administrators if they ever deviate from normal behavior. 

As well, domain-level service accounts typically require elevated privileges in order to accomplish their tasks, which makes them a valuable target for cyber attackers. With hundreds or even thousands of these unsupervised, highly-privileged accounts running, they can become a tool that enables threats to propagate throughout a network undetected.

The Limits of Passwords

A best practice for any account is ensuring that passwords are changed regularly. However, when it comes to service accounts, this is not easy to do. For example, domain service accounts require that passwords be changed at both the domain and the application level. 

As well, in some cases, passwords are hardcoded into applications or scripts, with any changes potentially breaking dependencies that would then disrupt critical business processes. The use of password vaults can be an option, but this requires knowing exactly which service accounts need to be managed this way as well as modifying how applications use certain service accounts.

How to Secure Service Accounts

  • Discover: It’s essential to be able to see all authentication activity – both human and non-human accounts – across an entire network in order to understand behavior. Because service accounts follow predictable patterns, there are ways to automatically discover and categorize them.
  • Monitor: Once accounts have been identified, it’s critical to keep monitoring and auditing their use by assessing every authentication attempt so security teams can immediately spot any anomalous behavior that could indicate account compromise.
  • Enforce Policies: Keeping service accounts safe means applying Zero Trust policies based on actual behavior patterns, including the ability to automatically determine whether to allow or deny access.
  • Protect: It’s critical to have the ability to actively enforce policies across all service accounts without making any changes to applications, changing passwords, or requiring proxies.

To learn more about how Silverfort helps organizations protect service accounts, click here.