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What are Orphaned Accounts?

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What are Orphaned Accounts?

Orphaned accounts refer to user accounts that have been abandoned by their owners or where the owner is no longer active at the company. These accounts pose a major security risk to companies as the accounts may have access to sensitive infrastructure and company or customer data. Those accounts, if compromised by an attacker, provide access to said infrastructure or data to the attacker.

What are Orphaned Accounts?

Orphaned accounts may exist in apps, infrastructure, or systems that run your business such as IaaS, SaaS, databases, or on-prem systems. Any account without an “active” human user responsible for or actively using the account can be considered orphaned. In many cases, the owners of these accounts have either forgotten their login credentials or simply lost interest in using the account.

Orphaned accounts pose a significant risk to both individuals and organizations because they can be exploited by cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. For example, if an employee leaves an organization without deactivating their account, it can be accessed by unauthorized users who can steal data or cause other security breaches.

How Do Orphaned Accounts Happen?

There are several reasons why orphaned accounts may occur. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  1. Employee turnover: Orphaned accounts are often the result of employee turnover. When an employee leaves an organization, their account may not be properly off-boarded. As a result, the account remains active, and unauthorized users can gain access to sensitive data.
  2. Service accounts mismanagement: Service Accounts typically provide access for maintenance or system integration purposes. Service accounts can become orphaned when a user responsible for the account changes roles, leaves the company, or simply forgets about its existence.
  3. Account non-usage: Unused accounts can be considered effectively orphaned. These accounts or access rights may have made sense when the user was performing duties in the application or using it on a regular basis, but if a user has not used an account or access for a significant period of time, this can effectively be considered an orphaned / unused account.
  4. Contractor usage: Contractors may be difficult to track or manage. These accounts may be left unattended after the contractor has finished their work, or since they are not a full time employee the account may be ignored for certain periods of time which increases the risk of a breach. This can lead to the contractor’s account to be considered an orphaned or unattended account.
  5. Mergers and acquisitions: In some cases, orphaned accounts can result from mergers and acquisitions. Individuals may have duplicate accounts or accounts that are no longer necessary when companies merge. These accounts may be left active, and they could be accessed by unauthorized users.
  6. Password mismanagement: Orphaned accounts can also result from password mismanagement. If a user forgets their login credentials or loses access to them, they may be unable to access their account. In some cases, users may create multiple accounts with different login credentials and they may forget which account they used for a specific service.

What to Do About Orphaned Accounts

To prevent orphaned accounts from becoming a security risk, there are several steps that individuals and organizations can take. Here are some best practices for managing orphaned accounts:

  1. Regular Account Audits: Organizations should conduct regular account audits and user access reviews to identify and deactivate orphaned accounts. This involves reviewing all accounts associated with the organization and verifying that they are active and necessary. Accounts that are no longer necessary should be deactivated or deleted.
  2. Password Management: Password management is essential for preventing orphaned accounts. Users should ensure that they have a secure method of storing and managing their login credentials. This can include using a password manager, writing down passwords in a secure location, or using multi-factor authentication.
  3. Employee Training: Employees should be educated on the importance of deactivating accounts when they leave an organization, and they should be provided with clear guidelines on how to do so to help prevent orphaned accounts.
  4. Regular Security Assessments: Organizations should conduct regular security assessments to identify vulnerabilities and address them proactively. This can include assessing the risk of orphaned accounts and implementing measures to prevent them.

Summary -

Orphaned accounts are any accounts that are not run or monitored by an active human user. Inactive and unmonitored accounts are key targets for security breaches and other malicious activities. Orphaned accounts can happen for numerous reasons, any form of abandonment or non-usage of accounts, but can be prevented through regular audits, user access reviews, and account management. These security best practices can help ensure your organization’s security and decrease the amount of orphaned accounts in your system.