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Don’t Let Your Guard Down: How Neglected Accounts Could Be Putting Your Business at Risk

Stale, inactive, or ghost accounts can pose a significant risk to your company’s data security, potentially leading to financial and reputational damage. Cybercriminals often exploit user names and passwords to gain unauthorized access to systems and data, and ghost users are more vulnerable to such attacks.

This article will discuss the dangers of stale accounts, the reasons for their prevalence, and how to keep your data safe.

Why are Stale Accounts Dangerous?

Data breaches, leaks, and exposure have become increasingly common in recent years, with millions suffering from the consequences. Cyberattacks are also on the rise, with more than 43% targeting small businesses. Ghost users and non-expiring passwords are the primary reasons for these security breaches.

Stale accounts that remain inactive for extended periods can go unnoticed, creating an easy target for hackers. If companies do not review and delete or change the passwords for these accounts, they become an easy target for cybercriminals.

Guest Accounts

Many companies create guest accounts for various purposes, such as customer support, partner data sharing, etc. While a user may only need access for a single day, unmonitored login credentials could pose a threat for many years. Unfortunately, most organizations do not review these accounts, leaving hundreds of passwords unsupervised. This allows unauthorized users to sign in to your system and wreak havoc.

Admin Accounts

When an employee leaves a company, their admin account should be deleted or archived. Unfortunately, many organizations do not remember to take this step, leaving former employees with access to sensitive data. This lack of attention to user account hygiene can lead to significant security breaches, as seen in the case of the Colonial Pipeline attack.

Who is Responsible for Monitoring Inactive Accounts?

Managing ghost accounts is the responsibility of your IT team, or a managed IT service provider. They need to receive timely information about employees leaving the company so they can delete or archive access. Large companies may automate these notifications to avoid overlooking accounts that must be deleted.

How to Prevent Stale Accounts from Causing Cybersecurity Breaches

Admin rights hygiene is a crucial element of your cybersecurity strategy. Taking proactive measures can help prevent stale accounts from causing serious security issues. Here are some tips:

Review Access Permissions

Many companies, especially small businesses, provide admin rights to all team members, including those who do not need them. The first step in avoiding stale account issues is determining each team member’s access level to complete their tasks. The fewer employees with full access to your system, the less likely the information will be compromised.

Implement Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication can make logins and passwords less valuable to threat actors. While this authentication won’t prevent a former employee from gaining unauthorized access, it will improve your security measures against data leaks. Two-step authentication is twice as hard for hackers to breach, while a three-layer authentication is three times stronger. You may want to consider implementing the highest level of authentication for employees with the widest range of access rights.

Remove Stale Accounts

Stale accounts can be an unavoidable part of your business operations. That’s why conducting regular audits by reviewing the Active Directory every week or month and deleting inactive accounts to beef up security significantly is important.

Implement Password Expiration

Setting expiration dates on passwords used within the organization can render stale account credentials useless and prevent them from helping malicious actors. A person with admin rights can usually choose which users require a password expiration date. Active users will receive a message about the password expiration issue and get a chance to change the password. Meanwhile, expired passwords on inactive accounts close the security loophole.

Disable User Accounts

Depending on the system or software you use, disabling user accounts automatically after being inactive for a certain period may be possible. While this approach is effective, it would still give threat actors a short window to gain access to your network.

Monitor User Accounts

Your IT team can monitor user activity regularly to catch a problem before the next account audit. For example, if John hasn’t logged in for the past couple of days but suddenly accessed the account in the middle of the night and started downloading information, it’s a red security flag.

Close Accounts During Offboarding

To ensure that former employees can’t use their access rights to cause a security breach, you can make account removal an integral part of the offboarding process. The HR team should notify the IT department about the need to delete the account as soon as the employee leaves the company.

Improving Your User Account Hygiene

Stale accounts can render your cybersecurity measures useless, regardless of their strength. Inactive accounts make it easy for malicious actors to steal your data, gain access to vital digital assets, damage your reputation, and much more. Identifying and removing inactive accounts are part of a successful cybersecurity strategy. If you haven’t checked the Active Directory for a while, now is the perfect time to get started.


Stale accounts pose a significant threat to your company’s cybersecurity, and failure to manage them can result in major security breaches. The steps outlined in this article, such as reviewing access permissions, implementing multi-factor authentication, removing stale accounts, setting password expiration, disabling user accounts, and monitoring user activity, can help prevent stale accounts from becoming a security loophole. By making user account hygiene an essential part of your cybersecurity strategy, you can keep your data safe from cybercriminals and protect your company’s finances and reputation.