Disabling User Accounts

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Account management is concerned with the creation, management, disabling, and termination of accounts. When the account is active, access control methods control what the user can do. Additionally, administrators can use access controls to control when and where users can log on.

If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of managing accounts such as disabling and deleting user accounts. For example, can you answer this question?

Q. A company’s account management policy dictates that administrators should disable user accounts instead of deleting them when an employee leaves the company. What security benefit does this provide?

A. Ensures that user keys are retained

B. Ensures that user files are retained

C. Makes it easier to enable the account if the employee returns

D. Ensures that users cannot log on remotely

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

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Disabling and Deleting User Accounts

Many organizations have account management policies (sometimes called account disablement policies) that specify how to manage accounts in different situations. For example, most organizations require administrators to disable user accounts as soon as possible when employees leave the organization.

Disabling is preferred over deleting the account, at least initially. If administrators delete the account, they also delete any encryption and security keys associated with the account. However, these keys are retained when the account is disabled. As an example, imagine that an employee encrypted files with his account. If the account was deleted, these files may remain encrypted forever unless the organization has a key escrow or recovery agent that can access the files.

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Some contents of an account disablement policy include:

  • Terminated employee. An account disablement policy specifies that accounts for ex-employees are disabled as soon as possible. This ensures a terminated employee doesn’t become a disgruntled ex-employee who wreaks havoc on the network. Note that “terminated” refers to both employees who resign and employees who are fired.
  • Leave of absence. If an employee will be absent for an extended period, the account should be disabled while the employee is away. Organizations define extended period differently, with some organizations defining it as only two weeks, whereas other organizations extend it out to as long as two months.
  • Delete account. When the organization determines the account is no longer needed, administrators delete it. For example, the policy may direct administrators to delete accounts that have been inactive for 60 or 90 days.

Disabling User Accounts

Many administrators routinely run scripts to identify inactive accounts. For example, it’s relatively simple in a Microsoft domain to run a script listing all enabled accounts that haven’t been used in the last 30 days. Administrators disable these accounts to prevent their use. Often these are accounts of ex-employees or temporary employees who are no longer at the organization. Ideally, the account disablement policy would ensure that the accounts are disabled as soon as the employee leaves, but the scripts provide an additional check to ensure inactive accounts are disabled.

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Remember this

An account disablement policy identifies what to do with accounts for employees who leave permanently or on a leave of absence. Most policies require administrators to disable the account as soon as possible, so that ex-employees cannot use the account. Disabling the account ensures that data associated with it remains available. Security keys associated with an account remain available when the account is disabled, but are no longer accessible if the account is deleted.


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Q. A company’s account management policy dictates that administrators should disable user accounts instead of deleting them when an employee leaves the company. What security benefit does this provide?

A. Ensures that user keys are retained

B. Ensures that user files are retained

C. Makes it easier to enable the account if the employee returns

D. Ensures that users cannot log on remotely

Answer is A. User accounts typically have security keys associated with them. These keys are retained when the account is disabled, but they are no longer accessible when the account is deleted.

By disabling the account, it helps ensure that access to files is retained, but it does not directly retain user files.

Employees who leave are not expected to return, so this policy has nothing to do with making it easier to enable an account when they return.

Users will not be able to use the accounts locally or remotely if they are disabled or deleted, which is a primary reason to have an account management policy.

See Chapter 2 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on implementing logical access controls.

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