10 SQL Service Account Best Practices

Service accounts are a necessary part of running SQL Server, but they can also be a big security risk. Here are 10 best practices to follow.

A SQL service account is a user account that is used by the SQL Server service to access the operating system and other resources. The service account can be a local account or a domain account.

When configuring the SQL Server service account, there are a few best practices to follow in order to secure the SQL Server instance. In this article, we will discuss 10 of those best practices.

1. Create a service account for SQL Server

When you install SQL Server, it creates a service account that it uses to run the various SQL Server services. This account has full control over the server and the databases, so it’s important to choose an account with a strong password that is not used for any other purpose.

If you don’t create a service account, the SQL Server services will run under the LocalSystem account. This account has too much access and can be a security risk, so it’s best to avoid it if possible.

2. Assign the minimum permissions required to run SQL Server

If a service account has too many permissions, then it’s a risk. If that account is compromised, then the attacker will have access to everything that account can do. By only giving the account the permissions it needs to run SQL Server, you limit the damage that can be done if the account is compromised.

To do this, you need to understand what permissions are required to run SQL Server. The best way to do this is to install SQL Server in a test environment and then use a tool like Process Monitor to see what files and registry keys are accessed when SQL Server is running. Once you know what resources SQL Server needs to access, you can then create a service account with only those permissions.

3. Use Windows Authentication whenever possible

When you use Windows Authentication for SQL service accounts, your passwords are managed by Active Directory (AD), which means they are subject to the same password policies as all other AD accounts. This includes things like password expiration, account lockout, and minimum password length.

Additionally, Windows Authentication provides a higher level of security because it uses Kerberos authentication, which is more secure than NTLM.

Finally, using Windows Authentication can simplify administration because you don’t have to manage separate SQL service account passwords.

4. Don’t use SA as your SQL Service Account

The SA account is a member of the sysadmin fixed server role. This means that anyone who knows the password for the SA account can connect to the SQL Server instance and perform any action, including deleting data, changing configuration settings, or adding other users.

A malicious user who gains access to the SA account could wreak havoc on your SQL Server instance, so it’s important to use a different account for the SQL Server service.

5. Make sure you have a backup of the service account password

If the service account password is lost or forgotten, it can be very difficult to recover, and in some cases, impossible. This can lead to all sorts of problems, such as being unable to start the SQL Server service or connect to the database.

Therefore, it’s essential to have a backup of the service account password, so you can quickly and easily recover from any password-related issues.

6. Set up a strong password policy for your domain

If an attacker were to gain access to your SQL service account, they would then have access to all the databases that your account has permissions to. This could potentially give them full control of your entire database infrastructure.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to have a strong password policy in place for your domain. This means having a minimum password length, requiring a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, and setting a password expiration date.

It’s also important to make sure that your passwords are stored in a secure location, such as a password manager. This will help to ensure that they are not compromised if your computer is ever hacked.

7. If you need to change the password, make sure it is changed on all instances and services

If you have multiple SQL Server instances, and you change the password on one instance but not the others, then the services on the other instances will fail to start. This is because they are using the old password, which is no longer valid.

Changing the password on all of the instances at the same time can be a pain, but it’s necessary to avoid service disruptions.

8. Keep track of which accounts are used by each instance

If you have multiple SQL Server instances on a single server, it can be tempting to use the same service account for all of them. However, this is not recommended for several reasons.

Firstly, if there are any problems with the account (for example, if the password expires), all of the SQL Server instances will be affected. This can cause major disruptions and may even result in data loss.

Secondly, using different accounts for each SQL Server instance makes it easier to track which account is used for each instance. This can be useful for auditing and troubleshooting purposes.

Finally, using different accounts for each SQL Server instance helps to improve security. If one account is compromised, the other accounts will still be safe.

9. Change passwords regularly

If a hacker gains access to a service account, they can use that account to wreak havoc on your systems. They can delete data, modify data, and even create new accounts with elevated privileges.

By changing passwords regularly, you make it more difficult for hackers to gain and maintain access to your systems. How often you should change passwords depends on your organization, but at a minimum, you should change them every 90 days.

It’s also important to use strong passwords. A strong password is one that is at least 8 characters long and includes a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

10. Monitor failed logins

Failed logins can be caused by a number of things, including typos, incorrect passwords, and brute force attacks. By monitoring failed logins, you can quickly identify when someone is trying to gain unauthorized access to your database.

You can use SQL Server’s built-in auditing feature to track failed logins. Simply enable auditing at the server level, and then specify which events you want to audit. Failed login attempts will be logged in the Windows Application event log.

Alternatively, you can use a third-party tool like SolarWinds® Loggly® to monitor the event log for failed login attempts. Loggly provides real-time alerts so you can take action immediately if someone is trying to gain unauthorized access to your database.


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