Security for User Access in Operating Systems

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will learn about the different layers of security used to restrict user access to a computer system. We also will examine the significance of securing user access by limiting physical proximity, using strong password combinations, managing user permissions, watching network services, and monitoring logs and audit files.

What Is User Access Security in Computing?

User access refers to the mechanisms by which user access to system resources is controlled. In a computer system, the Operating System (OS) is the backbone of the computing environment from which all resources are controlled and run. This means that the operating system is at the core of the entire system's security. Security takes on many layers. Physical security to the computer system itself is one layer. Anyone within physical proximity to the computer can be a threat. Threats can also come from unauthorized access via the web, compromised applications, or poor user habits.

Securing User Access Using the Operating System

There are different operating system security measures available to secure user access. We will now examine some of them.

Limiting User Accounts

This entails limiting the number of authorized users who have access to the operating system and respective system applications.

  • Limiting access to the operating system enables better control of system administration, accountability and troubleshooting.
  • Limiting access to applications ensures access by the right users to the right applications only. The system must constantly be audited to delete accounts of users who for one reason or another have left the company or business. Legacy accounts can be a big security threat.

Password Policies

It is important to ensure that access to network servers, operating systems and applications is mandated and controlled via passwords. This is one of many security layers, and one of the most basic forms of user access security to any system.

  • Enforcing good user password policies with emphasis on strong passwords combinations is key. With so many tools available online, simple passwords are easy to break and lead to system compromise.
  • While using frequent password changes has been a staple of password security, that is changing. Frequent changes to familiar, weak passwords can lead to security compromise. It is better to use strong passwords that are changed less frequently and to also utilize multi-factor authentication. However, if a user's password has been compromised, it should definitely be changed to decrease the opportunity for unauthorized access.

User Permissions

User permissions are defined simply as who has access to what. Although an application may have many authorized users, they do not all have the same level of access. In other words, some users or groups of users may have restricted access with the ability to only carry out a few functions. For example, they can only navigate within certain areas in an application. Others may have more advanced privileges, enabling them to have full access to all operations within the system.

  • Ensuring that users have the minimum required permissions for them to perform their individual functions is the key.
  • Unauthorized access and malicious attacks often need user access authentication. User permissions can determine the success of an attack and the damage extent. Accounts with administrative and super-user access are the most vulnerable.

Network Services Security

Network services are applications and processes which govern the network environment. They operate at the network application layer and facilitate the communication of data and resources between users, applications and peripheral devices. The network is a potential entry point for malicious attacks. User computers and devices connect to the network using these services and can expose them to security vulnerabilities.

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