An account is a user account for accessing and using an IT service or an IT system. The account stores information about the user and assigns certain rights or roles. User accounts are used for applications, Internet services, and operating systems.
What is an account?
An account allows access to and use of an access-restricted IT system or service. To log on to the system, the user must be authenticated. Authentication is often done by user name and password. Other methods are also possible. The IT system stores user data in the account, which the user can access again after logging in without having to enter it again. The user profiles of an account can contain, for example, personal data, rights, settings, or activities. Another important purpose of the account, in addition to storing user data, is to assign certain rights to the user. Accounts are used for online services, applications, or operating systems.
Identification and authentication of the user of an account
The most common method for authenticating the user of an account is logging in via user name and password. There are usually specifications regarding the length, upper/lower case, and character composition of the user name and password. For many online services, the user’s e-mail address is used as the user name. If the user logs in via an online connection, he or she must ensure that the connection is encrypted.
Unencrypted connections allow potential attackers to read the user name and password and misuse them for their own purposes. Security experts also recommend using different login data for different accounts rather than identical ones.
More secure than logging in by user name and password are so-called multi-factor authentication procedures. In addition to a user name and password, they require one or more other factors to log in. These can be, for example, one-time identifiers sent to a specific mobile phone number or generated with a hardware token.
Special user accounts
Operating systems, applications, or online services in some cases know certain standard accounts. These are, for example, administrator or root accounts on Windows or Linux computers that have all rights on the system. Guest accounts have minimal rights and usually only allow read access to a few resources. FTP servers are familiar with the anonymous account. FTP users can use it to log on to an FTP server and download shared files without a special ID and password.
Accounts on the Internet
On the Internet, accounts are used for applications such as sending and receiving e-mails, social networks such as Twitter or Facebook, online stores, online gaming, forums, cloud services, or online banking. The account represents the online identity of a user. Real users can work with multiple online identities.
In some cases, a single account is linked to a number of different online services. An example of this is the Google account. Once signed up, it allows the use of Google services such as email, calendar, Office applications, personalized YouTube, online storage, and more.
The role of the account in operating systems
Through his account, the user is assigned rights to use the operating system. Operating systems such as Windows, Linux or macOS require logging in with certain user data at startup. Depending on the previously defined properties, the user gets access rights to files, services, settings or hardware components.
The workstation environment (desktop) is saved depending on the user and is available to the user in the usual form after logging in. Several users can work on one computer with different accounts. Users with an administrator or root account have all rights on the system and may create or manage other accounts.