Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA): Why it Matters for Network Security

hacker emerging from screen to steal files to illustrate authentication authorization and accounting
September 28, 2022

Network security is a hot topic – with reason. The growing number of devices and users accessing your system has scaled exponentially. And the best way to simplify the tracking of who is who and what they’re doing at which level is to put in place authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA).

Authentication, authorization, and accounting is a protocol that ensures three things:

  • you are who you say you are on an acceptable device,
  • you’re only accessing what you have permission to access and deal with, and
  • there’s an audit trail of the data and systems you’re using for a variety of purposes.

The AAA framework contributes to building a robust solution to your network security needs.

Why is Network Security So Important Today?

Network security is one of the top priorities for business. It matters because:

1 It not only prevents hackers from stealing your data or getting physical access to a server but also makes sure your network can handle the traffic you’re generating through it.

2 Networks are a critical and non-negotiable part of modern business. We rely on networks to communicate, for team meetings, and to collaborate on projects.

3 Without network security, if just one person uses their account inappropriately, another individual, organization, or company can take advantage – with serious consequences.

But you know all that, so what role does authentication, authorization, and accounting play in all of this?

What Role Does AAA Play in Networking?

As we indicated up top, the authentication, authorization, and accounting system works at the user level via an AAA server – and contributes to overall security. Often pronounced “triple A,” it decides who can and cannot access your network resources. Let’s look in more detail how it happens.


This is the process of verifying that a user is authorized to access a device, application, or service.

It’s often done by sending some form of username/password combination to the device. This can be be achieved through an app or website, or through some other means of sending data to a device.

Two-factor authentication has become popular, and facial and fingerprint proof is also on the rise for authentication purposes. The information is checked against a database. If there’s no match, authentication fails, and the user is denied access to the network.


Giving someone permission and authority to use something specific on your network is known as authorization. It could also be called “permission” or “access control.”

The aim is to keep certain levels of resources, data, and activity only available to authorized personnel. It works well for security as there are fewer risks when fewer people can access any specific “level.”


This is about tracking what’s happened in real time. It usually occurs via some form of data logging – such as software running on each device in your network – to keep track of what users have been doing with your applications and services over time.

This means you can see trends, and check usage and resources – but also means you have a  record of unusual activity by any single person! Let’s take a closer look at accounting.

Why Do We Need Accounting?

Having a business network involves two things: making sure your data is secure and ensuring it’s accessible and usable by everyone at any time.

It’s a process and a balancing act! You can’t just turn your network on and expect everything to work out.

Accounting is therefore a way for your network administrator to monitor activities and make smart decisions about what everyone is doing, how they’re doing it, and why they’re doing it.

For example, the accounting process helps you understand

  • what kinds of extra equipment you need to match needs,
  • how much time your employees are spending on the network each day,
  • how much data they’re using
  • how much should be billed to who (if this applies to your business)
  • trend analysis, planning, etc.

Two Common AAA Protocols Are RADIUS and TACACS+

These protocols between them can define user privilege.

RADIUS is a client-server protocol for authenticating and authorizing users on a network. It uses a username and password to authenticate users, but it doesn’t have the capability to control accounting.

TACACS+ is a protocol for controlling access to network resources by authorizing or denying access. TACACS+ also has the capability to control accounting in some configurations, but it does not have a provision for authentication.

At RFIP, we understand these protocols in depth and can advise you at any time if you contact us. Otherwise, let’s move on to issues with old systems and apps.

What About Legacy Systems: How Do They Risk Network Security?

Legacy systems are old and therefore often not compatible with current technology or software updates.

This means they introduce vulnerabilities to your network. For example, the operating system itself, perhaps, and some legacy apps, cannot be updated beyond a certain point. They run, but they’re behind in technology terms.

Any cyber threat is therefore more likely to succeed with legacy systems or part-legacy systems.

In terms of Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting, AAA servers will obviously work best on modernized networks.

And the majority of companies that have made the transition to a modernized, automated environment have found their new system is more secure.

The risks of poor AAA in a legacy system include

  • not having an audit trail for all user activity in the network
  • users being able to access data they’re not authorized to access, or at least not without proper authorization.
  • hackers being able to hijack users’ sessions and access their data without permission
  • vulnerabilities from a weak password policy, where users share passwords with other employees

Network Design With AAA in Mind

Given the importance of authentication, authorization, and accounting, and its use in network security, a sound knowledge of AAA architecture is an important prerequisite for network designers. It enables them to design network infrastructure in such a way that it strengthens your business’s security while maintaining your connectivity and performance.

We Can Help

Network security will always be a moving target as more threats and vulnerabilities emerge. We’re not saying it’s “once and done” with AAA in place. But it’s the best basis for your systems.

Here at RFIP, we have network engineers skilled in the installation and maintenance of high-quality wireless networks who’re ready to assess your security posture and the security protocols in your business. If you’d like us to minimize your risks and upgrade your network service, contact us today!

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Article Name
Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA): Why it Matters for Network Security
Network security is always a moving target, but with authentication, authorization, and accounting in place your system has a secure base on which to build.

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