Service Accounts

Last modified on May 8, 2024

A service account is a type of user account that provides programmatic access to resources via StrongDM. Unlike a user account, a service account requires only a display name—not a full name and email address—because service accounts are for machines, programs, and applications, not people. Service accounts authenticate to StrongDM with admin tokens in order to conduct automated administrative processes or perform any automated function that needs resource access.

They are used for automation or for allowing programs and applications to use StrongDM, when there is no live human to authenticate. For example, a service account is ideal for the following:

  • Continuous-integration pipelines
  • Periodic extract-transform-load (ETL) jobs
  • Business intelligence (BI) tools
  • Jupyter Notebooks and similar self-contained analysis environments
  • Containerized environments (often in conjunction with the StrongDM client container) that need access to StrongDM-protected resources

This article describes how to create service accounts in the Admin UI and gain a token to use for authentication.

Create a Service Account

To create service accounts, make sure you have admin access to the Admin UI. Then follow these steps:

  1. In the Admin UI, select Users from the navigation menu.
  2. Click the Add service button.
  3. Enter a name for the service account. Notice that a first/last name and email address are not needed because service accounts are for programs/machines, not people.
  4. Click Create service account.
  5. Copy the generated service account token and keep it somewhere safe, as you won’t be able to see it again.

Grant Access to Resources

StrongDM uses role-based privileges to control access to resources. Like user accounts, service accounts gain access to resources through role membership, via the static and dynamic access rules that have been defined for that role.

For information on how to assign a role to an account, see Roles.


After creating a service account, generating a service account token, and granting the account access to resources via role membership, you need to authenticate the account in your environment in order to use it. Once authenticated, the CLI and desktop app behave the same as they would for a normal user.

In this section, you learn the various ways to authenticate with a service account on macOS, Linux, and Windows.

Service accounts on Linux

On Linux, use the CLI for authentication. Pass the service account token to the CLI login command.

sdm login --admin-token='<SERVICE_ACCOUNT_TOKEN>'

Service accounts on macOS

On macOS, you can authenticate via the CLI or the StrongDM Desktop application.

To use the CLI to authenticate, pass the service account token to the CLI login command.

sdm login --admin-token='<SERVICE_ACCOUNT_TOKEN>'

To use the desktop app to authenticate, follow these steps:

  1. Select the desktop app’s sdm icon from the menu bar on your screen.
  2. Paste the service account token into the email field; StrongDM automatically detects the format as a service account token. Click continue.

Use environment variables to pass the token

The StrongDM client checks the local environment for the variable SDM_ADMIN_TOKEN. There are several ways to add the variable to the environment: via export, by specifying the command in your shell profile, or by adding it before a command.


sdm login

Shell profile

You can add the environment variable during a login event by specifying the previous command in your shell profile. This approach is similar among all of the shells.

echo 'export SDM_ADMIN_TOKEN=<TOKEN>' >> ~/.bash_profile

In line

Environment variables also can be read when specified before a command.


Test that it’s working

At this point, you should see any assigned resources in your desktop app or the CLI.

To check in the desktop app, click the sdm icon in the menu bar of your screen. All of the resources available to you are shown.

To check in the CLI, enter the command sdm status, as in the following example.

$ sdm status
DATASOURCE          STATUS            PORT      TYPE
pgsql_1_31          not connected     5432      postgres

SSH SERVER          STATUS            PORT      TYPE
server-245a         not connected     61334     ssh

Service accounts on Windows

Standard Windows installation

Most users following the standard Windows installation can authenticate StrongDM with a service account token and these steps:

  1. Start the StrongDM Desktop application.
  2. Paste the service account token into the email field; StrongDM automatically detects the format as a service account token. Click continue.

Automated installation

To bypass the desktop app and use only the CLI, or to automate the installation process, you can directly download just the StrongDM CLI from the Admin UI. The steps in this section can also be used to install the StrongDM CLI as a Windows service. This package works on Windows 2008R2 and later.

To successfully perform the steps in this section, you must be:

  • A StrongDM administrator with the ability to create and retrieve a service account token.
  • A local administrator on your Windows workstation.
Download the CLI package

Start by following steps 1 through 5 in the Download the StrongDM CLI section. Additionally, you can directly download the CLI installer.

Run the installer

Use the following steps to run the installer after it is downloaded and unzipped.

  1. Open a PowerShell terminal as an administrator.

  2. Navigate to the directory containing the sdm32.exe binary we unzipped when downloading the StrongDM CLI.

  3. Run .\sdm32.exe install to receive the following output. If prompted, confirm to continue with administrator access. Newer versions of Windows correctly determine administrator privileges and do not typically show this prompt.

    Installing StrongDM listener
    - paste the token and press ENTER:
  4. Paste the service account token assigned to this resource and hit enter.

  5. Customize the installation path and data path, or hit enter twice to accept the defaults. A successful install looks like the following output. If the installation fails, verify you are running PowerShell as an administrator.

    Installing StrongDM listener
    paste the token and press ENTER:
    installation path [C:\Program Files (x86)\StrongDM]:
    data path [C:\WINDOWS\system32\config\systemprofile\AppData\Local\StrongDM]:
    Copying files
    Installation complete
    Service installed and started
Test the setup

To confirm the installation and authentication were successful, open a new PowerShell window as an admin and run sdm status. The output looks similar to this:

C:\Windows\system32> sdm status
     CLOUD             STATUS             PORT OVERRIDE     TYPE         TAGS                 URL
     AWS example       not connected      65111             aws          region=us-west-2

     CLUSTER           STATUS             PORT OVERRIDE     TYPE         TAGS
     K8s example       not connected      18443             kubernetes   team=Example

     DATASOURCE        STATUS             PORT OVERRIDE     TYPE         TAGS
     mysql-db          not connected      13306             mysql
     oracle-db         not connected      11521             oracle

     SERVER            STATUS             PORT OVERRIDE     TYPE         TAGS
     TCP example       not connected      59150             rawtcp
Windows as a service installation

This section contains information about how to install the StrongDM CLI on Windows in order to run it as a background service that automatically connects to certain resources on startup. Before you continue, download the CLI package and run the installer.

When running the StrongDM CLI package in this manner, the installer updates the Windows registry, assigning the StrongDM executable to the service and making sure the software boots with the winsvc process. If you delete these Windows registry entries for winscv, the StrongDM executable behaves like the typical CLI included with the desktop app.

To ensure proper authentication, the StrongDM executable requires that the StrongDM listener service is running. The port opened when the listener starts is 65220. To confirm these details, use these steps.

  1. Open the Command Prompt.

  2. Confirm the port is in use:

    netstat -ano | find "LISTEN" | find "65220"

    The process ID (PID) is listed in the last column.

  3. Confirm which process is using the port:

    tasklist /fi "PID eq <PID_VALUE>

    The output shows the image name, PID, session name, session number, and memory usage information, as in the following example.

    Image Name                     PID Session Name        Session#    Mem Usage
    ========================= ======== ================ =========== ============
    sdm.exe                      26740 Services                   0     48,760 K
Uninstall the Windows service

To uninstall the Windows service, run:

sdm32.exe uninstall

This action removes the StrongDM listener and deletes any keys previously added to the Windows registry. The output looks similar to the following:

sdm32.exe uninstall
preparing to uninstall ...
uninstalling StrongDM listener
uninstall failed, see sdm-uninstall-1594851455.log for details
press enter to close...