Fixing Those Pesky "401 Unauthorized" Errors for Good

Seeing "401 Unauthorized" errors when browsing the web is the worst. I know how frustrating it is when you try visiting your favorite website or app only to get blocked by some "Access Denied" message. It‘s like hitting a wall when you just want to read an article or check your email.

Not to worry – I‘ve got your back. In this detailed guide, I‘ll walk you through the most common reasons for 401 errors as well as step-by-step fixes to get rid of them for good. I‘ll even throw in some of my top tips for beefing up security to stop these errors before they happen.

Let‘s get started taking down those error messages!

What‘s Behind Those Cryptic 401 Messages?

Before we start troubleshooting, it helps to understand exactly why the 401 beast rears its ugly head.

At an basic level, the 401 status code indicates that the given username and password combination wasn‘t accepted as valid by the website or app you were trying to access. It‘s the server‘s way of saying, "Nope, nice try – but I need more proof you are who you say you are!"

Some common things that trigger that pesky 401:

  • You fat-fingered your password. Hey, it happens to all of us. No judgment if you entered your password wrong – server‘s sure judge though!

  • Your session timed out. Many websites use access tokens that expire after period of time.

  • You don‘t have permission. 401s often protect access to resources like bank accounts or medical records. Trying to access these without proper authorization will fail.

  • Authentication got misconfigured. Errors in server-side certificate or security settings blocks users out.

  • A plugin went rogue. Plugins like security scanners can mistake legit login attempts as hacking attempts.

I know first-hand how frustrating it is to just be cruising along happily only to hit one of these 401 "Access Denied" roadblocks. The good news? In over 90% of cases, this is an easy fix. Let‘s get into it!

Step 1: Clean Out Your Browser

The very first thing I suggest is cleaning up your browser data. Old cached files or cookies hanging around can interfere with the authentication process behind the scenes. Forcing a fresh start makes the browser freshly reconnect with websites and give proper credentials.

It takes 3 seconds, cost you nothing, doesn‘t hurt to try!

On Chrome

  1. Click the 3-dot menu > Settings > Privacy & Security
  2. Choose Clear Browsing Data
  3. Select both "Cookies…" and "Cached images and files"
  4. Click the bright blue "Clear data" button

That wipes the slate – easy as pie! Follow the same basic menu path to clear browsing data on Firefox, Edge, and Safari as well.

Step 2: Flush Those DNS References

Next up in your spring cleaning list: clearing out old DNS cache records. DNS helps match site URLs with their corresponding IP addresses quickly. Sometimes DNS data sticks around even if it becomes outdated or invalid over time. Having stale DNS cache records can lead to 401 errors.

Flushing all that old DNS data forces your system to re-obtain fresh, up-to-date mappings.

On Windows

  1. From Start, search for "Command Prompt"
  2. Right-click and choose "Run as Administrator"
  3. Enter ipconfig /flushdns in the window, and press Enter

Boom! With one command, you flushed that DNS cache sparkly clean.

Step 3: Check for Typos!

This next one may sound basic – but don‘t underestimate it! Sometimes a simple typo in a URL or link you clicked can show the error for "Content Not Found".

Double and triple check any site link throwing the error:

  • Make sure the hyperlink you clicked wasn‘t mistyped
  • Type site URLs directly and carefully
  • Look for incorrect characters or extra numbers that snuck in

It never hurts to just drill down and methodically eliminate the simplest possibilities first!

Step 4: Frisk Those Plugins!

If random websites keep throwing the 401 error, incompatible plugins could be the culprit. Plugins – especially security scanners – can sometimes block legitimate login attempts as false positives.

Quickly rule out if a plugin is mucking things up:

  1. Login to WordPress admin dashboard
  2. Go to Plugins > Installed Plugins
  3. Check the box to select all plugins
  4. Choose "Deactivate" bulk action
  5. Click Apply to deactivate

Test if the 401 goes away once all plugins power down. If so, turn plugins back on one-by-one until you uncover the problematic app. Remove or update to permanently squash that 401!

This method isolates plugin conflicts quickly. And pro tip – make sure any security scanners are kept updated to minimize false positives!

Step 5: Inspect Authentication Headers

For the trickier 401 errors, dig deeper by inspecting the authentication headers. The response headers contain clues on exactly how the server expects you to authenticate:

In Chrome:

  1. Go to failing page
  2. Open Network tab in DevTools
  3. Reload page
  4. Check entry with 401 status
  5. In Headers, inspect "WWW-Authenticate”

Here you‘ll see the auth method required by the server itself. That reveals any potential mismatch with how you are sending credentials. Armed with that intel, you can properly configure authentication methods to match.

Bonus 401-Busting Pro Tips

Beyond specific troubleshooting steps, preventing 401 errors in the first place should be part of your online security master plan.

Here are proactive ways to beef up protection:

  • Use a password manager to generate and store strong, random passwords
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) for an added credential layer
  • Monitor server logs for failed login patterns
  • Update software frequently to avoid vulnerabilities
  • Create limited user roles to restrict unnecessary access

I know dealing with that "Access Denied" message makes you want to hulk smash your device. But stay calm and methodically walk through fixes – you‘ll be back accessing your stuff in no time.

Got any other odd error messages plaguing you? I‘m always happy to dig in and help get them fixed!