Active Directory is used by businesses of all kinds to help manage permissions and restrict access to vital network resources. Because the service controls access to resources, systems, and applications, Microsoft Active Directory security is crucial for enterprises. Because of this, businesses need to be aware of weaknesses and take action to improve Active Directory security.
What Active Directory is and how it works
Active Directory (AD), Microsoft's proprietary directory service, operates on Windows Server and is essential for administrators managing network permissions and access control. It efficiently stores network resources data as objects, streamlining resource management and security.
Without going into too much technical jargon, this is how Active Directory works. All data is stored as objects, which include users, groups, applications, and devices. These items are grouped based on their names and attributes. For instance, a user's name could contain the name string as well as details about the person, like passwords and Secure Shell (SSH) keys.
Active Directory's primary service is Domain Services (AD DS), which stores directory information and manages user interactions with the domain. When a user logs into a device or seeks to connect to a server via a network, AD DS validates access. AD DS regulates which users and group policies have access to each resource.
Benefits of Active Directory
Active Directory offers numerous operational and business benefits, including:
- Enhanced security: Active Directory helps enterprises improve their security by regulating network resource access.
- Scalability: Businesses can easily organize Active Directory data in accordance with their organizational structure and operational requirements.
- Simplicity: Administrators may centrally manage user and machine identities and access privileges across the workplace, simplifying management and reducing operational costs for businesses.
- Improved resilience: Active Directory supports redundant components and data replication to ensure business continuity and high availability.
Active Directory’s hierarchical structure
AD DS organizes data hierarchically using domains, trees, forests, organizational units, and containers, as described below.
- A domain is a collection of items, such as users, groups, and devices, that share the same AD database. A domain can be compared to a branch on a tree. The structure of a domain is identical to that of regular domains and subdomains, such as yourdomain.com and sales.yourdomain.com.
- A tree consists of one or more domains arranged in a logical structure. Since domains in a tree are connected, it is stated that they "trust" one another.
- A forest is the highest degree of organization in AD and consists of a collection of trees. A forest's trees can also establish mutual trust and share directory schemas, catalogs, application data, and domain configurations.
- Organizational Units (OUs) are utilized to organize users, groups, computers, and other organizational units.
- A container is comparable to an OU, except it is not feasible to link a Group Policy Object (GPO) to a generic Active Directory container.
Active Directory Services core functions and features
Active Directory is made up of several distinct services. Active Directory contains Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS), Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), Certificate Services (AD CS), Federation Services (AD FS), and Rights Management Services (AD RMS) in addition to Domain Services (AD DS). Each of these additional services expands the directory management capabilities of the product.
- Domain Services (AD DS)
Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) is the fundamental component of Active Directory that serves as the primary mechanism for authenticating users and defining which network resources they can access. Additionally, AD DS enables Single Sign-On (SSO), security certificates, LDAP, and access rights management.
- Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS)
Lightweight Directory Services and AD DS share the same codebase and functionalities, such as the application programming interface. AD LDS may operate several instances on a single server and uses Lightweight Directory Access Protocol to store directory data in a data store.
- Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)
Lightweight Directory Access Protocol is a network application protocol used to access and manage directory services. LDAP saves object data, such as usernames and passwords, in directory services, such as Active Directory, and distributes it throughout the network.
- Certificate Services (AD CS)
Certificate Services produces, administers, and distributes digital certificates to allow a user to safely communicate data over the internet using public key cryptography.
- Federation Services (AD FS)
Using single sign-on (SSO), Active Directory Federation Services authenticates user access to various apps, even across different networks.
- Rights Management Services (AD RMS)
Rights Management Services is a collection of tools that aid in the administration of security technologies, hence assisting enterprises in securing their data. These technologies include encryption, certificates, and authentication, and they cover a variety of applications and content, including emails and Word documents.
What Is Azure Active Directory?
Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is Microsoft's cloud-based version of Windows Active Directory (Windows AD), which can also sync with on-premises Active Directory (AD) systems. Azure AD was introduced in response to the growing trend of businesses moving their operations to the cloud.
Azure Active Directory is used to manage access to SaaS solutions such as Microsoft 365, internally built cloud applications running on Azure, traditional corporate applications, and other on-premises resources. Among other capabilities, it includes support for just-in-time access controls, multi-factor authentication and passwordless technologies, native mobile-device management, and identity federation standards such as SAML and Oauth2.
Setting up and configuring Active Directory
- Windows Server Installation: Ensure you have Windows Server installed on a machine that will act as your Domain Controller (DC).
- Static IP Address: Assign a static IP address to the server to ensure it remains constant.
- Server Name: Assign an appropriate server name that follows your organization's naming conventions.
1. Install Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS)
- Go to Server Manager > Manage > Add Roles and Features.
- Proceed through the wizard until you reach Server Roles.
- Check Active Directory Domain Services and add features related to AD DS when prompted.
- Complete the wizard and install.
2. Configure Your New Domain
- After installation, click on the notification flag in Server Manager and select Promote this server to a domain controller.
- Choose Add a new forest and type your Root domain name (e.g., yourcompany.local).
- Follow through the wizard, setting up a Directory Services Restore Mode (DSRM) password when prompted.
3. Configure DNS Settings
- The wizard will automatically install DNS if it's not already installed. Make sure your server points to itself as the primary DNS server.
- Adjust DNS settings in your network to point to this new Domain Controller for DNS resolution.
4. Create User Accounts and Groups
- Once the domain controller role is installed, use the Active Directory Users and Computers console to create user accounts.
- Organize users into groups as necessary for your organization.
5. Set Up Group Policies
- Use Group Policy Management to create and manage Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for various security settings and network configurations.
6. Additional Configurations
- Configure additional roles and features as needed, such as AD Federation Services, Certificate Services, etc.
- Implement security best practices, such as regular backups and enforcing strong password policies.
- Regular Maintenance: Keep your system updated and monitor the health of your Active Directory environment.
- Backup and Disaster Recovery: Regularly back up your AD DS and have a disaster recovery plan in place.
- Security Audits: Regularly perform security audits and updates to ensure the integrity of your Active Directory.
Avoid costly misconfigurations in Active Directory to safeguard your data
Active Directory security is particularly critical to a company's overall security posture since the service controls all corporate system access. Effective Active Directory management safeguards your organization's credentials, apps, and sensitive data against illegal access. It is essential to implement robust security measures to prevent hostile people from penetrating your network and inflicting damage.
If you disregard Active Directory security, you run the danger of malicious actors acquiring your credentials or getting access using malware and then monitoring your activities. Criminals can then enter new accounts and traverse your system laterally. They can either steal data or corrupt the system if they have wide network access.
During Black Hat 2021, researchers Will Schroeder and Lee Christensen said that they had discovered vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Certificate Services templates. An inattentive Active Directory administrator may expose these templates to simple forgeries, granting any domain user complete Domain Administrator access.
This disclosure meant that an attacker no longer needed to locate an active administrator account to exploit to take complete domain control. They just required access to any domain account, including the Default User account. According to Microsoft, this was not a software issue but rather a configuration-related vulnerability.
This research article provided an interesting illustration of what can go terribly wrong when something as powerful as Microsoft's Active Directory is improperly handled or managed.
The advantages of a SaaS based PKI
Using a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) platform that helps you prevent costly and harmful misconfigurations is an easier method for a business to avoid such an issue. Numerous contemporary enterprises want the security and trust of a private PKI, but they lack the skills, architectural know-how, and financial resources to construct their own robust infrastructure.
Zero Touch PKI from Venafi is a managed solution to developing and operating an internal PKI. It can be set and administered in any way you require, in conjunction with different Certificate Authorities, and with the security and auditing options you require.