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) is a directory service that runs on Microsoft Windows Server. Active Directory's primary purpose is to give administrators the ability to manage permissions and restrict access to network resources.
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.
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 sub-domains, 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.
Overview of Active Directory Services
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.
Avoid costly misconfigurations
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.
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.