Avoid Three Common Active Directory Security Pitfalls

While the threats have changed over the past decade, the way systems and networks are managed have not. We continue with the same operations and support paradigm, despite the fact that internal systems are compromised regularly. As Sean Metcalf notes, while every environment is unique, they all too often have the same issues. These issues often boil down to legacy management of the enterprise Microsoft platform going back a decade or more.

There is also the reality of what we call the Assume Breach paradigm.  This means that during a breach incident, we must assume that an attacker a) has control of a computer on the internal network and b) can access the same resources of legitimate users through recent log on activity.

Active Directory (AD) is the most popular Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) implementation and holds the keys to your kingdom. It attracts attackers, as honey attracts bees. There are many best practices to secure Active Directory, but to start, let’s ensure you stay away from common pitfalls. Below are three common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Too many Domain Admins: Active Directory administration is typically performed by a small number of people. Membership in Domain Admins is rarely a valid requirement.Those members have full administrative rights to all workstations, servers, Domain Controllers, Active Directory, Group Policy, etc., by default. This is too much power for any one account, especially in today’s modern enterprise. Unless you are actively managing Active Directory as a service, you should not be in Domain Admins.
  2. Over-permissioned Service Accounts: Vendors have historically required Domain Admin rights for Service Accounts even when the full suite of rights provided is not actually required, though it makes the product easier to test and deploy. The additional privileges provided to the Service Account can be used maliciously to escalate rights on a network. It is critical to ensure that every Service Account is delegated only the rights required, and nothing more. Keep in mind that a service running under the context of a Service Account has that credential in LSASS (protected memory), which can be extracted by an attacker. If the stolen credential has admin rights, the domain may be quickly compromised due to a single Service Account.
  3. Not monitoring admin group membership: Most organizations realize that the number of accounts with admin rights increases on a yearly, if not monthly basis, without ever going down. The admin groups in Active Directory need to be scrutinized, especially when new accounts are added. It’s even better to use a system that requires approval before a new account is added to the group. This system can also remove users from the group when their approved access expires.

By avoiding these pitfalls, and securing Active Directory properly, you are on your way to keeping your “kingdom” safe. But like Thomas Paine said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” There are a number of ways to reap the benefits of a secure infrastructure, but there are many intracacies required to make this a reality. Solutions, like SIEMphonic Enterprise, takes on “fatigue” required to with a dedicated 24/7 SOC.

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