Active Directory Security Described and 10 Active Directory Security Best Practices 28 Sep 2023

Active Directory Security Best Practices

Microsoft created Active Directory (AD), a directory service, for Windows domain networks. Users may connect to different corporate resources using this database and collection of services. Which also enables administrators to control access to network resources.

Because it is crucial for organizing a company’s users and computers. Active Directory is an important component of any organization’s IT support infrastructure. The advantages of adopting Active Directory for their environment are utilized by over 95% of Fortune 1000 firms; nevertheless, protecting it across a company is not always simple. AD security is essential because the database might hold everything from user credentials to sensitive data to programs. Due to this, Active Directory is a crucial target for cyberattacks.

Organizations without trained personnel frequently concentrate simply on setting up the bare minimum needed to finish and implement the server deployment. For server updates and upgrades, skilled employees are frequently needed to delete particular files or switch off particular protocols to fully secure the Active Directory server. Some of these holes frequently remain open if the purpose of each patch and update is not fully understood.

Active Directory: What Is It?

IT managers may manage people, apps, data, and a variety of other network-related components using Active Directory (AD), a directory service for Microsoft Windows. Active Directory security is essential to guard against unwanted access to user credentials, business systems, sensitive data, software applications, and more. Your identity management infrastructure might effectively be compromised by an AD security breach, which could result in severe data loss and/or system damage or destruction. The integration of Active Directory (AD) with ServiceDesk Plus MSP enables you to import user information from the Active Directory server into ServiceDesk Plus Managed Service Provider.

AD is made up of several different directory services, including:

  • Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) is the core Active Directory service used to manage users and resources.
  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS) is a low-overhead version of AD DS for directory-enabled applications.
  • Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS): for issuing and managing digital security certificates
  • Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS): for sharing identity and access management information across organizations and enterprises
  • Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS): for information rights management (controlling access permissions to documents, workbooks, presentations, etc.)

What Justifies Active Directory Security?

Why is the security of Active Directory so crucial? Because the foundation of the entire cyber death chain is Active Directory. Attackers must steal credentials or infect an account with malware to compromise it, then elevate privileges to gain access to all necessary resources. Attackers might conceal and steal any data they want if you don’t have adequate security and audit controls for AD in place, and you might never know.

Active Directory System Threats

Let’s examine a few crucial locations where Active Directory systems may be attacked:

  • Default Security Settings: Microsoft has established a set of specified default security settings for AD. The security needs of your company might not be best served by these settings. Additionally, hackers will attempt to exploit holes and vulnerabilities as they are familiar with these default security settings.
  • Privileged access and inappropriate administrative users: Domain user accounts and other administrative users may have complete access to AD. The majority of employees, even those in IT, do not require superusers or high-level rights.
  • Inappropriate or Broad Access for Roles and Employees: AD enables administrators to set employee roles as the basis for granting access to particular apps and data. Groups with varying levels of access are given roles. It’s crucial to limit access to the levels that people in different professions and occupations require to carry out their duties.
  • Simple Passwords for Administrative Accounts: Passwords are frequently the focus of brute-force assaults on AD services. The most vulnerable passwords are those that are simple and easy to guess. Hackers may easily target unpatched OS, firmware, and application vulnerabilities in AD servers, giving them a crucial first foothold in your environment.
  • Lack of Visibility and Reporting of Unauthorized Access Attempts: IT administrators may more successfully thwart or prevent future unauthorized access attempts if they are aware of them. Therefore, a clear Windows audit trail is essential to spot both malicious and legitimate access attempts, as well as any changes in AD.

Security vs. Compliance

It’s crucial to realize that while regulatory compliance and Active Directory security are closely related, they are not the same. Many compliance regulations include requirements that directly impact AD security policies and procedures, but these mandates frequently cover a wide range of other topics as well, like workforce training, executive accountability, and physical access to office buildings. On the other hand, comprehensive AD security entails more than just adhering to a few rules.

Many compliance regulations, including GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, SOX, and PCI-DSS, require AD security as a necessary component. Inadequate Active Directory security can have several unfavourable effects, such as heavy fines from regulators, jail time for executives, the inability to accept credit card payments, and a loss of client confidence.

Active Directory’s Function in Network Operations

Because AD plays such a large part in network operations, most customers (understandably) lack the in-depth knowledge necessary to troubleshoot AD security. It involves more than just fixing configuration errors or applying patches to known vulnerabilities. Any open setting or improperly set parameter can be exploited by an attacker to gain access to the system. Protecting AD entails being aware of potential vulnerabilities, spotting attacks as they happen, monitoring security policies, and having insight into compliance drift when users don’t adhere to the rules regularly. Major environmental changes might make management substantially more challenging in other, more dynamic scenarios like mergers and acquisitions.

Knowing Attackers’ Value in Active Directory

For the majority of businesses, AD serves as the primary repository for all network accounts and systems and is in charge of all network permissions and authentication. Attackers find AD to be profitable because it may grant them access to all network resources as well as the required rights and privileges to make adjustments that make it more difficult to find and remove them from the environment.

Sadly, a lot of open-source and freely accessible tools, like Bloodhound and Mimikatz, make compromising and attacking AD extremely easy. These technologies are used by attackers to find accounts that can afford them administrative powers and to carry out assaults in a way that gives them more access to resources while obscuring their movements. When it comes to a company’s preparation for a ransomware assault, AD might be its Achilles heel. Almost every significant ransomware assault included a stage where the attacker used AD to get access to data, rights or both. Insufficient protection for AD might cause it to become an enemy’s closest buddy very soon.

Active Directory Security Best Practices

Your system has been breached by several hostile users using stolen credentials. Therefore, it’s crucial to adhere to Active Directory best practices to reduce unnecessary security risks. Implementing the following security measures is the best way to harden your Active Directory:

  • Change the default security settings to suit the requirements of your company.

Some default Active Directory settings, such as the one that permits all users to add workstations to your domain, grant users at your company unneeded privileges. Examine the security settings during Active Directory installation and make any adjustments to suit your company’s requirements. Additionally, you should check all user permissions to make sure you’re only granting the bare minimum of access required. Limiting permissions makes it less possible for criminals to obtain privileged access and makes it less probable for staff within your company to abuse privileges. You may manually modify attribute values and permissions to change the default security settings, or you can utilize Active Directory tools to help you customize these settings.

  • Patch every vulnerability. Frequently

One of the key responsibilities of the IT department is finding and fixing vulnerabilities. Make sure that the patching and maintenance procedures for AD and other issues are quick, effective, and efficient.

  • Apply the least privilege principles to AD roles and groups.

Examine all of the data and application permissions required for all employee positions in the company. Make sure that workers only have the access necessary for them to carry out their duties. Ensure privilege separation as well to improve audibility between roles and stop lateral movement if an account is compromised. Utilize privileged access management (PAM) policies and security measures that are strict.

  • Use recovery and backup procedures.

The most crucial backup precaution for protecting Active Directory is to ensure that you back it up often, at least once every 60 days. Active Directory tombstone objects have a 60-day lifespan. Having an Active Directory backup that is no older than 60 days can help you avoid problems regarding expired tombstone items. Keeping many backups in various locations is also recommended in case one of them is also hacked.

Creating a disaster recovery plan is the most crucial recovery strategy for safeguarding Active Directory. This procedure needs to outline the actions your security team should take to recover from a compromise. Because, for instance, a domain controller must be recovered before you can recover other machines, you must take into account the recovery sequence and dependencies.

  • centralize reporting and administration of security.

Organizations may have a dedicated team in charge of Active Directory security by centralizing security administration and reporting. These employees can become knowledgeable and react swiftly to an assault. Your security team may evaluate and monitor the system using a single piece of software that enables them to swiftly analyze alarms with the aid of a thorough threat detection tool.

  • Limit domain user accounts and manage AD administration rights.

Examine all IT personnel thoroughly and only grant administrative rights and superuser access to those who require it to carry out their duties. To guarantee that this access is restricted as precisely as possible, use PowerShell Just Enough Administration (JEA) and/or a PAM solution. Be cautious and use strong passwords to safeguard these accounts.

  • Utilize Windows’ real-time auditing and alerting.

Keep track of unexpected access attempts and report them. Full-window auditing should be offered, along with alerts for any access coming from both inside and outside the company. Focus in particular on Windows AD change auditing. Additionally, this will support compliance with PCI, SOX, HIPAA, and other regulations.

  • Implement a policy for secure passwords.

Always discuss the need for strong passwords, but what exactly does it entail? A secure password has 12 to 16 characters and includes capital, lowercase, symbol, and number characters. The ideal password is created randomly and is not a word. Although these passwords are the strongest, it is difficult to remember them. Password managers are a fantastic remedy for this problem.

  • Educate the workforce.

Unexpectedly, employees pose a serious security risk. Your personnel may accidentally divulge user passwords or important corporate information by clicking on malicious links. The risk to the company may be reduced by training your team to recognize malware assaults, phishing attempts, and the consequences of a cyberattack.

  • To make sure that your Active Directory is safe, perform frequent penetration testing.

Once your Active Directory is configured, it is wise to routinely plan a penetration test to make sure your system is secure and free of holes or vulnerabilities. Regular penetration testing may give the company peace of mind and significantly reduce the danger of a cyberattack.

What Common Security Flaws Exist With Active Directory?

Active Directory security issues are largely caused by three important aspects that are difficult to understand and manage:

  • who gets into your network,
  • What they are permitted to do once they’re inside,
  • and what activity is taking place?

Such dangers include insider attacks, spear-phishing, privilege escalation, and lateral movement, to mention a few. The ideal strategy for addressing AD security issues, however, is to avoid tackling each one separately; doing so increases costs and increases the complexity of IT systems, which exacerbates rather than resolves the issue.

Instead, clearing up your Active Directory and gaining complete visibility into activity throughout your IT environment is the best course of action. It makes sense to invest in complete solutions that automate and streamline essential procedures necessary for effective Active Directory security since the tools included in Active Directory only offer a tiny portion of the capability required and require a lot of effort to utilize.

Observe AD’s Health.

No matter how well you design your domains, OUs, schemas, and other components of your Active Directory, an IT environment is dynamic, and you can’t just put it up and leave it. You’ll need processes for providing and de-provisioning AD objects since users, computers, printers, and other AD objects come and go. These operations should be automate as much as possible using approval-based workflows. Identifying inactive users and computer accounts regularly can help you get rid of them before they are exploited.

In a broader sense, you also need to continuously check on the state of your domain controllers and the data replication between them. If not, users may very easily run into issues signing in or getting to the tools they need to do their work.

Windows PowerShell, Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC), Local Users and Groups, and the Active Directory Schema snap-in for Microsoft Management Console (MMC) are just a few of the Active Directory management tools provided by Microsoft. The capability of native tools is constraine. Moving between them is cumbersome at best, and jobs are frequently labour-intensive, slow, and prone to mistakes.

The Best Active Directory Security Tools

You may do Active Directory monitoring of your system’s health and preserve Active Directory security using security tools. Convenience, automation, and improved security are the primary advantages of adopting Active Directory security technologies. Numerous Active Directory tools offer a more user-friendly interface for managing the directory. Can automate procedures like clearing out unused accounts, and improve security through monitoring and alerts.

Since Active Directory is a large service with numerous applications, its tools’ functions and reach vary. The technologies vary from cheap apps that keep an eye out for the simplest symptoms of a breach to powerful services. That offer thorough threat detection and prevention. You should choose your budget first before comparing the features. That are more crucial to your company when evaluating the advantages of the various Active Directory solutions. Look for a product that meets the demands of your organization’s most time-consuming or riskiest procedures.

Consider searching for a solution that has some of the qualities listed below. When selecting an Active Directory security tool that is appropriate for your business:

  • Automation for creating user accounts and security groups
  • Analysis of user permissions
  • Analysis of vulnerabilities, such as abandoned accounts
  • Active Directory auditing for changes to parameters
  • Free trials are available to test how the tool works for your organization.

A technical risk assessment that finds flaws and inadequate settings that prevent having a clean Active Directory is another option. Your findings will help you identify the security areas that require the most assistance and the corresponding tools.

Remember that if comprehensive threat detection systems enable you to reallocate staff to other duties.  They could be more cost-effective for your company. Tools for threat detection can automate the identification of suspicious activities and speed up event response. Your personnel may concentrate on activities that provide value to your company while the tool handles the labour-intensive chores.

How to Use Velan to Secure Active Directory

With Velan, you may have immediate access to useful information. About the changes being made to your Active Directory. Thanks to our Active Directory Auditing and Monitoring Solution. You’ll be able to see indications of compromise in real time and respond more quickly to avert potentially devastating situations.

The Active Directory stores and manages all of your IT infrastructure. Because of this, it serves as the ideal entry point for hackers trying to access your system. The hacker can access your Active Directory and take over your network. If they have the login information of an authorized employee. Improve your network’s security by using the security procedures listed above.

Peter Paul

Technology Consultant

About the Author:

Peter has over 20+ years of experience in managing and delivering enterprise applications and IT infrastructure. He served several IT companies in the US and Canada before joining Velan. He is instrumental in deploying, managing and delivering latest technologies at Velan. He can be reached at


Quick Connect With Us