Active Directory’s (AD) work in maintaining security and a centralized identity management system can be a target of cybercriminals. It needs to be safeguarded from privilege escalation using AD vulnerabilities.
The Active Directory was released in 1999 by Microsoft to have a centralized identity management system. It can help manage public key infrastructure certificates, authentication, and authorization of users in an enterprise and prevent ransomware, providing hassle-free authentication, which is essential for both multinationals and SMBs. In fact, over 90% of Global Fortune 1000 companies use Microsoft’s Active Directory to manage endpoints within corporate networks.
Cybercriminals eye the AD because it manages users, groups, and all the systems in an organization which, if compromised, can lead to everything being targeted at once. This could be done in several ways, including using certificates from AD CS for gaining authentication. It can result in full domain control.
By exploiting an AD vulnerability, cybercriminals can clear the SPNs and the dNSHostName attribute according to their devices. Some other attacks could be made using specialized tools like the death star and mimikatz that are meant to break through an active directory environment. Some of them are:
- BloodHound application to identify and attack ad environment
- LDAP reconnaissance to hack AD related data
- Local admin mapping
- Pass the Hash technique to gain privileges across systems
- NTDS.dit extraction where all AD data is maintained
Securing the active directory
“Cybercriminals look for unpatched software vulnerabilities and misconfigurations to gain a foothold in any organization. Once inside the system, attackers often go after the Active Directory (AD) infrastructure to gain lateral movement and compromise other systems. If threat actors gain privileged access to AD, they essentially have the “blueprints to the castle” and can create new admin-level users, add new machines to the network, deploy malware and steal data,” suggested Kartik Shahani, Country Manager for Tenable in India to The Cyber Express.
He continued, “The first step to protecting AD is to mitigate misconfigurations, and reduce privileged AD group membership and privileged AD accounts. AD must be continuously monitored to evaluate user rights and to detect suspicious activity. Once visibility is achieved, vulnerabilities arising out of trust can be addressed.”
In a blog, Tenable researchers shared that maintaining a comprehensive real-time security strategy can help detect and remediate threats reaching the AD environment. Being able to catch the exact risk and vulnerabilities and patching them in time is essential. Proactively looking for threats at specific entry points can also help. Moreover, keeping an active eye on the changes found in the AD and the connections maintained can prove helpful in detecting malicious activities.
Active directory security measures can be varied depending on the company and its requirements. Protecting the AD from ransomware attacks would require a holistic approach to make sure any LDAP traffic is monitored, employing logon restrictions, enabling LSA protection, checking the user security group with restricted admin mode for remote desktops, and cleaning up the active directory regularly.