If there’s a legacy of poor operational management in your organization, it’s best to assume that Active Directory (AD) has been compromised. Operational issues are the main causes of security breaches, not vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows and third-party applications. IT commonly hands out domain administrator privileges to IT staff to expedite access or because of a lack of understanding of Windows security. But this leaves AD exposed. Some IT administrators still hold the view that domain administrator privileges are necessary for providing remote support to users’ workstations or for managing AD users and groups. But the AD security model allows for everyday management and administration tasks to be delegated.
Join me on October 12th for a live webinar: "How to Secure Your Windows Server Using Privileged Access Management", where I’ll explain in more detail how privileged access management works in Windows Server 2016 and how to protect Active Directory by following security best practices.
It’s never too late to take back control and get a grip on how you manage and secure Active Directory. But this leaves organizations with two problems. If AD is already compromised, you must regain control and be sure that you have blocked a hacker’s access. Secondly, once you are in control, you need to make sure that operational procedures are in place to ensure that AD stays secure.
Microsoft has come up with a clever solution to address these two issues. Rebuilding AD is a mammoth undertaking that no organization wants to take on. But it does ensure that you start with a clean slate. With the help of some new technologies in Windows Server 2016, you can implement a new bastion forest for managing your existing AD infrastructure. New privileged access management (PAM) features in Windows Server 2016 include Shadow Principals, short-lived AD groups, and Privileged Identity Management (PIM) trusts.
Additionally, Microsoft Identity Manager can implement workflows to give users privileged access to production forests via the secured bastion domain. If you choose not to use Identity Manager, you will need to devise your own system to control privileged access to production domains. Other technologies, such as PowerShell Just-in-Time (JIT) administration can also be used to limit the time users are granted privileged access to AD.
There is little point in building a new bastion forest if it is also vulnerable to attack. To address this issue, use best practices such as not making IT staff permanent members of privileged AD groups like Domain Admins and Backup Operators. Also use the clean source principle to analyze the security dependencies of sensitive objects, like domain controllers, and ensure that there are no dependencies on lower trust systems.
Russell Smith, IT Consultant & Security MVP
Russell Smith specializes in the management and security of Microsoft-based IT systems. In addition to blogging about Windows and Active Directory for the Petri IT Knowledgebase, Russell is a Contributing Editor at CDW’s Biztech Magazine.
Russell has more than 15 years of experience in IT, has written a book on Windows security, co-authored one for Microsoft’s Official Academic Course (MOAC) series and has delivered several courses for Pluralsight.