Active Directory Security

Active Directory is an integral component of IT that gives administrators access to software applications, files and employee logins - but it has also become a favorite target of attackers who use tools to steal credentials and increase privilege quickly.

Adopting continuous visibility into AD exposures and misconfigurations is the cornerstone of the defense, necessitating an automated security monitoring system capable of collecting logs on a central server, analyzing them, and providing alerts to detect any suspicious activities.

What is Active Directory Security?

AD security refers to safeguarding and monitoring critical network resources and information, such as users, computers and permissions. AD is a database and collection of services that connect your IT infrastructure with tools your employees require for work completion; additionally, it can also help ensure compliance with various industry standards such as PCI-DSS or SOX.

Active Directory Security

Active Directory security can be complex due to all the ways attackers can break in. Still, to protect your IT environment, you must follow best practices such as hardening AD, upholding the least privilege principle and using jump boxes for service accounts. Furthermore, regular backups should also be stored across different locations so you can restore data from an old, known good state if required.

Securing AD should aim to prevent attackers from gaining entry through stolen credentials or compromised accounts infected with malware and then increasing privileges to gain access to your network and steal data, also known as cyber kill chains. Without adequate security and audit controls, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in both ads and users to gain entry and take advantage of any vulnerabilities to gain access and steal information from them.

As such, organizations must implement comprehensive Active Directory security tools that can quickly detect attacks against their system and notify security teams quickly of their presence in order to respond promptly and avoid disaster in their IT infrastructure.

Some of the best Active Directory security tools feature user-friendly interfaces and automation features that make administrators' lives easier, as well as advanced threat detection and prevention capabilities that can protect against multiple types of threats.

Securing AD requires ongoing monitoring as the IT environment constantly shifts due to new employees joining and retiring and systems being added or removed. Varonis makes this easy with our ITDR solution, which offers visibility into exposed credentials, misconfigurations, and vulnerabilities attackers exploit when attacking AD.

The Importance of Active Directory Security: Protecting Your Organization from Cyber Threats

Security of the Active Directory should be of top importance for organizations, as it serves as the cornerstone of all Windows networks and allows access to computers, applications, files and confidential data.

Attackers are always searching for vulnerable systems and users they can gain access to. Once inside your network, attackers use various tools and techniques to gain entry and gain higher privilege tiers or spread laterally throughout it (lateral movement).

Successful attacks typically start with stolen credentials. An event log monitoring solution to detect anomalous activity, such as repeated login failures or access from IP addresses located outside your country, can help identify instances of illegal activity if an attack does occur - according to Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigation Report, 84% of breaches involving compromised credentials were identified through reviewing event logs of organizations.

Attackers typically gain entry to your network via compromised accounts in your Active Directory system, typically via phishing or social engineering attacks that impersonate users to gain access. Once inside, an attacker will attempt to elevate this account from Domain User status to Local Administrator status to expand laterally across devices and corrupt the entire system.

Your security measures for AD environments must be multilayered to protect them effectively. Patching known vulnerabilities and fixing misconfigurations won't cut it; to remain compliant, continuous visibility into exposures and attacks and live threat detection are necessary, as is an understanding of compliance drift risk.

Although taking these precautionary measures is critical to protecting Active Directory systems from potential attacks, having a solid plan in place in case an attack should take place is equally essential. Instead of fighting each threat individually, setting out your strategy and monitoring its results may prove more successful in helping detect breaches before they have an adverse impact on your organization.

Threats to Active Directory Systems

Administrators often perform multiple tasks on Active Directory servers known as Domain Controllers (DCs), potentially opening security holes. For instance, these DCs could host various applications and utilities installed, have open ports, be used for Web browsing to download content, or provide access to services needed for routine system maintenance - all of which create vulnerabilities that allow attackers to gain entry and move laterally throughout their networks, stealing data and corrupting systems along the way.

Attackers typically exploit misconfigurations or vulnerabilities to gain entry to an AD account and full system privileges - giving them complete freedom to move laterally through networks, steal information, or launch ransomware attacks that can prove costly for businesses.

Securing Active Directory requires visibility into exposures, live attack detection, and management of security policies and current least privilege access controls. Utilizing monitoring tools will also assist organizations with detecting anomalous activity, which could signal that threats are present in their AD.

Privileged user accounts are an attractive target for hackers as they provide access to an organization's infrastructure. By restricting participation to only necessary users within the Domain Administrators group and only using it when necessary, organizations can limit their exposure to these high-risk accounts. Enterprise Admins, Backup Admins, and Schema Admins groups should only include trusted users with little to no everyday use of these high-risk accounts. As hackers increasingly gain access to user credentials, the security configuration of accounts should be reviewed continuously. Furthermore, it's wise to be alert for unusual privileged account activity such as after-hours loggins even though job duties don't require it, repeated failures to log in, or changes in the membership of these privileged access groups.

Best Practices for Active Directory Security

Active Directory is at the core of every IT environment, holding access keys for every computer, software application and service on your network. Just as a physical key box contains the keys for an office building, so too should AD be kept safe against thieves - understanding potential threats while taking steps to mitigate their effects can only help protect it further.

Your first defence against cyber-attacks should be implementing a strong user password policy. This will ensure that attackers first crack or guess one before being granted entry to your system. Active Directory offers fine-grained password policies that provide additional safeguards, such as setting minimum length and complexity password requirements.

Your organization should adhere to the "principle of least privilege," or POLP when assigning privileges to employees and other roles within your business. Failure to manage these accounts properly could create an entryway into IT systems for malware attacks, such as ransomware attacks, by exploiting weak credentials or user accounts with too many privileges.

An essential step in protecting Active Directory systems is creating and documenting an efficient change management process for privileged accounts. This will allow you to monitor who made changes and why. With this knowledge in hand, it will enable prompt action when suspicious activity arises to avert a full-scale disaster.

At last, you should invest in a central logging system for your Active Directory server that will simplify viewing and analyzing logs. This could range from something as basic as a self-hosted Syslog server to advanced solutions like Elastic Stack or Microsoft Sentinel solutions - anything to detect suspicious changes quickly so your team can respond swiftly when threats emerge.

Although countless attacks and vulnerabilities could threaten AD security, many follow similar principles. By understanding these risks and adopting strategies to reduce them, you can significantly lower the chance of a cyber attack on your AD and prevent a potential catastrophe.

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