What is Active Directory?
Microsoft Active Directory, commonly referred to as AD, is a centralized directory service and identity management platform developed by Microsoft. It plays a crucial role in managing and organizing resources within a Windows network environment.
Active Directory serves as a repository for information about various network entities such as users, computers, groups, and resources like printers and shared folders. By providing a hierarchical and structured framework, it enables administrators to efficiently manage and control access to these resources.
How does Active Directory work?
Active Directory (AD) is a directory service developed by Microsoft for managing and organizing network resources in a Windows-based environment.
Active Directory uses a hierarchical structure similar to a tree. The top-level node is called the “forest,” which represents an entire directory service instance. A forest can contain multiple “domains,” which are individual units of organization. Domains are further divided into “organizational units” (OUs), which can hold objects like users, groups, and computers. Each object has attributes that store information about the object, such as user names, email addresses, security settings, and group memberships.
Domain controllers are servers that manage the Active Directory database and authenticate users and computers within their domain. Each domain typically has one or more domain controllers
What are the benefits of Active Directory
AD is a critical component of many enterprise networks. It provides a number of benefits, including:
- Centralized management: AD allows administrators to centrally manage user accounts, passwords, permissions, and access to network resources from a single location. This can save time and effort, and it can also help to improve security.
- Single sign-on: AD provides a single sign-on (SSO) experience for users, meaning that they only need to authenticate once to access multiple resources on the network. This can improve user productivity and reduce the risk of security breaches.
- Scalability: AD is scalable to support large networks with thousands of users and devices.
Active Directory Services
Active Directory Services refer to the various components and functionalities that make up the Active Directory infrastructure. The key Active Directory services include:
Domain Services (DS): This is the core service that provides the directory database, authentication, and replication services. It manages the organization’s directory data, including user accounts, groups, computer accounts, and other objects. Domain Services also handle authentication and authorization processes for users and resources within the domain.
Certificate Services (CS): This service enables the creation, distribution, and management of digital certificates used for security purposes, such as encrypting and authenticating network communications. It allows organizations to establish a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for secure communication and data protection.
Federation Services (FS): Also known as Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS), this service enables Single Sign-On (SSO) and identity federation between an organization’s internal resources and external partners’ resources. It allows users to access resources in different security domains without needing separate authentication.
Lightweight Directory Services (LDS): Formerly known as Active Directory Application Mode (ADAM), LDS is a lightweight version of Active Directory that provides directory services for applications without the need for a full Active Directory domain. It’s often used to create application-specific directories that don’t require the complexity of a full domain.
Rights Management Services (RMS): This service enables organizations to define and enforce usage rights for digital content, including documents and emails. It provides an additional layer of security by controlling who can access, modify, print, or forward sensitive information.
Directory Rights Management System (DRMS): This service works in conjunction with Rights Management Services to enforce access controls and permissions within the Active Directory itself. It helps manage permissions for objects stored in the directory, ensuring that only authorized users have the right to modify specific directory data.
Why do cybercriminals target Active Directory in an enterprise network?
Several reasons make Active Directory an attractive target for cyberattacks:
Centralized Access Control:
Active Directory serves as a centralized repository for user accounts, permissions, and authentication credentials. Gaining unauthorized access to it can grant attackers extensive control over the network.
Compromising Active Directory allows cybercriminals to move laterally across the network, accessing various systems and resources. This lateral movement can help them escalate privileges and find valuable targets.
Sensitive Data Access:
Active Directory often holds sensitive information, such as user credentials, passwords, and encryption keys. Access to this data can aid attackers in further infiltrating the network or conducting data breaches.
Attackers may target Active Directory to facilitate ransomware attacks. By encrypting or disabling the Active Directory services, they can disrupt the entire network’s functionality and demand ransom for restoration.
Gaining control over Active Directory can enable attackers to escalate their privileges, potentially granting them administrative rights to critical systems and resources.
Once inside Active Directory, attackers can establish persistence by creating backdoors, planting malicious scripts, or manipulating user accounts, making it challenging for defenders to completely remove them.
Distributed Attack Surface:
Enterprises often use hybrid environments with on-premises and cloud components, increasing the complexity of securing Active Directory. Cybercriminals exploit this complexity to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Active Directory can be a prime target for credential harvesting attacks. If attackers compromise user credentials stored within it, they can then use those credentials to access other systems and services.
Phishing and Social Engineering:
Cybercriminals might use phishing campaigns to trick employees into revealing their credentials. Once obtained, these credentials can be used to compromise Active Directory and initiate further attacks.
Supply Chain Attacks:
By compromising a third-party application or service that relies on Active Directory for authentication, attackers can indirectly gain access to the enterprise network.
What are the common approaches to securing Active Directory?
Securing AD is crucial for maintaining the overall security of an organization’s network and data. While standard security solutions offer capabilities for detecting and preventing a range of Active Directory (AD) attacks, they utilize an approach that is largely reliant on analyzing AD event logs, signatures for specific tools, heuristics-based analysis of anomalous behavior, SIEM-based event correlation, vulnerability scanning, monitoring network traffic to domain controllers and installing security agents on endpoints and other assets.
While these solutions are necessary, they can only provide a limited solution for advanced threat defense against Active Directory. Cybersecurity requires an integrated strategy by augmenting standard security tools with an Advanced Deception Platform to effectively protect enterprises from Active Directory exploits.
How can enterprises Protect Their Active Directory Using Acalvio?
Cyber deception is a potent defense against Active Directory attacks by strategically deploying deceptive elements within an organization’s network. Acalvio ShadowPlex offers a differentiated, best-in-class AI-based deception solution for Active Directory protection.
Acalvio’s Advanced Deception Solution diverts attackers’ attention away from real assets. When attackers are lured into and engage with Acalvio’s deceptions, they reveal their presence, enabling security teams to swiftly detect and respond to threats. Additionally, cyber deception solutions capture attacker tactics and techniques, providing valuable insights for proactive mitigation. This approach thwarts lateral movement, exposes malicious activity, and fortifies the organization’s Active Directory infrastructure against unauthorized access and potential compromise.