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Active Directory (AD) is a gold mine for hackers, as it encompasses your entire IT infrastructure. Cybercriminals relentlessly exploit vulnerabilities and perpetrate attacks on unsuspecting users to gain access to your network resources. With inadequate security measures, your AD environment can be compromised, allowing malicious actors to steal your organization's sensitive data right out from under your nose. The following best practices can help secure your AD and mitigate data breaches in your organization.
An attack surface includes different points through which malicious actors can gain unauthorized access to your network. Since it hosts various critical resources like domain controllers (DCs), security groups, and data such as user account information and backups, reducing the AD attack surface is crucial to defend against cyberattacks. To reduce the attack surface, start at the forest level and reduce the number of domains in your directory. Identify and remove duplicate and other unnecessary groups. Create accounts with expiration dates for temporary staff, and limit their permissions
To protect your DCs from compromise, do not move them out of the default domain controller's organizational unit (OU). Only allow access to DCs from a secured computer without an internet connection. Minimize the groups and users with DC admin or logon rights. Keep your DCs free from unwanted software applications to prevent attackers from leveraging any known vulnerabilities. Apply critical security patches to your DCs as soon as possible to reduce exposure to attacks.
Employ an effective access management strategy to restrict unwarranted access to resources. The least privilege model allows domain users just enough access to necessary resources as they complete their tasks. This prevents any disgruntled employees from abusing their privileges and sabotaging your network.
Security group membership determines the permissions and privileges that a domain user possesses. Unauthorized changes to security groups can lead to a large-scale data breach, so constantly monitor high-privileged groups like the Domain Admins and Enterprise Admins for privilege elevation.
Weak passwords make it easier for attackers to perpetrate password guessing attacks. A strong password policy that requires users to create passwords with at least 8-12 characters can protect their accounts from such attacks. Also, deploy fine-grained password policies for users with elevated privileges, and keep track of password changes to their accounts.
Local administrator accounts are often configured with the same password on every computer in the domain. If a malicious user obtains the local admin rights of one compromised computer, that user, by extension, has the same rights on all domain-joined computers. To prevent such an occurrence, use the Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS). LAPS ensures that every local admin account has a unique password stored in AD for easy access.
When all security measures are adequately configured, hackers resort to social engineering attacks focused on human interaction. Unwitting users fall for phishing and spear phishing scams, allowing attackers to introduce malware into their systems. To avoid this, educate users on recognizing these attacks and alerting the IT security team in case they suspect their account is compromised.
Finally, always keep tabs on all the changes in your AD environment. Track all AD object creation and deletion in your directory. Carefully examine all modifications to your user or computer accounts, security groups, OUs, and Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for any signs of compromise.