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What is Active Directory?

Active Directory (AD) is a directory service created by Microsoft for managing users, computers, and other resources on a Windows network. It can be compared to a phone book for your computers, it functions as a central database that hosts data about everything connected to the network.  

In simple words it is a centralized tracker of all the users are, devices they can use, and their access. This makes it easier for the IT and admin team of any organization to manage the network and ensures users only get access to the resources they need. 

How does Active Directory Work?

Active Directory acts as the boss of the Windows network, that controls operations behind the scenes. The AD database is an organized center point with all the information about users, systems, passwords, and more. These resources are organized into domains, each managed by a Domain Controller (DC) responsible for authentication and access control. In order to update and maintain consistency with ease the changes made to one domain controller are replicated to others. For efficiency, AD lets administrators group users and devices with similar permissions. One policy change for a group can apply to many. And this is the core of how Active Directory works. Essentially Microsoft Active Directory streamlines resource management, authentication, authorization, and policy enforcement in Windows-based networks. 

How is data structured in Active Directory?

Active Directory is a hierarchical system for managing users, computers, and resources in Windows networks. Its structure includes: 

  1. Forest: A forest is a top-level container with one or more domains. 
  2. Domain: A domain is a logical partition with user accounts and trust relationships. 
  3. Organizational Units (OUs): These are containers for organizing objects (e.g., users, groups). 
  4. Trees: Hierarchical grouping of domains allowing efficient replication of data within the same namespace are known as trees. 

Why do attackers target Active Directories?

As the centralized unit that houses all privileged information, the Windows active directory becomes a lucrative destination for hackers to attack. It mimics the security vault of a wealthy household which holds all the crown jewels of the family. If they crack AD, they can basically rule the entire network, steal data easily, and move around undetected. Furthermore, continuous access makes it possible for ransomware to spread, destroy data, and interfere with corporate operations. Because of its crucial position in network security, Active Directory is a prime target for cybercriminals looking to accomplish a variety of nefarious goals. This highlights the significance of having strong security measures in place to guard against these threats. 

Most Common Active Directory Risks and Securing Them

Credential Theft and Pass-the-Hash Attacks: With Active Directory security measures organizations can mitigate the risk of credential theft. Active Directory monitoring tools can detect and respond to pass-the-hash attacks, where attackers attempt to exploit cached password hashes to move laterally within the network. 

Insider Threats and Unauthorized Access: Active Directory’s granular access control features enable administrators to define and enforce permissions based on roles and responsibilities, disallowing unauthorized access to critical resources. 

Ransomware and Data Breaches: Robust backup and recovery solutions integrated with Active Directory enable organizations to restore systems and data in the event of a successful ransomware attack or data breach. 

What is Azure Active Directory?

Azure Active Directory, simply put, is the cloud-based counterpart of the Microsoft Active Directory. Azure Active Directory gives users a consolidated directory to manage user identities, authentication, and authorization in the Azure cloud environment, including services and applications linked to the cloud. It extends the functionality of on-premises AD into the Azure cloud environment. 

Active Directory Security

Active Directory security is a set of best practices and guidelines to protect the active directory on your Windows environment to avert unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security threats. This helps protect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of resources within a Windows domain network. The importance of a secure active directory includes:  

  • Centralized Access Control 
  • Assured Authentication 
  • Security Policy Enforcement 
  • Compliance and Auditing 

Fidelis Active Directory Intercept ™

Fidelis Security’s active directory management solution combines AD-aware network detection and response (NDR) and integrated AD deception technology with foundational AD log and event monitoring to not just identify Microsoft Active Directory threats – but to respond swiftly. Fidelis Active Directory Intercept has a unique combination of features like: 

  • Active Directory Log and Event Monitoring: Powered by Active Directory Intercept, you’ll gain real-time malicious/suspicious activity detection and response 
  • Integrated Intelligent Deception: With full terrain mapping and risk profiling, Fidelis Deception® automatically deploys intelligent deception to secure active directory 
  • Intercept and Defeat AD Attacks and Attempts: With sensors placed strategically across your network and clouds, you’ll detect, thwart, and build Microsoft security that other tools cannot. 
  • Network Traffic Analysis: Fidelis Network® provides Deep Session Inspection® that finds threats to AD deep within nested and obfuscated files as they move across the wire. 
Picture of Neeraja Hariharasubramanian
Neeraja Hariharasubramanian

Neeraja, a journalist turned tech writer, creates compelling cybersecurity articles for Fidelis Security to help readers stay ahead in the world of cyber threats and defences. Her curiosity & ability to capture the pulse of any space has landed her in the world of cybersecurity.

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