Active Directory Security Groups Best Practices – Azure Active Directory Security Groups are powerful tools for administrators to control which Windows servers and network resources individual users have access to. By not properly managing these groups, you may unwittingly provide cybercriminals with a backdoor to enter your network and steal sensitive information.
Azure Active Directory compromises that result from not adhering to best practices are common. However, it is possible to keep your systems safe from assault by putting in place solid security safeguards, limiting vulnerabilities, and monitoring them constantly.
This article is an in-depth analysis of Azure Active Directory security groups and the best security practices to follow to better safeguard your Windows network.
Active Directory Security Groups
Azure Active Directory groups in Azure come in two types: Active Directory distribution groups and Active Directory security groups.
Active Directory distribution groups are mostly used for email distribution and are compatible with Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. They allow network administrators to send emails to subsets of Active Directory members.
On the other hand, Active Directory security groups manage user permissions and access to hardware resources. These groups are very crucial to the functioning of an organization’s network and business operations.
This is because Active Directory security groups are so important for helping administrators control who has access to important network resources and prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data. This is vital, particularly for the protection of private and confidential information.
Azure Active Directory security groups consist of Administrators, Account Operators, Domain Admins, DNS Admins, Users, Guests, Server Operators, Protected Users and several others.
Active Directory Security Groups Scopes
Azure Active Directory security groups are classified into 4 categories based on their scope: local, domain local, global, and universal groups.
Local groups: These groups are created and only available on the computer they were created on.
Domain local groups: Domain local groups are used to manage resource access rights across the domain. Domain local groups comprise members of domains of any type as well as those from trustworthy domains.
Global groups: Global groups define domain objects (users, computers, groups) based on business roles. Users are organized into groups based on their roles (for example, “Marketing” or “Accountants”), and computers can be organized into global groups based on their roles (for example, “Marketing Workstations”).
Universal groups: These groups are used in multi-domain forests. They allow administrators to specify roles and permissions for cross domain resources.
Uses of Azure Active Directory Security Groups
There are two primary uses for Active Directory security groups:
Assigning user rights: Active directory security groups are used to assign user rights to specify what users within a group are allowed to do within a domain or a forest. For administrative convenience, user rights may be automatically given to certain security groups.
Giving resource permissions: User permissions are distinct from user rights. Whereas user permissions govern which resources users may access, user rights determine which capabilities users have.
It is important to note that certain permissions are given to specific security groups by default. The Account Operators and Domain Admins groups are two examples of predefined security groups that receive certain permissions by default. These groups are generated automatically when you set up an Active Directory domain. However because of the inherent security risks associated with granting automatic security permissions, special care must be taken while managing these groups.
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8 Active Directory Security Groups Best Practices
1. Avoid excesses
Ensure default security groups don’t have excessive permissions: Regularly examine the permissions automatically assigned by Active Directory’s default security groups, as some of these groups have considerable permissions. Ensure that users have only the minimum access rights necessary to perform their everyday responsibilities. If greater access privileges are required, they should be granted on an as-needed basis.
Make sure that you install only the required tools and features and ensure that accounts have only the required rights and are members of the required groups. If you grant everyone extensive rights or access to your system, it becomes much more difficult to detect internal threats, and your system becomes vulnerable if there are a large number of individuals in high access security groups.
2. Carry out Regular Software Updates
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Microsoft recommends that you make sure that your Windows software and third party programs are updated on a regular basis. In order to compromise systems, attackers frequently exploit or take advantage of known vulnerabilities. On the other side, cybersecurity professionals are always scrambling to provide security patches to these vulnerabilities. As a result, having a regular patching routine helps to ensure that your systems are immune to cyberattacks.
To achieve this, it is often recommended to utilize a patch manager to keep your system’s software up to date. A good patch management system will notify you if any of your software contains vulnerabilities and will also provide details on any risks it finds, including attackers specifically targeting Active Directory security loopholes.
3. Implement Good Password Policies
Instead of relying on complexity rules, implement password policies that encourage users to use passphrases they can readily remember. It is important to have a policy of requiring users to set passwords with paraphrases of three or more words instead of difficult passwords of eight or fewer characters. Password complexity rules deter users from using memorable passwords and lead to the inevitable practice of writing down passwords, which negates the purpose of having a password in the first place. It’s also recommended to set up rules that lock off users after a certain number of failed login attempts.
For example, set up a policy that ensures that a user is locked out after three unsuccessful password attempts. Passwords can be made even more secure by employing two-factor authentication. You can use Microsoft Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), Duo and RSA to implement two-factor authentication.
4. Protect default Groups and Accounts
When an Active Directory domain is created, a set of default security groups is also created, and some of those groups have quite broad permissions. Be cautious when administering these groups, as giving a user access to one automatically grants them powerful administrative access and group roles.
To do so make sure that you follow the following practices:
- Make sure that, except from the default “Domain Administrator,” no regular users have access to the “Domain Admins” group.
- Ensure that the Domain Administrator account is only used only for domain setup and disaster recovery.
- Only grant temporary access to users where necessary.
- Ensure that passwords are stored in a safe place where only authorized users have access.
- Disable the Local Administrator account to prevent it from becoming an access point for intruders. This is because cybercriminals can easily gain access to your system if you leave it enabled since it shares the same SID and password across installations.
5. Carry out regular Active Directory Audits
It is always recommended that Active Directory, logs, and events be carefully and constantly monitored. Be alert for any signs of suspicious behaviour, such as an increase in the number of failed login attempts or locked accounts, a shift in the membership of any privileged groups, the deactivation or removal of antivirus software, or a change in the timing of any logins or log offs.
Any of these events could be a warning sign of an attempted or existing compromise of your systems. Furthermore, it is crucial to keep track of who has access to what and make adjustments or removals as needed to ensure that no one has more privileges than they need in terms of security.
6. Implement a policy of Zero Trust
Zero trust means that no one in the organization is trusted by default. Implement a policy of “zero trust,” in which no user, internal or external, is given automatic access to the network’s protected areas without first being verified.
A lot of system compromises are carried out by insiders. Therefore, no company should underestimate the risk posed by insider threats. Please follow the concept of least privilege by not giving users too much control over the network’s resources.
Only give your employees or members of your organization the access that they need, and only when they need it. Whenever such access is not needed, remove it, and where possible, always grant the access on a temporary basis.
7. Remove Empty Active Directory Groups
Ideally, Active Directory groups without members should not exist. This completely undermines the point of having groups in the first place. However, it’s not uncommon for a growing network’s Active Directory to have several empty groups.
An empty Active Directory security group causes two major problems. First, they add unnecessary clutter and make active directory administration difficult, even when paired with user friendly Active Directory tools. The second and most important point to note is that empty groups are a security risk to your network.
I personally view every inactive security group in Active Directory as an additional and potential point of entry for attackers. Empty groups are much simpler for hackers to find a backdoor and steal sensitive information.
Luckily there are tools that are available to help you get rid of inactive AD groups. The tools vary depending on the Active Directory group administration software you use. Utilize these tools to locate empty Active Directory groups and eliminate them either by merging them or removing them entirely. For example, you merge related groups if they all require identical permissions.
8. Enable Azure AD Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
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Azure AD MFA reduces the danger of password only authentication by forcing users to supply a combination of two or more factors: “
- Something they know (for example, a password).
- Something they have (for example, a trusted device like a phone).
- Something they are (e.g., a fingerprint).
There are several methods to activate multi factor authentication in Azure:
Through Azure AD security defaults: This option allows administrators to expedite MFA deployment and apply settings that require MFA using Microsoft Authenticator for all users. This method also allows you, as an administrator, to prohibit legacy authentication protocols.
By using conditional access policies: These policies give you the freedom to require MFA in certain situations, such as when you sign in from an unusual place, a device you don’t trust, or a risky app. By only demanding further verification in cases where greater danger is discovered, this method reduces the burden on users. This technique reduces user burden by requiring additional verification only when an additional risk is recognized.
Through individual user state modifications: This approach is supported by both cloud based Azure AD MFA and the Azure MFA Authentication server. It bypasses Conditional Access restrictions and forces users to utilize two-factor authentication whenever they log in.
Active Directory Security Groups Best Practices (Conclusion)
Active Directory is a robust service for controlling which Windows servers and network resources individual users have access to. It is possible to keep your systems safe from assault by putting in place solid security safeguards, limiting vulnerabilities, and monitoring them constantly.
Follow the above recommended practices to avoid costly inconveniences and keep your systems secure.
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