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Securing Remote Access to Active Directory. Securing remote access to Active Directory is critical for organizations worldwide in an increasingly interconnected digital landscape. With the proliferation of remote work arrangements, ensuring robust safeguards against unauthorized entry is paramount to safeguarding sensitive data and maintaining operational integrity. This article delves into essential strategies and best practices to fortify remote access to Active Directory, mitigating potential security risks and bolstering organizational resilience.

Securing Remote Access to Active Directory

IT staff frequently employ secure remote access technologies when assisting colleagues with technical issues from a distance. It’s also beneficial for employees who work from home on a personal device and need to log in to a secure device connected to the company server and for managers who wish to see what their staff members see on company devices.

Secure Remote Access Overview

If we grant our team members access to company devices or systems, we must have security measures to prevent unauthorized access to our programs and data. Different tactics, tools, and programs are used in secure remote access systems to control computers and networks from getting into the wrong hands.

Various Types of Secure Remote Access

  • Virtual private network (VPN) adds an extra layer of security by encrypting connections through a server, enabling users to work securely from any Wi-Fi network without fear of compromise.
  • Endpoint security safeguards various network devices using antivirus and firewall software, including mobile devices, laptops, desktops, and servers.
  • Zero-trust network access (ZTNA), is a policy-based system that typically denies access by default, granting users entry based on specific credentials and allowing organizations to enforce policies based on location or device type.
  • Network access control, managed by organizational leaders, restricts access for external and internal users as deemed necessary.
  • Single sign-on (SSO) technology, streamlining user authentication across multiple devices using a single set of credentials, facilitates quick user access while centralizing organizational management.
  • Privileged access management (PAM) offers tools for securing and monitoring data access across different accounts, ensuring accountability, and detecting suspicious activities.

Importance of Secure Remote Access

Employers must implement the proper security measures to safeguard company data in remote work environments regardless of where their employees work. Secure remote access systems have four critical advantages for users and their networks.

Secure Access From Any Device

When we have a secure remote access solution, it grants authorized users access to our company network on any compatible device. Employees have seamless access to all their data and files, while we take solace in knowing our business data is secure.

Remote access solutions allow IT and engineering experts to troubleshoot users’ problems remotely. 

Safe Internet Browsing

Many contemporary businesses rely heavily on their employees’ everyday Internet-based workflow. We shield our staff members from online dangers like malware, ransomware, and phishing schemes via a secure remote access system. Both employee and company data may be accessed and used without authorization due to these cyber disasters.

Protected Endpoints

Employees of today frequently use several gadgets to do their work duties. They might use their laptops to join video meetings, smartphones for email responses, and tablets for data entry. A secure remote access solution safeguards all devices linked to our firm’s network and systems.

Increased Employee Security Awareness

The transition to remote labor has enabled businesses to update and maintain their cybersecurity systems. We should invest in and keep on top of our company’s cybersecurity strategy and train our staff on the value of safe surfing and access.

Disadvantages of Secure Remote Access

When businesses switch to remote work, employees need clarification about how to continue to work securely, leading to a possible threat to our network’s security. These are:

Potential Security Vulnerabilities

With every external device connected to a company’s system, users of secure remote access systems expose themselves to additional security risks. Even though these systems include several permission levels, data encryption, and activity logs to track employee use, it occasionally takes time to ensure access to authorized users.

Technical Requirements

Businesses must provide a secure and reliable internet connection to implement remote access software successfully. Furthermore, there might be additional technical requirements for organizations to use the technology, including host computer specifications.

Software Maintenance

When problems arise, such as when the system has to be updated or stops working, remote access systems need maintenance. There must be IT specialist always on hand to address system problems as they arise, either remotely or in person, depending on the circumstances.

Installing & Configuring DirectAccess in Windows Server

This next section discusses and configures one of Microsoft’s secure remote access, DirectAccess. When a client provisioned for DirectAccess is outside the corporate network, it automatically attempts to establish a secure remote connection to the DirectAccess server over the Internet. The DirectAccess connection occurs at the machine level and requires no user interaction.

Most commonly, the DirectAccess client is on the IPv4 Internet, so we select an IPv6 transition technology and establish a tunnel with the DirectAccess server.

How DirectAccess Work

Inside the IPv6 transition tunnel, we authenticated and encrypted IPsec tunnels established between the client and the server. Over these tunnels, communication to resources on the corporate network occurs. The DirectAccess IPsec tunnels are defined as Connection Security Rules (CSR) in the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security on both the DirectAccess client and the server.

DirectAccess provides support only for domain-joined clients, which includes operating system support for DirectAccess. DirectAccess functionality is available across all versions of Windows Server from 2008 R2 onwards, allowing deployment as both client and server.

These operating systems include Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 10 Enterprise 2015 LTSB, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows 7 Enterprise.

FeatureVPNDirectAccess
InitiationUser-initiated, optionalSeamless, automatic, no user interaction required
Firewall CompatibilityMany protocols not firewall-friendlyUses HTTPS, commonly allowed through most firewalls
Hardware and LicensingRequires investments in proprietary hardware and per-user licensingDeployable on existing virtual infrastructure, no additional user licensing
Third-party SoftwareOften requires proprietary software deployment and managementNo additional third-party software installation, managed through GPOs
Client Machine ConnectionCan be established from any client machine with VPN client softwareCan only be established from client computers provisioned by IT for DirectAccess
AuthenticationRequires integration with multifactor authentication, increasing complexity and support challengesReduces need for strong authentication, simplifying connection process

System Requirements

  • Install Windows Server 2016 and DirectAccess for optimum performance on a dedicated physical server.
  • Alternatively, install Windows Server 2016 and DirectAccess on a virtual machine hosted on any Microsoft Server Virtualization Validation Program (SVVP) validated hypervisor, such as Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware.
  • We recommend providing the physical or virtual server with at least four processor cores, 8GB of RAM, and 60GB of hard disk space.

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Installing the Remote Access Server Role

  1. Launch Server Manager and select Add Roles and Features.

2. Click Next on the Before You Begin page.

3. Select Next on the Select Installation type page.

4. Continue by selecting Next on the Select Destination Server page.

5. Choose Remote Access on the Select Server Roles page, and Next.

6. Click Next on the Select Features page.

7. Advance by selecting Next on the Remote Access page.

8. On the Select Role Services page within the Add Roles and Features Wizard dialog box, select DirectAccess and VPN (RAS), then click Add Features. Verify that we choose DirectAccess and VPN (RAS).

9. Click Next on the Select Role Services page.

10. Confirm your installation selections on the Confirm Installation Selections page, then click Install.

11. Upon completion of the installation, click Close.

  1. Open Server Manager, click Tools, and then Remote Access Management.

2. In the Remote Access Management console, under Configuration, click DirectAccess and VPN, and then click Run the Getting Started Wizard.

3. In the Getting Started Wizard, click Deploy DirectAccess on the Configure Remote Access page only.

4. On the Network Topology page, verify that we select Edge in the Type the public name or IPv4 address used by clients to connect to the Remote Access server text box, Type the IP Address of the server, and then click Next.

5. In the Configure Remote Access interface, click the here link.

6. On the Remote Access Review interface, verify that two GPOs are createdDirectAccess Server Settings and DirectAccess Client settings, and then next to Remote Clients, click the Change.

7. Next, select Domain Computers (Windows\Domain Computers), and then click Remove.

8. Next, click Add, type DA Clients, and click OK.

9. Clear the Enable DirectAccess for mobile computers only check box and Next.

10. On the DirectAccess Client Setup interface, click Finish.

11. On the Remote Access Review interface, verify that Windows\DA Clients are listed under Remote Clients and OK.

12. On the Configure Remote Access page, click Finish.

13. In the Applying Getting Started Wizard Settings dialog box, verify that the Configuration is successful, then click Close.

Securing Remote Access to Active Directory Conclusion

In conclusion, safeguarding remote access to Active Directory is paramount in today’s interconnected digital landscape. By implementing robust security measures, organizations mitigate potential threats and uphold the integrity of their sensitive data. With a proactive approach to security, vigilant monitoring, and enforcement of best practices, businesses fortify their remote access infrastructure and ensure sustained protection against evolving cyber threats.

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Marion Mendoza

Marion Mendoza

Windows Server and VMware SME. Powershell Guru. Currently working with Fortune 500 companies responsible for participating in 3rd level systems support across the enterprise. Acting as a Windows Server engineer and VMware Specialist.

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