Active Directory Security Groups

Data shows 98% of all security threats begin with Active Directory.

Active Directory security principles are an often underestimated aspect of cybersecurity. If you’re giving your users too many permissions or if your security principles are misaligned, your company is open to a cyber-attack.

Active Directory has a variety of security protocols you can pick and choose between to get to the policy setup that only provides administrative privileges to users who need it.

In this article, we’ll be going over what Active Directory security groups are, the general differences between distribution and security groups, what precisely security groups are suitable for, and how you would create one. Finally, we’ll be going over some active directory best practices for you to follow.

What Are Active Directory Groups?

Active Directory is used to create groups to put your various users into. It’s a centralized tool used by most companies to manage their employee’s accounts and provide them with access to the data they need.

A group within Active Directory is a set of users you’ve provided access to given resources. You can provide group access in two ways:

  • Globally Unique Identifiers: GUID is used to group up users who need to access the same resources.
  • Security Identifier: SID are used when you want to give a user access to a single user

You can make groups based on single users who need to access a resource or use global groups(like a team or department.)

Types of Active Directory Groups

There are two kinds of groups in Active Directory: Active Directory Distribution Groups and Active Directory Security Groups.

Which of these two kinds of groups you’ll use depends on what you need it to do. A Distribution group is easier to use as they only need one-way notifications from the central controller. On the other hand, Security groups are only used to let users access and modify files.

Because of this, security groups are much more relevant to your business’ security, as limiting permissions is crucial in maintaining the security of your data.

The Benefits Of Using Active Directory Security Groups

Security groups are crucial in helping you ensure all users have appropriate access privileges to your company’s sensitive data. Being able to group users and set permission levels is very useful to maintain a least privileged policy.

An example of this is using Active Directory to ensure high-ranking company officials have all the permissions they need; however, new employees shouldn’t have these permissions.

Making An Active Directory Security Group

For Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Ensure you’re a member of the Domain Administrators group
  2. In the Active Directory Users and Computers Console, pick a container where you want to store the group
  3. Press “Action”>”New”>”Group”
  4. Pick a name for the group and write a description for it
  5. Pick the Group scope between Global or Universal
  6. Pick Security as the Group type
  7. Press “Ok”
  8. You’re done!

Improving The Security Of Your Active Directory Groups

Most companies deal with movers, leavers, and joiners regularly. When users leave your business or change roles within your business, you’ll need to give them different permissions.

If the correct permission level is not maintained, you can deal with insider threats, which can, in turn, lead to data leaks or worse. To prevent this, it’s crucial to maintain your Active Directory groups’ security.

So, what should you be doing to ensure maximum protection:

  1. Shield the default accounts and groups: A default security group is made whenever you set up an Active Directory domain, and certain groups in this category have a lot of permissions. Ensuring these groups are well-managed is crucial, as there’s a lot of room to abuse this access. A good example is that you have no day-to-day accounts within your Domain Admins group besides the default Domain Admin user. If someone else needs administrator privileges, you can put their account into the group for the time and remove it once their job’s done.
  2. Use the Domain Admin account just for setup & recovery: You don’t need to use the Domain Administrator account for anything other than this. However, giving it excessive use can sometimes lead to malicious agents taking advantage of it.
  3. Secure the Domain Administrator account password: The Domain Admin account is the most “powerful” account in Active Directory, so keeping it secure(possibly at a physical location) is crucial for maintaining security.
  4. Disable the Local Administrator account: Often, the Local Administrator account is set up with the same SID and password across installations, which attackers can often find. Disabling it means potential attackers have one less attack vector.
  5. Use Better Passwords: Using 12 or more characters in passwords and avoiding similarities with words will ensure that your passwords are safe from brute force attacks.
  6. Protect Passwords: Setting up 2FA is a great idea, as is timing out a user after failing to insert the password correctly multiple times. There are a variety of tools such as RSA and Microsoft MFA that make this extremely easy.
  7. Monitor The Security Groups: Monitoring your logs, events, and of course, Active Directory access processes can help you find an attack before it even begins. Metrics like too many locked out accounts, changes to high-privilege groups, or antivirus software removal are telltale signs of an attack.
  8. Take Notes: You should regularly take note of which members of your firm have which privileges. You can do this manually, but it’s preferable to use a tool like the SolarWinds Access Rights Manager. Tools like these can help you manage security groups while showing you what users belong to what groups.
  9. Use ARM: The SolarWinds Access Rights Manager lets you audit the performance of your systems, as well as helps you manage and monitor the group policies you’ve set up within Active Directory. This can help you improve security while keeping track of the changes that have been made. Being able to see who made which changes at what time can help you identify an attack or a risky account.
  10. Don’t overload on solutions: While it can be tempting to throw in all of the tools and solutions that seem helpful, this can lead to bloat. Having too many tools means you won’t be able to master all of them, and you’ll have trouble moving from one to the next.
  11. A policy of Least Permission: Always only give your users the permissions you know they’ll need. Any excess permissions are security risks, and the more permissions many users have, the harder it is to patch security risks.
  12. Keep track of updates: Keeping your software updated is crucial to patching up any known vulnerabilities and ensuring your software runs at optimal performance. Having a patch manager can help with this and provide information on any detected threats, especially those targeting Active Directory.
  13. Have a plan: Developing a clear-cut outline of how you want to handle your Active Directory groups will help you spend less time on setup, maintenance, and delays while deciding what to do with breached accounts. Every second matters and an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold when it comes to cyberattacks.

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Closing Words

Active Directory management is crucial in ensuring your network is secure and running at its best. Since most cyberattacks involve an Active Directory breach, it’s the first place you should look to fortify your defenses in.

While this can, in theory, be done manually, you should look to automate as much of the process as possible. Using tools to help you manage groups, patches, and the like can significantly reduce the time you spend dealing with maintenance and your cyberattack response time.

As always, having a detailed plan of your approach is essential, as that will help you be more decisive in enforcing your Active Directory rules. Following a policy that gives users only the minimum permissions they need is a significant first step. Naturally, there’s more to Active Directory than what is contained in this article, but if you commit to the tips outlined here, you should be well on your way.

How do you handle Active Directory at your company?

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Let us know in the comments down below!