Active Directory security has become increasingly popular because of the growing number of security breaches reported worldwide. Hackers target Active Directory, and it’s not hard to see why.
AD controls an organization’s entire network, including all the resources and tools a firm has deployed to process its routine operations. Attackers use AD vulnerabilities or an unsecured network to their advantage, penetrate the system, and elevate their privileges until they access the company’s sensitive data.
They might also deploy malware to shut down the company’s network permanently. The growing risk of cybercrimes makes AD security an absolute necessity. But the question is, why exactly do hackers attack Active Directory? What do they get out of it? Let’s discover the reasons AD gets hacked.
Understanding Active Directory Security
Active Directory is a Microsoft product that controls network access, authorization, authentication, and security policies. It’s like a gatekeeper that knows which user has keys to what resources and what level of access they are granted.
Your outsourced IT help desk service provider uses Active Directory to give different privileges to the users. For instance, some people might have Domain Admin access (the highest privilege), while others might have access to general applications.
Once the authorization rights are configured, the user has to log in to complete verification. It’s a one-time sign-up process. Once done, they can access the services without logging in and out repeatedly.
Active Directory also involves a cloud-based counterpart for remote and hybrid workers. AD facilitates a convenient and smooth workflow, allowing quick access to emails, files, cloud-based services, and other network resources to authorized members.
However, this convenience comes with its share of security risks. If the hackers succeed at compromising the on-premise Active Directory, they might get access to the cloud-based services and the Domain Admin access, which can wreak havoc on your company.
Reasons Attackers Target Active Directory
1. It Affects Your Business’ Overall Security
Active Directory is the centralized system that controls the entire IT infrastructure. Access to applications, software, sensitive files, and the most confidential data is located in the Active Directory.
This makes it the most tempting place for an attacker to breach your security and attack your network. Managing its security is crucial to prevent attackers from hacking your system and getting access to your confidential data.
2. They can Steal Data
Usually, hackers find the login credentials of an employee with low-privilege access to your Active Directory and then move laterally across the system to get more access.
Once they have infiltrated your network, it’s only a matter of time before they penetrate the secure servers and get extensive access to your network. Once that happens, they can deploy malware and steal confidential data.
3. They are Not Discovered Easily
According to the Data Breach Investigation Report, 85% of the security breaches that occurred in 2021 took several weeks to detect.
Imagine the level of damage the hackers could do if they had access to your network for weeks. They can own the network, conduct a ransomware attack, or leak your confidential data to the public. The damage is worse when you don’t have the data backup in place.
This gives attackers a clear motive to attack your Active Directory, the central point of your IT infrastructure, and infiltrate your network further to cause serious damage.
If you don’t have an IT team that monitors AD security, you will never know which user has access to the privileged accounts. It’s also difficult to track abnormal behaviors without a proper security policy.
4. Recovery is Difficult
Hacker attacks your Active Directory through phishing attempts, which gives them access to a user account. Even if this user isn’t a privileged member of Active Directory, their accounts can be misused to compromise the entire network.
Besides, it’s hard to find all the areas they have breached. As mentioned earlier, the impact is worst on businesses that weren’t prepared to respond to an attack. Having a backup is the first step to protecting your network and ensuring its safety in the event of a breach.
The disaster recovery plan is your only chance at recovering from a severe data breach. Or, it’s best to leave the AD management to an experienced IT help desk department specializing in Active Directory Security and detecting attacks before they corrupt the entire system.
5. Attacks Through Privileged Accounts
All the admin groups, including the Enterprise Admin and Domain Admin, are at a greater risk of a breach. These are the privileged users with the highest level of access to all functions in your organization.
A user with Domain Admin access has access to sensitive data, financial information, user’s confidential data, and other important files that can cause serious harm to the business if they are leaked.
Most AD attacks occur when the organization gives privileged user access to many people. These accounts are for your IT departments and users that control the security protocols.
Microsoft encourages businesses to follow a least-privilege administrative model to manage their privileged user accounts and strengthen network security.
Quick Tips for Preventing Active Directory Security Breaches
- Use a special workstation for all administrative work. Having a dedicated system for security-related and critical tasks can help secure your AD.
- Take your AD security up a notch by implementing two-factor authentication for admins.
- Limit your privileged user access. Only those who manage your IT infrastructure must have a Domain Admin account.
- Implement a strong password policy. Make sure your passwords are changed every few months, and they are a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Monitor the activities in your Active Directory regularly to detect abnormal behaviors.
- Implement a robust security plan to manage your AD and secure sensitive data.
Active Directory security tools can help automate AD monitoring. These tools strengthen your network’s security and restrict unauthorized access to privileged accounts. If you are planning to scale your business, it’s best to outsource IT help desk services to a third party that handles all AD security operations smoothly.