Today Cyber Security plays a paramount role in global security. On this blog, the CEO of Paramount Defenses shares rare insights on issues related to Cyber Security, including Privileged Access, Organizational Cyber Security, Foundational Security, Windows Security, Active Directory Security, Insider Threats and other topics.

July 27, 2016

A Simple $100B Active Directory Security Question for Alex Simons at Microsoft

Dear Mr. Simons,

I believe you are the Active Directory Czar at Microsoft these days, so I have a simple but very important question for you.

Incidentally, do you know who came up with that ludicrous title, Czar? (By the way, that's not the question I wanted to ask.)

The Question -

With the introduction of the DCSync feature in Mimikatz, the security of an entire Active Directory deployment boils down to this:
Anyone who effectively has the Get Replication Changes All extended right granted to them in the access control list (ACL) protecting the domain root object can now easily compromise the credentials of all Active Directory domain accounts, including those of all Active Directory privileged user accounts!
Although by default, only administrative personnel have this right effectively granted, since most Active Directory deployments have been around for many years, in almost all of them, the ACL protecting the domain root may have been modified several times, and as a consequence the default access may have changed substantially, resulting in a situation wherein no one may really know exactly who effectively has the Get Replication Changes All extended right granted to whom today.

Thus today it is imperative and in fact paramount for every organization in the world to know exactly who effectively has the Get Replication Changes All extended right granted in the ACL of their domain root object, and how they have it. (The need to know how is essential for being able to lock-down access for all those who currently have this critical access, but should not have it.)

So the simple $100B question is -
"Precisely what does Microsoft recommend that customers do to make this paramount determination in their foundational Active Directory deployments?"  i.e. how do they find out exactly who effectively has the Get Replication Changes All extended right granted in the ACL of their domain root object, and how they have it?

Microsoft may or may not realize this but thanks to the technical brilliance of a certain Mr. Benjamin Delpy, this is the 2nd most important Active Directory Security question facing organizations worldwide today. (In a few days, I'll let you know the 1st one.)

I (and the world) look forward to your answer.  (We hope you have one.)

Most respectfully,

PS 1: I imagine it shouldn't be too hard for the $450 Billion Microsoft to answer this simple question.

PS 2: Here's some Q&A that I can envisage happening, between Microsoft and its customers -
Answer: We recommend that organizations use the Effective Permissions Tab provided in our native Active Directory management tools, or our acldiag tool, to find out exactly who effectively has this right granted.

Follow-up Question (from customers): Thank you. We tried that recommendation. These tools don't seem to be very accurate and it appears can only determine effective permissions one user at a time. We have 1000s of users in our Active Directory. Do you expect our IT personnel to enter 1000s of names one-by-one manually?!
Answer: <Silence>

Follow-up Question 2 (from customers) a few weeks later: We (somehow) were able to figure out the identities of everyone who has this right effectively granted in the ACL of the domain root object. Its a long list i.e. much longer than it should be. We need to lock-down it down. Can you recommend how we could go about locking it down?
Answer: We recommend that organizations determine how these individuals have this right effectively granted to them, then use that information to tweak the underlying security permissions or modify involved security groups.

Follow-up Question 2 (from customers): Okay, but how do we determine how these individuals have this right effectively granted to them?
Answer: <Silence>

PS 3:  I sincerely hope your answer isn't one of the following, including why (because there is an easy answer to this question) -
Poor Answer 1: "We recommend that our customers use Microsoft ATA to monitor such activity.
Reason: Microsoft ATA is basically a detection measure. In the list of protection measures, detection comes third. The first is prevention, the second is avoidance. By suggesting detection, you're conceding that you don't have the ability to provide the first two measures. And the world expects better than that from a $450 Billion company. 

Poor Answer 2: "We encourage our customers to transition to Microsoft Azure.
Reason: It seems like Microsoft will do almost anything (including conceding defeat) to get their customers on its Cloud. I hope you realize that the degree to which you can help protect customers that are not in the Cloud, and the thought leadership (or lack thereof) Microsoft may have displayed thus far in cyber security, are a few factors that organizations consider when deciding on whether or not to bet (the security of) their business on your Cloud.  
(Besides, thousands of organizations still run Active Directory on-premises and may not want to get on the Cloud. As such, billions have been spent worldwide integrating so many applications with Active Directory and its ACLs.)

PS 4:  If you're wondering who I am, just ask Microsoft's top cyber security brass. (I'm a former blue-badger who cares deeply about the foundational cyber security of Microsoft's ecosystem.) If you're wondering why I am asking this question publicly, its because its 2016, not 2006, and we the world simply cannot afford to not have adequate solutions to address such fundamental cyber security challenges. Today foundational cyber security is a matter of paramount defenses. Before you respond, kindly also do consider a what-if scenario wherein such critical cyber security challenges, and the threats they pose, would still exist, but adequate solutions to address them did not. (Fortunately, they do exist today, and they are paramount to global security.)

PS 5:  August 01, 2016 update: Here's the answer to this question, and here's some valuable security guidance for Microsoft.