Reduce Risk by Monitoring Active Directory

Active Directory (AD) plays a central role in securing networked resources. It typically serves as the front gate allowing access to the network environment only when presented with valid credentials. But Active Directory credentials also serve to grant access to numerous resources within the environment. For example, AD group memberships are commonly used to manage access to unstructured data resources such as file systems and SharePoint sites. And a growing number of enterprise applications leverage AD credentials to grant access to their resources as well.

Active Directory Event Monitoring Challenges

Monitoring and reporting on Active Directory accounts, security groups, access rights, administrative changes, and user behavior can feel like a monumental task. Event monitoring requires an understanding of which events are critical, where those events occur, what factors might indicate increased risk, and what technologies are available to capture those events.

Understanding which events to ignore is as important and knowing which are critical to capture. You don’t need immediate alerts on every AD User or Group change which takes place but you want visibility into critical high-risk changes: Who is adding AD user accounts? …adding a user to an administrative AD group? …making Group Policy (GPO) changes?

Active Directory administrators face a complex challenge that requires visibility into events as well as infrastructure to ensure proper system functionality. A complete AD monitoring solution doesn’t stop at user and group changes. It also looks at Domain Controller status: which services are running, disk space issues, patch levels, and similar operational and infrastructure needs. There are numerous technical requirements to get that level of detail.

AD administrators require full access in the environment which presents another set of challenges. How do you enable administrators to do their job while controlling certain high-risk activity such as snooping on sensitive data or accidentally making GPO changes to important security policies? Monitoring Active Directory effectively includes either preventing unintended activities through change blocking or deterring activities through visible monitoring and alerting.

Monitoring Active Directory Effectively

Effective audit and monitoring solutions for Active Directory address the numerous challenges discussed above by providing a flexible platform that covers typical scenarios out-of-the-box without customization but also allows extensibility to accommodate the unique requirements of the environment.

Data collection is the cornerstone of any Active Directory monitoring and audit solution. Collection must be automated, reliable, and non-intrusive on the target environment. Data that can be collected remotely without agents should be. But, when requirements call for at-the-source monitoring, for example when you want to see WHO did it, what machine they came from, capture before-and-after values, or block certain activities, a real-time agent should be available to accommodate those needs. The data collection also needs to scale to the environment’s size and performance requirements.

Once data has been collected, both batch and real-time per-event analysis are required to meet common requirements. For example, you may want an alert on changes to administrative groups but you don’t want alerts on all group changes. Or you may want a report that highlights all empty groups or groups with improper nesting conditions. This analysis should provide intelligence out-of-the-box based on industry expertise and commonly requested reporting. But it should also enable unique business questions to be answered. Every organization uses Active Directory in unique ways and custom reporting is an extremely common requirement.

Finally, once data collection and analysis phases have been completed, AD monitoring solutions should provide a flexible reporting interface that provides access to the intelligence that has been cultivated. As with collection and analysis, the reporting functionality should include commonly requested reports with no customization but should also enable report customization and extensibility. Reporting should include web-accessible reports, search and filtering, access to the raw and post-analysis data, and email or other alerting.

An effective Active Directory monitoring solution provides deep insight on all things Active Directory. It should enable user, group and GPO change detection as well as reporting on anomalies and high-risk conditions. It should also provide deep analysis on users, groups, OUs, computer objects, and Active Directory infrastructure. Because the types of reports required by different teams (such as security and operations) may differ, it may be prudent to provide slightly different interfaces or report sets for the various intended audiences.

When real-time monitoring of Active Directory Users, Groups, OUs, and other changes (including activity blocking) are important, the solution should provide advanced filtering and response on nearly all Active Directory events as well as an audit trail of changes and attempts with all relevant information.

Benefits of Active Directory Monitoring

The three most common business drivers for Active Directory monitoring are improved security, improved audit response, and simplified administration. Active Directory audit and monitoring solutions make life easier for administrators while improving security across the network environment. This is especially important as AD becomes increasingly integrated into enterprise applications.
Some common use-cases include:

  • Monitor Active Directory user accounts for create, modify and delete events. Capture the user account making the change along with the affected account information, changed attributes, time stamp, and more. This monitoring capability acts independent of the Security Event log and is non-reputable.
  • Monitor Active Directory group memberships and provide reports and/or alerts in real time when memberships change on important groups such as the Domain Admins group.
  • Report on failed attempts in addition to successful attempts. Filter on specific types of events and ignore others.
  • Report on Active Directory dormant accounts, empty groups, unused groups, large groups, and other high-risk conditions to empower administrators with actionable information.
  • Automate event response based on policy with email alerts, remediation processes, or record the event to a file or database.

Active Directory Monitoring and Reporting doesn’t need to feel complicated or overwhelming. Solutions are available to simplify the process while providing increased security and reduced risk.

About the Author

Matt Flynn has been in the Identity & Access Management space for more than a decade. He’s currently a Product Manager at STEALTHbits Technologies where he focuses on Data & Access Governance solutions for many of the world’s largest, most prestigious organizations. Prior to STEALTHbits, Matt held numerous positions at NetVision, RSA, MaXware, and Unisys where he was involved in virtually every aspect of identity-related projects from hands-on technical to strategic planning. In 2011, SYS-CON Media added Matt to their list of the most powerful voices in Information Security.Source: http://feeds.feedburner.com

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