If you think about all the data and files you have stored across your network, it would be nearly impossible to recall the exact name and location of every file.  A directory service solves this problem by creating a container that provides a hierarchical structure.  It allows you to store objects that can quickly be located and easily accessed.   Whenever you search, you’re using a directory service.

It also plays a key role in managing your IT infrastructure.  As network resources have grown more complex, a directory service records data on users, devices, applications, groups, and devices within the hierarchical structure.   The structure allows it to find details about things connected to the network from a single location.

What is Active Directory?

Active Directory (AD) is a Microsoft® software solution to directory services.  It locates resources and can handle millions of objects in a single domain, but it can also do a lot more.  It’s a critical part of the company’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) system.

Active Directory uses Kerberos Authentication and Single Sign-On (SSO).   SSO lets Kerberos Authentication use one set of credentials.  These credentials are granted access permission across resources, networks, and services.   These authentications allow Active Director to act as a repository for all of the user’s information.

Active Directory’s Certificate Services (AD CS) lets IT admins build a public key infrastructure (PKI) to provide distribution and verification of digital certificates and digital signatures.  A PKI lets users and systems exchange data securely by linking identities with public-key certificates.  PKI both allows for the encryption of the data and contains information to identify the certificate holder and link them with the data.  In short, the PKI lets networks verify identities.

AD CS also lets your organization distribute certificates at a nearly unlimited scale - whether you have a small organization or a large company with thousands of employees and computers

The Benefits of Active Directory

Active Directory provides a number of benefits to make managing your network easier.

  • Centralized management of users no matter how big your network is
  • AD lets you use the existing endpoint identification to register users or certificates automatically.   Without this, you would have to manually insert the information into credentials.
  • You can configure group policies to segregate access.  It allows for role or attribute-based access by managing which certificates are granted to specific users.
  • You can manage the types of certificates issued.  Along with group policies, you can set renewal points and even short-term certificates.
  • Since each domain controller has a copy of Active Directory, when a change is made to Active Directory, it will replicate across any other domain controllers.  This eliminates the need to manage each domain controller individually or worry that permissions and authentication protocols are out of sync.
  • You can delegate organization units (OUs) to partition escalated access to departments of workgroups within your organization.  You can determine which level of access each OU has.

Network Monitoring with Active Directory

Active Directory is typically monitored through Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), although there are third-party applications that can be used as well.  AD monitoring software access Microsoft libraries and collects performance counters to monitor the health and performance of the service directory.

When abnormal behavior, such as a drop in performance or unauthorized access, is detected, AD monitoring can flag the behavior and trigger alarms.  This can be especially important in detecting breaches where hackers try to escalate privileges.  When malicious activity is identified quickly, it can often be stopped before it causes significant damage.  

Monitoring active event logs can reveal such malicious activity.  In one exhaustive study of breaches, researchers at Verizon found that 84% of the victims had evidence of breach attempts in their event logs weeks before the breach was uncovered.

Here are the most common ways AD monitors your network to let you know when there might be a problem:

  • Changes in group policies
  • Changes in privileges
  • Directory replication
  • Directory service access
  • Locked or deactivated users
  • Domain controller performance
  • Domain controller authentication
  • Service directory files (NTDS)
  • System events
  • Credential validation

You can also run AD user audit to determine individual performance and behavior, such as login monitoring or remote desktop services sessions.



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