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Mastering Active Directory, Third Edition - Third Edition

You're reading from  Mastering Active Directory, Third Edition - Third Edition

Product type Book
Published in Nov 2021
Publisher Packt
ISBN-13 9781801070393
Pages 780 pages
Edition 3rd Edition
Author (1):
Dishan Francis Dishan Francis
Profile icon Dishan Francis

Table of Contents (22) Chapters

Preface 1. Active Directory Fundamentals 2. Active Directory Domain Services 2022 3. Designing an Active Directory Infrastructure 4. Active Directory Domain Name System 5. Placing Operations Master Roles 6. Migrating to Active Directory 2022 7. Managing Active Directory Objects 8. Managing Users, Groups, and Devices 9. Designing the OU Structure 10. Managing Group Policies 11. Active Directory Services – Part 01 12. Active Directory Services – Part 02 13. Active Directory Certificate Services 14. Active Directory Federation Services 15. Active Directory Rights Management Services 16. Active Directory Security Best Practices 17. Advanced AD Management with PowerShell 18. Hybrid Identity 19. Active Directory Audit and Monitoring 20. Other Books You May Enjoy
21. Index

The future of Identity and Access Management (IAM)

In the previous two sections, I used the words "identity and access management" a few times. What exactly does identity and access management mean? Identity and access management is a solution used to regulate the "access life cycle" of a user within an organization. The main role of it is to make sure the right person has the right access to the right resources for the right reason. Identity and access management solutions mainly have four components.

  1. A directory which stores user identity data (directory service)
  2. A set of tools to provision, modify, and delete users and privileges
  3. A service to regulate access and privileges using policies and workflows
  4. A system for auditing and reporting

According to the above definition, Active Directory is not an identity and access management system. But it plays a major role in an identity and access management system. The directory element of an identity and access management system doesn't represent Microsoft Active Directory only, it could be any directory. But we know that the most commonly used directory service on the market is Microsoft Active Directory. The success of an IAM solution depends on all four pillars that I mentioned before. As I explained in the introduction, IAM is the key enabler of digital transformation. So what does the future look like for IAM in 2021 and beyond.

The Rise of Cybercrime

It's been a roller-coaster year for most of us. With the Covid-19 pandemic, uncertainty is all around us. That's changed the future for us in many ways. You may have had to reorganize your priorities and push back some of your plans years. On top of that, we have all had to do a lot to maintain our mental health. Cyber criminals are also humans. So we might think that the pandemic has also struck a blow to their activities. But it seems it hasn't. They seem to have found opportunities even during a pandemic. Instead of a reduction in cybercrime, we have seen a huge increase in the number of incidents. The FBI says it saw a 300% increase in cybercrime in 2020 (Source: When it comes to the healthcare industry, we would expect some dignity as it has been a lifeline during the pandemic. But for criminals, it was just another opportunity. Verizon's Data Breach Investigations Report 2020 ( confirms a 58% increase in data breaches in the healthcare industry and the majority of them were financially motivated attacks. Also, these attacks are getting more sophisticated day by day. The recent Nobelium attack is a great example of that. SolarWinds Inc. is a software company that develops solutions to monitor and manage network devices, servers, storage, and applications. On December 12, 2020, they announced a sophisticated attack on their Orion platform. This affected 18,000 SolarWinds customers, including the US departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, State, and Health. This attack was one of the biggest cyber incidents the public has witnessed in years. According to Microsoft (, 44% of victims of this attack were in the IT industry and 18% were government institutions. This attack marked a milestone in cybercrimes due to the following reasons:

  • Instead of attacking high-profile targets directly, the attackers chose a common "supplier" as the target.
  • The attackers gained access to SolarWinds back in September 2019.
  • The attackers did a dry run with the October 2019 version of the Orion platform to test their ability to include malicious code in a software build.
  • The attackers injected malicious code into SolarWinds.Orion.Core.BusinessLayer.dll on February 20, 2020.
  • SolarWinds updates with this malicious code were available to customers from March 26, 2020.
  • The attackers removed malicious code from the SolarWinds environment on June 2020.
  • According to a FireEye report (, the initial dormant period of the attack could have been up to 2 weeks. This means even if your system had the malicious code, you wouldn't have noticed anything immediately.
  • On a compromised system, attackers were able to initiate jobs such as transferring files/data to third-party servers, executing files, collecting information about the system including credentials, rebooting the server, and disabling system services.
  • Once attackers had credentials, they moved laterally through on-prem systems to gain access to ADFS (Active Directory Federation Server).
  • Once the attackers had privileges to create SAML tokens, they used them to access cloud services such as Microsoft 365.
  • The SolarWinds attack was the first occasion when the Golden SAML attack method was used.

This particular attack taught us a few things:

  • The importance of the zero trust security approach – The zero trust approach to cybersecurity is not only to prevent a breach but also to prevent lateral movement if there is a breach. We always have to assume a breach. More details about the zero trust approach will be discussed later on in this section.
  • Target on-prem to gain access to cloud resources – In this attack, cyber criminals gained privileges to access the ADFS environment to create SAML tokens. These tokens allowed them to access cloud services without a password. Typically, businesses are more focused on protecting cloud resources, but this attack proves we need to think about the whole access life cycle.

All attacks have something in common. They are all after some sort of "access" to systems first.

It could be a username and password, certificate, or even an SAML token. Once attackers have initial access, then they start to laterally move until they have access to accounts with privileges, which can help them to do their tasks such as stealing data, causing disruptions, or conducting espionage. So it is a greater challenge for IAM to protect digital identities from these rising cybercrimes.

However, in the fight against cybercrime, organizations have to overcome some other challenges as well. According to the COVID-19 on Enterprise IT Security Teams Report issued by (ISC)² (, organizations face the following challenges:

  • About 20% of enterprises were forced to reduce their IT security operations budgets this year.
  • 36.4% of IT security organizations froze hiring during the pandemic.
  • 31.5% of IT security organizations reduced the work hours of engineers.
  • 25.1% used temporary furlough methods to reduce operation costs.
  • 21.7% of IT security organizations reduced the salary of engineers during the pandemic.
  • 17.4% of IT security organizations reduced the number of staff with layoffs.

We already have a huge skill shortage in cybersecurity. Covid-19 has had a negative financial impact on some businesses. Because of that, businesses will have difficulties funding cybersecurity projects and developing cybersecurity skills in the coming years.

Zero trust security

With the Covid-19 pandemic, most businesses have not had the option of allowing their employees to work from home. We can't protect corporate data and identities appearing in unsecured home networks by using the same security approach we use in closed networks. This has created a huge opportunity for cyber criminals as most companies didn't have time to evaluate the risks involved in remote working and prepare themselves beforehand. Most companies are still "catching up" on cybersecurity risks related to remote working. According to an IBM report (, remote working has increased the average cost of a data breach by $137,000. According to a survey done by Malwarebytes (, 20% of their responders said they faced a security breach as a result of a remote worker. 44% confirmed they did not provide any cybersecurity training to employees that focused on the potential threats of working from home.

Interestingly, this study also confirmed that only 47% of employees are aware of the cybersecurity best practices when working from home.

The above stats show that the sudden shift to working from home creates risks for companies. This also confirms that the traditional parameter defense approach is not going to meet modern cybersecurity requirements. The best way to address this challenge is to take a Zero Trust security approach. The Zero Trust security model has three main principles:

  • Verify explicitly – This means we need to verify each and every access request equally. This shouldn't change based on the network location, person, or role. In the Nobelium attack, we can clearly see that if there was explicit verification in place, it could have been prevented at many stages. Traditional security models are based on the "trust but verify" approach, but the zero-trust model takes a completely opposite approach, which is "never trust, always verify."
  • Least privileges access – Almost all engineers in IT departments usually have Domain Administrator or Enterprise Administrator rights. But some of them only use it to do basic administrative tasks such as password resets. Least privilege access means users will only have privileges to do the tasks they are supposed to do. This will prevent the lateral movement of attackers and stop them from owning privileged accounts.
  • Assume breach – Cyber criminals are also humans. We can't close all the doors. These criminals always find ways to get in. They change their tactics and methods from time to time. We need to assume a breach. The important questions are, if there is a breach, how can we recognize it? How fast can we recognize it? To do that, we need to have tools and services:
    • To collect various logs from systems
    • To analyze that data effectively
    • To do user behavior analytics
    • To detect anomalies

More information about the Nobelium attack is available in the following articles, which are published by Microsoft:


To enforce the principles of the Zero Trust model, we need IAM solutions such as Azure Active Directory. Based on the lessons we learned from attacks such as Nobelium, more and more businesses will start to follow this security approach in the next few years.

Password-less authentication

Back in 2004 at the RSA Security Conference (San Francisco), Bill Gates said "There is no doubt that over time, people are going to rely less and less on passwords. People use the same password on different systems, they write them down, and they just don't meet the challenge for anything you really want to secure." Over the years, this statement has been proven over and over. Passwords are no longer secure. Passwords are breakable. The UK's National Cyber Security Center has done a study to examine the passwords leaked by data breaches. According to them, the number one password used is "123456."

So, if passwords are failing, what else can we do to improve security in the authentication process? Multi-factor authentication can add another layer of security into the authentication process. It can be SMS, a phone call, an OTP code, or a phone app notification to further confirm the authenticity of the access request. There are many different MFA products available on the market. However, MFA doesn't eliminate the requirement for passwords.

But now we have an option to replace traditional authentication with password-less authentication. This is basically to replace passwords with biometrics, PIN, certificates, and security keys.

Fast Identity Online (FIDO) is an open standard for password-less authentication. This allows authenticating in systems using an external security key built into a device.

Windows Hello for Business and Azure Active Directory support password-less authentication based on FIDO2 security keys.

FIDO2 is the third standard that came out of the FIDO Alliance. FIDO2 consists of a Client to Authenticator Protocol (CTAP) and the W3C standard WebAuthn. When we use FIDO2 security keys for authentication:

  1. The user registers with the WebAuthn remote peer (FIDO2 server) and generates a new key pair (public and private).
  2. The private key is stored in the device and is only available on the client side.
  3. The public key will be registered in the web service's database.
  4. After that, in the sign-in process, the system will verify the private key, which always needs to be unlocked by a user action such as a biomimetic process or a PIN.

More information about WebAuthn is available at the following links:


Over the last few years, password-less authentication has grown significantly and it will continue to do so in the coming years. According to Gartner, "By 2022, Gartner predicts that 60% of large and global enterprises, and 90% of midsize enterprises, will implement password-less methods in more than 50% of use cases—up from 5% in 2018." Azure AD now supports password-less authentication using FIDO2 keys. This can be used to authenticate into cloud resources as well as on-prem resources. I have already written some articles about the configuration of FIDO2 keys. You can access those here:

Step-by-step guide: Azure AD password-less sign-in using FIDO2 security keys:

Step-by-step guide: Enable Windows 10 password-less authentication with FIDO2 security keys (Azure AD + Microsoft Intune):

Digital ID

So far in this chapter, I have used the term "digital identity" a few times. Digital identity is a form of identification that can be used to recognize a person using digital channels. When I log in to my LinkedIn account, I use a username and password. The username and password were created when I signed up to LinkedIn. When I log in to my bank's online service portal, I use a different username and password. Both of these accounts represent my identity. Instead of using multiple digital identities, what if we can agree on one digital ID that allows you to use multiple online services such as healthcare, banking, travel, and leisure. It will reduce the complexity of proving identity. According to a study done by McKinsey Digital (, one billion people in the world don't have any legal form of ID to prove their identity. Imagine the opportunities they are missing in their day-to-day lives.

It could be preventing them from accessing public services such as education and healthcare, it could be affecting their rights, and it could be affecting their loved ones. With the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more countries are in the process of adopting this unified digital identity concept. The UK government has already created a framework for digital identity (Source: According to the UK government, the cost of proving identity manually offline could be as high as £3.3 billion per year. The government believes "The new digital identity will not only make people's lives easier but also give a boost to the country's £149 billion digital economy by creating new opportunities for innovation, enabling smoother, cheaper, and more secure online transactions, and saving businesses time and money." (Source: The US has recently introduced the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020 (Source: to establish a government-wide approach to improving digital identity. The Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) created the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework (Source:, which defines the conformance criteria necessary for a digital identity ecosystem and explains how digital IDs will roll out across Canada.

As we can see above, countries around the globe are already working toward regularizing digital identity. On this journey, IAM also has a role to play. There will be new laws related to digital identity. There will be new rules to comply with. Organizations will have to find an efficient way to manage these new digital identities. More importantly, we need protection from identity theft. We can't do this only by using a legacy directory service. We need IAM solutions in place to manage the complete life cycle of a digital identity.

We can clearly see a challenging time ahead for IAM. We can't talk about IAM without talking about directory services. So this is why an on-prem directory service such as Windows Active Directory still has paramount value.

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Mastering Active Directory, Third Edition - Third Edition
Published in: Nov 2021 Publisher: Packt ISBN-13: 9781801070393
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