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Best Practices for Consolidating Active Directory

by | Feb 24, 2023 | BLOG

This article was developed especially for you, who have questions about the best practices for consolidating Active Directory.

First of all, you need to understand that directory services have the role of organizing important information for companies in a centralized location, ensuring their digital security and good performance.

Thus, the information stored within this database is available for use in various operations. Today, Active Directory leads existing directory services, which also include Open LDAP for Open Source Systems and EDirectory for Novell Systems.

To learn the best practices for consolidating Active Directory and other important information on the subject, keep reading our content.

To facilitate your reading, we divided our text into the following topics:

  • What Is Active Directory?
  • The Importance of Active Directory
  • What is Domain Consolidation?
  • How IS Active Directory Structured?
  • What Are Active Directory Groups?
  • What Are the Types of Active Directory Groups?
  • Reasons for Consolidating Active Directory Groups
  • Six Best Practices for Consolidating Active Directory
  • AD Security Using PAM
  • About senhasegura
  • Conclusion

Enjoy the read!

What Is Active Directory?

Active Directory (AD) is a database and set of services used in Windows Server to manage permissions and control access to network resources.

Through this technology, one can use the same password to perform several actions, such as opening an email and authenticating a computer. Among its capabilities, we can also highlight the centralization of security features and the ease of searching for the desired item.

Moreover, Active Directory makes it possible to store data, organizing it according to its name and assignments. Keep reading this text; in the next topics, we will show you what the best practices for consolidating Active Directory are.

The Importance of Active Directory

Active Directory provides security and scalability to the IT infrastructure by allowing it to store information about network objects and make such data available to users and administrators.

This Microsoft software is designed to make it easier to find useful information for daily activities, centralizing this data and ensuring more availability and better performance.

Through Active Directory, one can count on different domains associated with different administrators and security policies. As advantages related to Active Directory, we can highlight:

  • With accounts stored in the AD database, users have only one username to access network resources.
  • It is necessary to log in only once to access the network;
  • It is possible to have an unlimited number of domains without changing the way they are managed.
  • Centralization: data stored in AD can be accessed from a single environment;
  • AD enables all users to access the resources of a network using the same password.

What is Domain Consolidation?

Active Directory works through a structure made up of domains, trees, and forests. Domains are a set of objects that share the database.

Trees refer to sets of domains, which have a common DNS root with a contiguous namespace. Forests, in turn, are collections of trees that are part of the same scheme without integrating a contiguous namespace.
It is possible to group objects into organizational units (OUs) within a domain, which makes it easier to manage them.

How Is Active Directory Structured?

As you saw in the previous topic, Active Directory has three layers formed by domains, trees, and forests.
A domain is a management boundary, which contains users, computers, and other items important to an organization. Different domains make up a tree and several trees make up a forest. In practice, items from a single domain are stored and managed together.

A forest consists of a security boundary. Therefore, the different items stored in this environment should not interact with each other. The exception is when managers establish a relationship of trust between them.

What Are Active Directory Groups?

Active Directory is characterized by classifying users into groups. Through this platform, organizations can manage their computer accounts and provide access to sensitive information.

In practice, each group consists of users who are given access to certain resources through a security identifier (SID) or a global unique identifier (GUID).

The first is used when the goal is to grant access to specific users and the second allows grouping users who need access to the same resources.

In this way, groups are targeted at individual users or global groups.

What Are the Types of Active Directory Groups?

There are two types of Active Directory groups. These are:

Distribution Groups

Distribution groups are used alongside email apps to send messages to sets of users. They do not provide security, so they should not integrate discretionary access control lists.

Security Groups

Security groups allow one to assign access to network resources efficiently.
Through them, access for users is directed to a security group in order to establish how members can work concerning the scope of a domain or forest.

These accesses are automatically assigned to security groups when Active Directory is installed to help administrators determine the role of domain users.

Security groups also allow one to assign permissions to access resources, defining who can access them and the access levels.

In practice, administrators should assign these permissions to security groups and not to individual users. Thus, each account added to a group receives the access provided for that group.

Like distribution groups, security groups can also be used in the form of an email. In this case, when sending a message to the group, all members receive it.

Reasons for Consolidating Active Directory Groups

Consolidating Active Directory groups is important for several reasons. Check some of them:

Groups Are Used to Grant Permissions

Through Active Directory groups, users are entitled to permissions to access file systems, applications, corporate data, and other network resources.

They Can Be Created Based on User Role

In addition to AD groups allowing users to access the resources needed to perform their roles, users with the same responsibilities can be grouped and given the same permissions.

They Improve Information Security

The groups allow strengthening the cybersecurity of an organization, as they make it possible to analyze controls and grant users only the access necessary to perform their tasks. Thus, it is possible to avoid misuse and loss of important information.

Consolidating a Group Makes it Easier to Manage AD

By organizing the directory, eliminating unnecessary groups, and keeping only the important ones, you can locate groups and objects more easily. It also allows you to know the reason for the existence of each group and what permissions are assigned to its users.

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Six Best Practices for Consolidating Active Directory

The best practices for consolidating Active Directory are:

  • Identifying groups before starting the consolidation process;
  • Obtaining supporting information on the purpose of the group;
  • Understanding the permissions assigned;
  • Deleting unnecessary groups;
  • Keeping the directory up to date; and
  • Automating group cleaning processes.

Check out how this should be done in more detail:

Identifying Groups Before Starting
Before consolidating a group, it is essential to inquire, gathering all the necessary data, including group name, members, description, managers, and whether it is possible for the owners to modify the group assignment or not.

This measure helps to avoid wasting time and effort related to the need to redo the entire process.

Obtaining Supporting Information on the Purpose of the Group
Often, an IT team creates the group, but does not know what its goals are. Therefore, to obtain this important information, it is necessary to question the person responsible for an industry or line of business, who knows how to provide reliable information about the usability of the group.

Understanding the Permissions Assigned
It is important to understand what permissions are assigned to the groups one wants to consolidate to be able to assign the appropriate permissions to the only consolidated group. In this sense, it may be necessary to group users with similar roles and responsibilities to assign the same permissions to all of them.

Deleting Unnecessary Groups
Before consolidating two or more AD groups, delete unnecessary groups. In this way, you can keep the directory cleaner and easier to use.

Keeping the Directory Up to Date
To keep your directory always clean and up-to-date, it is necessary to avoid the accumulation of group management tasks by classifying them regularly and monitoring their functions and objects so that they do not become outdated.

Automating Group Cleaning Processes
To avoid security threats and ensure good performance for your directory, group cleaning processes should be performed at regular intervals.
Therefore, it is recommended to automate processes using tools that ensure directory cleaning, such as GroupID Self-Service, which speeds up the cleaning process and reduces the chances of human failures.

AD Security Using PAM
PAM is a digital security solution that allows you to control, monitor, audit, and protect privileged access in an IT framework that is extremely useful for eliminating Active Directory-related threats.
Here are some best practices when using a PAM approach to protect AD:

Keep an Inventory of Privileged Accounts
It is essential to ensure the visibility of privileged accounts, so you should keep an inventory of these accounts to know exactly which users can access sensitive information.
This measure also makes it possible to analyze which users still need privileged access and remove their permissions if necessary.
Nevertheless, manually managing multiple privileged accounts can become a problem for large companies. For this reason, we recommend using a tool that allows discovering privileged accounts automatically.

Take the User’s Needs into Account
The fewer access permissions granted to users, the smaller the attack surface and the possibility of privileges being misused.
However, it is important to consider the needs of the user to perform their functions efficiently and have balance when granting access.
In this sense, you can use some techniques: Zero Trust, Principle of Least Privilege, and management of just-in-time privileged access. You can also combine these approaches to protect your AD environment.

Use Multifactor Authentication
Enabling multifactor authentication (MFA) is an alternative to providing an extra layer of security to privileged credentials.
With this mechanism, the user has to give something they know, such as a password, as well as something they have, such as a token, or an identification factor, which takes into account physical aspects, such as biometrics.

Manage Access Controls Efficiently
This practice enables reducing security risks associated with privilege abuses. To adopt it, we recommend using a role-based control method or an attribute-based access control model.

Monitor the Actions of Privileged Users
Tracking the behavior of privileged users is another best practice, as it helps to know what data they access and what changes they make.
With this, you can identify behaviors that can signal malicious actions or account compromise.

Manage Shared Accounts
While not a best practice, many companies use shared accounts to manage their networks or enable third-party services.
Still, without proper management, it is impossible to know, for example, who was responsible for a particular incident.
So, our recommendation is: to review accounts with shared access and analyze if it is really necessary, remove permissions for users who do not need them, and add a second form of authentication for others in order to identify them.

About senhasegura
When it comes to information security, we from senhasegura are a reference. After all, we efficiently perform the job of ensuring the digital sovereignty of the organizations that hire us in more than 50 countries.
In this way, we avoid data theft and track the actions of administrators on networks, servers, databases, and devices in general.
We also provide compliance with audit requirements and the highest standards such as PCI DSS, Sarbanes-Oxley, ISO 27001, and HIPAA.

In this article, you saw that:
Active Directory is a database and set of services used in Windows Server that enables permission management and control of access to network resources.
This solution makes it possible to store data, organizing it according to its name and assignments;
With Active Directory, you can count on different domains, associated with different administrators and security policies;
Active Directory has three layers formed by domains, trees, and forests;
A domain is a management boundary and a forest is a security boundary.
An Active Directory security group has the role of granting user entitlements and permissions on shared data.
It is important to consolidate Active Directory groups because groups are used to grant permissions, can be created based on the role of users, improve digital security, and facilitate AD management;
Among the best practices for consolidating Active Directory, we can highlight: identifying groups before starting, understanding assigned permissions, and deleting unnecessary groups.

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