Wednesday, January 16

Performing Clean Active Directory Migrations and Consolidations

Active Directory Migration Challenges

Over the past decade, Active Directory (AD) has grown out of control. It may be due to organizational mergers or disparate Active Directory domains that sprouted up over time, but many AD administrators are now looking at dozens of Active Directory forests and even hundreds of AD domains wondering how it happened and wishing it was easier to manage on a daily basis.

One of the top drivers for AD Migrations is enablement of new technologies such as unified communications or identity and access management. Without a shared and clearly articulated security model across Active Directory domains, it’s extremely difficult to leverage AD for authentication to new business applications or to establish the related business rules that may be based on AD attributes or security group memberships.

Domain consolidation is not a simple task. Whether you're moving from one platform to another, doing some AD security remodeling, or just consolidating domains for improved management and reduced cost, there are numerous steps, lots of unknowns and an overwhelming feeling that you might be missing something. Sound familiar?

One of the biggest fears in Active Directory migration projects is that business users will lose access to their critical resources during the migration. To reduce the likelihood of that occurring, many project leaders choose to enable a dirty migration; they enable historical SIDs which carry old credentials and group memberships from the source domain and apply them to the new domain. Unfortunately, enabling historical SIDs proliferates one of the main challenges that initially drove the migration project. The dirty migration approach maintains the various security models that have been implemented over the years making AD difficult to manage and near impossible to understand who has what rights across the environment.

Clean Active Directory Migrations

The alternative to a dirty migration is to disallow historical SIDs and thereby enable a clean migration where rights are applied as-needed in an easy-to-manage and well articulated security model. Security groups are applied on resources according to an intentional model that is defined up-front and permissions are limited to a least-privilege model where only those who require rights actually get them.

All consolidation or migration projects aren't the same. The motivations differ, the technologies differ, and the Active Directory organizational structure and assets differ wildly. Most solutions on the market provide point A to point B migrations of Active Directory assets. This type of migration often contributes to making the problem worse over time. There's nothing wrong with using an Active Directory tool to help you perform an AD forest or domain migration, but knowing which assets to move and how to structure or even restructure them in the target domain is critical.

Enabling a clean migration and transforming the Active Directory security model requires a few steps to be followed. It starts with assessment and cleanup of the source Active Directory environments. You should assess what objects are out there, how they’re being used, and how they’re currently organized. Are there dormant user accounts or unused computer objects? Are there groups with overlapping membership? Are there permissions that are unused or inappropriate? Are there toxic or high-risk conditions in the environment? This type of intelligence enables visibility into which objects you need to move, how they're structured, how the current domain compares to the target domain, and where differences exist in GPO policies, schema, and naming conventions. The dormant and unused objects as well as any toxic or high-risk conditions can be remediated so that those conditions aren’t propagated to the target environment.

Once the initial assessment and cleanup is complete, a gap-analysis should be performed to understand where the current state differs from the intended model. Where possible, the transformation should be automated. Security groups can be created, for example, based on historical user activity so that group membership is determined by actual need. This is a key requirement for numerous legal regulations.

The next step is to perform a deep scan into the Active Directory forests and domains that will be consolidated and look at server-level permissions and infrastructure across Active Directory, File Systems, Security Policies, SharePoint, SQL Server, and more. This enables the creation of business rules that will transform existing effective permissions into the target model while adhering to new naming conventions and group utilization. Much of this transformation should be automated to avoid human error and reduce effort.

Maintaining a Clean Active Directory

Once the migration or consolidation project is complete and adherence to the intended security model has been enforced, it’s vital that a program is in place to maintain Active Directory in its current state. There are a few capabilities that can help achieve this goal.

First, a mandatory periodic audit should be enforced. Security Group owners should confirm that groups are being used as-intended. Resource owners should confirm that the right people have the right level of access to their resources. Business managers should confirm that their people have access to the right resources. These reviews should be automated and tracked to ensure that these reviews are completely thoroughly and on-time.

Second, tools should be implemented that provide visibility into the environment answering questions as they come up. When a security administrator needs to see how a user is being granted rights to something they should perhaps not have, they’ll need tools that provide answers in a timely fashion.

Third, a system-wide scan should be conducted regularly to identify any toxic or high-risk conditions that occur over time. For example, if a user account becomes dormant, notification should be sent out according to business rules. Or if a group is nested within itself perhaps ten layers deep, you want an automated solution to discover that condition and provide related reporting.

Finally, to ensure adherence to Active Directory security policies, a real-time monitoring solution should be put in place to enforce rules, prevent unwanted changes via event blocking, and to maintain an audit trail of critical administrative activity.

Complete visibility across the entire Active Directory infrastructure enables a clean AD domain consolidation while making life easier for administrators, improving security, and enabling adoption of new technologies

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.

No comments: