Tuesday, January 29

Virtual Directory as Database Security

I've written plenty of posts about the various use-cases for virtual directory technology over the years. But, I came across another today that I thought was pretty interesting.

Think about enterprise security from the viewpoint of the CISO. There are numerous layers of overlapping security technologies that work together to reduce risk to a point that's comfortable. Network security, endpoint security, identity management, encryption, DLP, SIEM, etc. But even when these solutions are implemented according to plan, I still see two common gaps that need to be taken more seriously.

One is control over unstructured data (file systems, SharePoint, etc.). The other is back door access to application databases. There is a ton of sensitive information exposed through those two avenues that aren't protected by the likes of SIEM solutions or IAM suites. Even DLP solutions tend to focus on perimeter defense rather than who has access. STEALTHbits has solutions to fill the gaps for unstructured data and for Microsoft SQL Server so I spend a fair amount of time talking to CISOs and their teams about these issues.

While reading through some IAM industry materials today, I found an interesting write-up on how Oracle is using its virtual directory technology to solve the problem for Oracle database customers. Oracle's IAM suite leverages Oracle Virtual Directory (OVD) as an integration point with an Oracle database feature called Enterprise User Security (EUS). EUS enables database access management through an enterprise LDAP directory (as opposed to managing a spaghetti mapping of users to database accounts and the associated permissions.)

By placing OVD in front of EUS, you get instant LDAP-style management (and IAM integration) without a long, complicated migration process. Pretty compelling use-case. If you can't control direct database permissions, your application-side access controls seem less important. Essentially, you've locked the front door but left the back window wide open. Something to think about.

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.

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.