Author Archives: Sanjay

Coming Soon – “Active Directory Security for Attackers and Defenders”

Folks,

From the U.S. Department of Defense to the Trillion $ Microsoft Corporation, and from the While House to the Fortune 100, today over 85% of organizations worldwide operate on Microsoft Active Directory.


The cyber security of these foundational Active Directory deployments worldwide is thus paramount to cyber security worldwide, and yet, unfortunately, the Active Directory deployments of most organizations remain alarmingly vulnerable to compromise.

To help thousands of organizations adequately bolster their existing Active Directory security defenses, and to help millions of cyber security and IT personnel worldwide enhance their proficiency in this paramount subject, starting May 05, 2020, I will personally be sharing Active Directory security insights for everyone's benefit, at the Paramount Defenses Blog.

Save the date - May 05, 2020.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

The ONE Question NO ONE knows the Answer to at RSA Conference 2020

Hello,

On Monday, the RSA Conference 2020 will begin, where almost a thousand cyber security companies will showcase their greatest cyber security solutions to thousands of attendees, and where supposedly "The World Talks Security!"

If that's the case, let's talk security -  I'd like to ask the entire RSA Conference just 1 simple cyber security question -

Question: Do the companies whose CISOs and cyber security personnel are attending the RSA Conference '20 have any idea exactly who has what privileged access in their foundational Active Directory deployments today?


If they don't, then perhaps instead of making the time to attend cyber security conferences, they should first focus on making this paramount determination, because without it, not ONE thing, let alone their entire organization, can be adequately secured.



Unequivocal Clarity

If this one simple question posed above isn't clear, here are 5 simple specific cyber security 101 questions to help gain clarity:

    Does our organization know exactly -
  • Q 1.  Who can run Mimikatz DCSync against our Active Directory to instantly compromise everyone's credentials?
  • Q 2.  Who can change the Domain Admins group's membership to instantly gain privileged access company wide?
  • Q 3.  Who can reset passwords of /disable use of Smartcards on all Domain Admin equivalent privileged accounts?
  • Q 4.  Who can link a malicious GPO to an(y) OU in Active Directory to instantly unleash ransomware system-wide?
  • Q 5.  Who can change or control who has what privileged access in our Active Directory?

If an organization does not have exact answers to these 5 simple questions today, it has absolutely no idea as to exactly who has what privileged access in its foundational Active Directory, and thus, it has absolutely no control over cyber security.




This is Paramount

If you don't think that having exact answers to these questions is paramount, then you don't know a thing about cyber security.


Just ask the world famous and globally trusted $10 Billion cyber security company CrowdStrike, and here's a quote from them - "A secure Active Directory environment can mitigate most attacks."




Zero out of 1000

There are almost 1000 cyber security companies exhibiting at the RSA Conference 2020, but guess how many of those 1000 companies could help you accurately determine the answers to 5 simple questions asked above? The answer is 0.


Not Microsoft, not EMC, not CrowdStrike, not FireEye, not Cisco, not IBM, not Symantec, not McAfee, not Palantir, not Tanium, not CyberArk, not Centrify, not Quest, not ZScaler, not BeyondTrust, not Thycotic, not Varonis, not Netwrix, not even HP, in fact no company exhibiting at RSA Conference 2020 has any solution that could help accurately answer these simple questions.

That's right - not a single cyber security company in the world (barring one), let alone the entirety of all cyber security companies exhibiting at or sponsoring the RSA Conference 2020 can help organizations accurately answer these simple questions.




The Key

The key to being able to answer the leading question above, as well as the five simple cyber security questions posed above lies in having just 1 simple, fundamental cyber security capability - Active Directory Effective Permissions.


There's only 1 company on planet Earth that possesses this key, and its not going to be at the RSA Conference 2020 - this one.



Thanks,
Sanjay.

Who Needs WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Today ?

Folks,

Today, yet again, I'd like to share with you a simple Trillion $ question, one that I had originally asked more that 10 years ago, and recently asked again just about two years ago. Today it continues to be exponentially more relevant to the whole world.

In fact, it is more relevant today than ever given the paramount role that cyber security plays in business and national security.


So without further adieu, here it is - Who needs WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Today?


Ans: Only those who don't know that we live in a digital world, one wherein virtually everything runs on (networked) computers.


Why would an entity bother trying to acquire or use a WMD (or for that matter even a conventional weapon) when (if you're smart) you could metaphorically stop the motor of entire organizations (or nations) with just a few lines of code designed to exploit arcane but highly potent misconfigured security settings (ACLs) in the underlying systems on which governments, militaries and thousands of business organizations of the world operate?

Today, all you need is two WDs in the same (pl)ACE and its Game Over.


Puzzled? Allow me to give you a HINT:.

Here’s a simple question: What does the following non-default string represent and why should it be a great cause of concern?
(A;;RP;;;WD)(OA;;CR;1131f6aa-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;ED)(OA;;CR;1131f6ab-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;ED)(OA;;CR;1131f6ac-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;ED)(OA;;CR;1131f6aa-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;BA)(OA;;CR;1131f6ab-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;BA)(OA;;CR;1131f6ac-9c07-11d1-f79f-00c04fc2dcd2;;BA)(A;;RPLCLORC;;;AU)(A;;RPWPCRLCLOCCRCWDWOSW;;;DA)(A;CI;RPWPCRLCLOCCRCWDWOSDSW;;;BA)(A;;RPWPCRLCLOCCDCRCWDWOSDDTSW;;;SY)(A;CI;RPWPCRLCLOCCDCRCWDWOSDDTSW;;;EA)(A;CI;LC;;;RU)(OA;CIIO;RP;037088f8-0ae1-11d2-b422-00a0c968f939;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU)(OA;CIIO;RP;59ba2f42-79a2-11d0-9020-00c04fc2d3cf;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU)(OA;CIIO;RP;bc0ac240-79a9-11d0-9020-00c04fc2d4cf;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU) (A;CI;RPWDLCLO;;;WD)(OA;CIIO;RP;4c164200-20c0-11d0-a768-00aa006e0529;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU) (OA;CIIO;RP;5f202010-79a5-11d0-9020-00c04fc2d4cf;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU)(OA;CIIO;RPLCLORC;;bf967a9c-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU)(A;;RC;;;RU)(OA;CIIO;RPLCLORC;;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;RU)

Today, this one little question and the technicality I have shared above directly impacts the cyber security of the entire world.


If you read my words very carefully, as you always should, then you'll find that it shouldn't take an astute cyber security professional more than a minute to figure it out, given that I’ve actually already provided the answer above.


Today, the CISO of every organization in the world, whether it be a government, a military or a billion dollar company (of which there are dime a dozen, and in fact thousands worldwide) or a trillion dollar company MUST know the answer to this question.


They must know the answer because it directly impacts and threatens the foundational cyber security of their organizations.

If they don't, (in my opinion) they likely shouldn't be the organization's CISO because what I have shared above could possibly be the single biggest threat to 85% of organizations worldwide, and it could be used to completely compromise them within minutes (and any organization that would like a demo in their real-world environment may feel free to request one.)

Some of you will have figured it out. For the others, I'll finally shed light on the answer soon.

Best wishes,
Sanjay


PS: If you need to know right away, perhaps you should give your Microsoft contact a call and ask them. If they too need some help (they likely will ;-)), tell them it has to do with a certain security descriptor in Active Directory. (There, now that's a HINT the size of a domain, and it could get an intruder who's been able to breach an organization's network perimeter to root in seconds.)

PS2: If this intrigues you, and you wish to learn more, you may want to read this - Hello World :-)

What is Active Directory? (Cyber Security 101 for the Entire World)

Folks,

Today is January 06, 2020, and as promised, here I am getting back to sharing perspectives on cyber security.


Cyber Security 101

Perhaps a good topic to kick off the year is by seeking to ask and answer a simple yet vital question - What is Active Directory?

You see, while this question may seem simple to some (and it is,) its one of the most important questions to answer adequately, because in an adequate answer to this most simple question lies the key to organizational cyber security worldwide.

The simple reason for this is that if you were to ask most CISOs or IT professionals, they'll likely tell you that Active Directory is the "phone book" of an organization's IT infrastructure, and while its true that at its simplest, it is a directory of all organizational accounts and computers, it is this shallow view that leads organizations to greatly diminish the real value of Active Directory to the point of sheer irresponsible cyber negligence because  "Who really cares about just a phone book?"

In fact, for two decades now, this has been the predominant view held by most CISOs and IT personnel worldwide, and sadly it is the negligence resulting from such a simplistic view of Active Directory that are likely the reason that the Active Directory deployments of most organizations remain substantially insecure and vastly vulnerable to compromise today.

Again, after all, who cares about a phone book?!




Active Directory - The Very Foundation of Organizational Cyber Security Worldwide

If as they say, a "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words", perhaps I should paint you a very simple Trillion $ picture -


An organization's Active Directory deployment is its single most valuable IT and corporate asset, worthy of the highest protection at all times, because it is the very foundation of an organization's cyber security.

The entirety of an organization's very building blocks of cyber security i.e. all the organizational user accounts and passwords used to authenticate their people, all the security groups used to aggregate and authorize access to all their IT resources, all their privileged user accounts, all the accounts of all their computers, including all laptops, desktops and servers are all stored, managed and secured in (i.e. inside) the organization's foundational Active Directory, and all actions on them audited in it.

In other words, should an organization's foundational Active Directory, or a single Active Directory privileged user account, be compromised, the entirety of the organization could be exposed to the  risk of complete, swift and colossal compromise.



Active Directory Security Must Be Organizational Cyber Security Priority #1

Today, ensuring the highest protection of an organization's foundational Active Directory deployment must undoubtedly be the #1 priority of every organization that cares about cyber security, protecting shareholder value and business continuity.


Here's why - A deeper, detailed look into What is Active Directory ?


For anyone to whom this may still not be clear, I'll spell it out - just about everything in organizational Cyber Security, whether it be Identity and Access Management, Privileged Access Management, Network Security, Endpoint Security, Data Security, Intrusion Detection, Cloud Security, Zero Trust etc. ultimately relies and depends on Active Directory (and its security.)



In essence, today every organization in the world is only as secure as is its foundational Active Directory deployment, and from the CEO to the CISO to an organization's shareholders, employees and customers, everyone should know this cardinal fact.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

Its Time to Help Defend Organizations Worldwide

Folks,

I trust this finds you all doing well. It has been a few months since I last blogged - pardon the absence. I had to focus my energies on helping the world get some perspective, getting 007G ready for launch, and dealing with a certain nuisance.

Having successfully accomplished all three objectives, it is TIME to help defend organizations worldwide from the SPECTRE of potentially colossal compromise, which is a real cyber security risk that looms over 85% of organizations worldwide.


When you know as much as I do, care as much as I do, and possess as much capability as I do, you not only shoulder a great responsibility, you almost have an obligation to educate the whole world about cyber security risks that threaten their security.

So, even though I barely have any time to do this, in the interest of foundational cyber security worldwide, I'm going to start sharing a few valuable perspectives again, and do so, on this blog, that blog and the official PD blog (;see below.)


Speaking of which, earlier this week, I had the PRIVILEGE to launch the official PD blog -  https://blog.paramountdefenses.com


Stay tuned for some valuable cyber security insights right here from January 06, 2020
and let me take your leave with a befitting (and one of my favorite) song(s) -



Best wishes,
Sanjay.


PS: Just a month ago, the $ Billion Czech cyber security company Avast was substantially compromised, and guess what the perpetrators used to compromise them? They used the EXACT means I had clearly warned about TWO years ago, right here.


A Simple Trillion$ Cyber Security Question for the Entire RSA Conference

Folks,

This week, the famous RSA Conference 2019 is underway, where supposedly "The World Talks Security" -



If that's the case, let's talk -  I'd like to respectfully ask the entire RSA Conference just 1 simple cyber security question -

Question: What lies at the very foundation of cyber security and privileged access of not just the RSAs, EMCs, Dells, CyberArks, Gartners, Googles, Amazons, Facebooks and Microsofts of the world, but also at the foundation of virtually all cyber security and cloud companies and at the foundation of over 85% of organizations worldwide?

For those who may not know the answer to this ONE simple cyber security question, the answer's in line 1 here.



For those who may know the answer, and I sincerely hope that most of the world's CIOs, CISOs, Domain Admins, Cyber Security Analysts, Penetration Testers and Ethical Hackers know the answer, here are 4 simple follow-up questions -


  • Q 1.  Should your organization's foundational Active Directory be compromised, what could be its impact?
  • Q 2.  Would you agree that the (unintentional, intentional or coerced) compromise of a single Active Directory privileged user could result in the compromise of your organization's entire foundational Active Directory?
  • Q 3.  If so, then do you know that there is only one correct way to accurately identify/audit privileged users in your organization's foundational Active Directory, and do you possess the capability to correctly be able to do so?
  • Q 4.  If you don't, then how could you possibly know exactly how many privileged users there are in your organization's foundational Active Directory deployment today, and if you don't know so, ...OMG... ?!

You see, if even the world's top cyber security and cloud computing companies themselves don't know the answers to such simple, fundamental Kindergarten-level cyber security questions, how can we expect 85% of the world's organizations to know the answer, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, what's the point of all this fancy peripheral cyber security talk at such conferences when organizations don't even know how many (hundreds if not thousands of) people have the Keys to their Kingdom(s) ?!


Today Active Directory is at the very heart of Cyber Security and Privileged Access at over 85% of organizations worldwide, and if you can find me even ONE company at the prestigious RSA Conference 2019 that can help organizations accurately identify privileged users/access in 1000s of foundational Active Directory deployments worldwide, you'll have impressed me.


Those who truly understand Windows Security know that organizations can neither adequately secure their foundational Active Directory deployments nor accomplish any of these recent buzzword initiatives like Privileged Access Management, Privileged Account Discovery, Zero-Trust etc. without first being able to accurately identify privileged users in Active Directory.

Best wishes,
Sanjay


PS: Pardon the delay. I've been busy and haven't much time to blog since my last post on Cyber Security 101 for the C-Suite.

PS2: Microsoft, when were you planning to start educating the world about what's actually paramount to their cyber security?

Cyber Security 101 for the C-Suite – Active Directory Security is Paramount

Folks,

Today's post is for all executives worldwide who comprise the C-Suite at thousands of organizations worldwide.


I pen today's post with profound respect for all executives worldwide, because I understand first-hand just how important the nature of their responsibilities is, how valuable their time is, and how far-reaching the consequences of their decisions are.

A quick footnote for all C*Os : In case you're wondering who I am to be penning this, I'm former Microsoft Program Manager for Active Directory Security. Relevance? Microsoft's Active Directory is the foundation of your entire organization's cyber security. Finally, like you, I also happen to be the CEO of a $ Billion+ company.

Today's post is in the form of a simple letter, that follows (below.)

Thanks,
Sanjay


<Begin Letter>

Subject - Cyber Security 101 for the C-Suite


To: Chairmen, CEOs and CFOs Worldwide



Dear C*O,

Hi, I'm Sanjay, former Microsoft Program Manager for Active Directory Security, but more importantly a sincere well-wisher who cares deeply about cyber security, and who just happens to know a thing or two about the very technology that lies at the very foundation of cyber security of your ($ Billion to $ Trillion) organization, and those of 85% of all organizations worldwide.

I write to you to bring to your attention a matter of paramount importance to your organization's foundational security.



Context - Foundational Security

Today we all engage in business in what is essentially a global digital village, wherein just about just every aspect of business, whether it be production, marketing, sales, customer-service, collaboration, finance etc. etc. substantially relies on technology.


Within our respective organizations, it is our IT infrastructure that enables and empowers our workforce to engage in business.

For instance, we all (including us C*Os) log on to a computer every day, send and receive email, and create, share and access digital assets (e.g. documents, applications, services etc.) all of which are securely stored on our organizational computers.

It is only logical then that ensuring the security of the very IT infrastructure that enables and empowers our entire workforce to engage in business digitally, and the security of our digital assets is vital. In other words, cyber security is very important.

Now, if I told you that at the very foundation of your entire IT infrastructure, and consequently at the very foundation of the security of all your digital assets lay a single high-value asset, then I think you'd agree that its security would be paramount.

At the very foundation of your organization's IT infrastructure and that of its cyber security, and by corollary the cyber security of the entirety of all your digital assets (e.g. thousands of computers, thousands of employee user accounts and passwords, every single organizational email sent and received every minute of every day, all your applications, services, Intranet portals, Internet facing applications etc.) as well as the entirety of your organization's data, lies a single technology - Microsoft Active Directory.


Most simply put, Active Directory is the database that contains, stores and protects the entirety of your organization's building blocks of cyber security - each one of thousands of user accounts and their passwords, each one of thousands of computer accounts (for all laptops, desktops, servers etc.), each one of thousands of security groups that protect all your data etc. etc.

If your organization's Active Directory were compromised, everything would immediately be exposed to the risk of compromise.

Thus as you'll hopefully agree, ensuring the security of your organization's foundational Active Directory is well, paramount.



A Provable Concern - Inadequate Protection

Now, you might most likely be thinking - Well, if that's the case, I'm sure that our CIO, our CISO and their world-class IT and Cyber Security teams know all this, and have it adequately taken care of, so why should I be concerned ?


Here's why you should be concerned - In all likelihood, not only may your world-class IT and Cyber Security teams not have this adequately covered, they may have yet to realize just how very important, and in fact paramount Active Directory security is.

Further, they likely may not know what it actually takes to adequately secure your organization's  foundational Active Directory.

Now, as incredulous as that may sound, you have to trust me on this, not because I'm asking you to do so as a concerned well-wisher, but because I'm asking you to do so as arguably the world's #1 subject matter expert on Active Directory Security.

You see, prior to doing what I currently do, I was Microsoft's subject matter expert for Active Directory Security on Microsoft's Windows Server Development team. In case you're curious as to what I do currently do with all this knowledge, well, its this.

As the world's leading subject matter expert on Active Directory Security, I would highly encourage you to ask your IT and Cyber Security leadership, specifically your CIO and your CISO, just how secure they think your organization's Active Directory is.



Simple Proof - You Just Have to Ask

When you ask them about it, please do request specific answers, and here are 7 simple questions you can ask them, the answers to which will give you an indication of just how secure your organization's Active Directory actually is today -


  1. Is the security of our foundational Active Directory deployment a top cyber security priority today?

  2. Do we know exactly what the Top-5 security risks to our foundational Active Directory are?

  3. Do our Active Directory Admins know what Active Directory Effective Permissions are?

  4. Do we know exactly who possesses what level of privileged access in our Active Directory?

  5. Do we know exactly who can control/manage each one of our Active Directory privileged accounts and groups?

  6. Do we know exactly who can run Mimikatz DCSync against our Active Directory today?

  7. Can you tell me exactly who can reset my domain user account's password to then be able to login as me?

I could suggest 50 such elemental cyber security questions, but for now these 7 simple, precise questions will suffice as there are only 2 possibilities here - either your IT and cyber security leadership have exact answers to these questions, or they don't.


If they can't give you exact answers to these questions, your organization's Active Directory is not secure - its as simple as that.


They might tell you that this is complicated or that they have a good approximation, or that this is very difficult to do, or that they have many other latest buzzword measures like Active Directory Auditing, Privileged Access Management, ATA, Just-in-Time Administration etc. in place, but none of that matters, because the truth is simple - they either have exact answers, or they don't.

(These questions are paramount to cyber security, and today there exists technology that can enable every organization in the world to answer them precisely, but because Microsoft likely forgot to adequately educate its customers, your IT personnel may likely not even know the importance of these paramount questions, let alone knowing what it takes to correctly answer them.)

If a $Billion+ organization doesn't even know exactly who has what privileged access in their Active Directory, as well as exactly who can manage each one of their privileged accounts and groups, how could their Active Directory possibly be secure?

If an organization's foundational Active Directory is not secure, how can the entirety of the organization's digital (IT) assets be secure, and if that's not case, how could an organization possibly be considered secure from a cyber security perspective?



Driving Change

As a member of the C-Suite, you not only have the privilege of being able to impact vital change in your organization, you also have the responsibility and the authority to demand and ensure the cyber security of the very foundation of your organization.


As a C*O, one of the most important responsibilities you shoulder is ensuring that your organization is secure, and ensuring that the very foundation of your organization's IT infrastructure and cyber security are always adequately protected, is paramount.




The Likely Reason (Optional Reading)

Here's the likely reason for why such a common-sense yet paramount matter may not be on your CIO's and CISO's radar yet.

You see, your CIO and CISO shoulder great responsibility. Unfortunately, amongst many other things, they're likely also being guided by inputs from a 1000 cyber security companies, who unfortunately may not be the best source of objective guidance.

For instance, consider CyberArk, a highly respected $ Billion+ cyber security company, that claims that over 50% of the Fortune 100's CISOs rely on them. As a subject matter expert, I can tell you that CyberArk itself may not know how to correctly assess privileged access in an Active Directory, so you see, unfortunately your CIO and CISO may not be getting the best guidance.

CyberArk is absolutely correct that "Privilege is Everywhere." However, those who know Windows Security will tell you that in a Windows network powered by Active Directory, the majority of all privileged access (delegated & unrestricted) lies inside Active Directory, but CyberArk doesn't seem to have the capability to correctly audit privileged access inside Active Directory.


The majority of all Privileged Access,including the "Keys to the Kingdom", resides inside Active Directory

CyberArk isn't alone. As unbelievable as it may sound, today even Microsoft doesn't seem to know what it takes to do so, let alone possessing the capability to help its customers correctly do so. In fact, most of the world's top IT Consulting, Audit, Cloud and Cyber Security companies also operate on Active Directory, and they too likely have neither a clue nor the capability to accurately determine exactly who has what privileged access in their own foundational Active Directory deployments.

You may find this hard to believe, but of the 1000+ cyber security companies exhibiting or presenting at the upcoming RSA Conference 2019, not a single one of them can help your organization's IT personnel fulfill such a fundamental yet paramount cyber security need - finding out exactly who has what privileged access in your organization's foundational Active Directory.

In their defense, I'll say this - if it were easy, they would've all done it by now. Unfortunately, as paramount as it is, its not easy.

Thus, I know what your CIO and CISO may perhaps not yet know, or understand the paramount importance of, which is that of all the things that need to be secured, none could possibly be more important than securing your organization's foundational Active Directory, so I thought I'd share this with you, because as a member of the C-Suite, you could provide them strategic guidance and the executive support that their teams need to accomplish this paramount objective for your organization.



In Conclusion

I only wrote this letter because we're all in this together, and I care deeply about foundational cyber security, as hopefully do you, and I felt that I could perhaps help bridge the gap between those tasked with the great responsibility of securing Active Directory (i.e. your IT personnel) and those whose executive support they need to be able to do so (i.e. you, the C-Suite.)

If any of what I shared above made sense, I would encourage you to embrace my suggestions earnestly, and act upon them, and if needed, I can prove and demonstrate every thing I've shared above, and you should feel free to take me up on this.

As for myself, all I can say is that today my work and knowledge silently help secure and defend so many of the world's most important organizations across six continents worldwide.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,
Sanjay Tandon.

Chairman and CEO,
Paramount Defenses



PS: Please know that I am also doing my bit to help Microsoft and the World better Understand Active Directory Security



<End Letter>

Happy Birthday, Bill Gates!

Dear Bill,

Here's wishing you Sir, likely the most successful and influential person of not just our time, but of all time, a very Happy B'day!

Photo source and attirbution: https://mobile.twitter.com/BillGates/photo

Most of the world knows you as the Founder of Microsoft, a great philanthropist, and the world's wealthiest* person.


Based on my personal experience, I however know you to be someone who truly exemplifies the very words I strive to live by, and ideally, that we should all strive to live by, because in the grand scheme of things, we are all here for relatively little time.


Deep Gratitude for Mr. Gates

If I may, I'd like to share from my personal experience, a very small example of Mr. Gates thoughtfulness, humility and kindness.

One day back in 2004, when I was a Microsoft employee, I got a call from the Reception of Building 33, the Executive Building at Microsoft, and I was asked to come and pick something up - when I reached there, the kind lady at the reception gave me a package and said that "Bill left this for you, as he's unfortunately out of town today," and in it was a note written by Bill himself - "To Sanjay, Happy Birthday, Bill Gates" ( here.) (BTW, this is not customary at all at Microsoft; in fact, it was an absolute rarity.)

I couldn't believe it. Bill Gates, our CEO, and the world's most successful and wealthiest person, made and took the time to wish me Happy B'day, and since he was going to be out of town, he was thoughtful enough to have it be given to me on my b'day!

Since that day, for the last fourteen years I've been working tirelessly to be able to express my profound respect and gratitude to Mr. Gates, and it is for the first time, that I feel I've done my bit to be able to thank him, not just in words, but in global IMPACT.


Mr. Gates, it is your greatness, kindness and humility that inspired me to conquer proverbial mountains as I persevered against all odds to ultimately build and deliver a paramount capability needed to secure and defend the very foundation of cyber security of and across Microsoft's global organizational customer base i.e. your one little act of kindness, led to and inspired THIS.



Birthday Wishes

Mr. Gates, today, you're wished profound joy and excellent health, but above all, you're wished that which is a rarity today, and that which sometimes even all the money in the world can't buy - True Peace of Mind and Happiness in the Simplest of Things!


BillG, I thank you for the incredible human being you are, and wish you a truly wonderful year ahead.

Namaste,
Sanjay.


PS: I occasionally come across monetarily wealthy people, you know, little multi-millionaires and billionaires, and some of them exude such arrogance, that I feel like telling them that there are people out there (e.g. you) who could buy all their wealth out a hundred times over, so how about a little humility?! :-) In stark contrast, I visited the Gates Foundation website today, and it was so incredibly refreshing to see it unequivocally communicate that All Lives Have Equal Value!  You Sir, command my respect.

What Lies at the Foundation of Organizational Cyber Security Worldwide?

Folks,

In days to come, I'm going to answer both, the most important, and the second most important question in all of Cyber Security

Today though, I just wanted to ask a simple (rhetorical) cyber security question, so that CEOs, CIOs, CISOs and IT Directors at organizations worldwide realize just what lies at the very foundation of the cyber security of their multi-billion $ organizations.

Microsoft Active Directory

Today, at the very foundation of organizational cyber security worldwide, lie their foundational Active Directory deployments.

Consequently, it logically follows that all organizations that operate on Microsoft Active Directory are only as secure as are their foundational Active Directory deployments. After all, no matter how tall, every skyscraper is only as strong as its foundation.

In days to come, I'll share with you just how secure foundational Active Directory deployments are worldwide today - right here.

Best wishes,
Sanjay

A Very Simple Trillion $ Cyber Security Multiple-Choice Question

Folks,

In days to come, I'll be helping organizations worldwide understand what constitutes a privileged user in Active Directory, how to correctly audit privileged access in Active Directory, and what the world's most important Active Directory security capability is.

Today though, I just wanted to ask a very simple and elemental cyber security multiple-choice question, so here it is -


Q. What are the minimum Active Directory Security Permissions that a perpetrator needs to be able to successfully run Mimikatz DCSync against an organization's foundational Active Directory deployment?

Is it -
A. The "Get Replication Changes" Extended Right 
B. The "Get Replication Changes All" Extended Right 
C. Both A and B above 
D. Something else

I already know the answer to this simple question. I'm only asking because I believe that today every Domain Admin and every CISO at every organization that operates on Active Directory MUST know the answer to this question, and here's why.

You may be surprised if I were to share with you just how many Domain Admins and CISOs (at so many of the world's most prominent organizations) don't know even seem to know what Mimikatz DCSync is, let alone knowing the answer!

If you know the answer to this question, and care to share, please feel free to share it by leaving a comment below.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

Time to Ignite An Intellectual Spark at Microsoft Ignite 2018!

Folks,

This week, thousands of IT professionals, managers, CISOs and CIOs are in Orlando, attending, well, Microsoft Ignite 2018 !

Image Courtesy Microsoft. Source: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ignite

Now, according to Microsoft's website, Microsoft Ignite has SOLD OUTGreat!  There are 900+ sessions, 100+ instructor-led technology workshops, 60+ Microsoft Immersion workshops, and 50+ hands-on labs with access to expert proctors!


Did I mention that of course, Microsoft's very own experts are also going to be there, and collectively, they covered numerous vital areas such as Securing the Enterprise, Simplified IT Management, Identity‚ Access & Compliance, Enterprise Security etc.


So, with over 1000 sessions, 1000s of attendees, access to "expert proctors", and 100s of Microsoft's very own IT experts, THERE MUST BE AT LEAST ONE PERSON AT MICROSOFT IGNITE who could answer A very SIMPLE QUESTION -


       Question - What's The World's Most Important Active Directory Security Capability?



Now, in case you're wondering why anyone and in fact everyone attending Microsoft Ignite should care about this question, its because in a Microsoft Windows Server based IT Infrastructure, NOT A SINGLE ONE of the numerous vital areas listed above i.e. Securing the Enterprise, Simplified IT Management, Identity‚ Access & Compliance, Enterprise Security etc. etc. can be adequately addressed without FIRST ENSURING THE SECURITY of their foundational Active Directory deployments!


Guess what?!  I'm willing to bet that 99% of experts (let alone attendees) at Microsoft Ignite don't have a clue as to the answer!


Unbelievable, haan?! So much so for a US $ 800 Billion company's  "Sold Out"  IT Conference, where 100s of world renowned IT experts, including Microsoft's finest, were presenting, and where 1000s of IT professionals (including Domain Admins of most Fortune 100 companies) were attending, yet no one likely knows the answer to this most basic of Windows Security questions!


Er, what's that millennial lingo again? Ah yes,  OMG  LOL ROFL !

Doesn't anyone RTM today?  (They don't, and here's likely why.)


On a serious note, if anyone attending Microsoft Ignite 2018 (including Microsoft's own experts) knows the answer to this 1 question, be my guest and answer the question by leaving a comment at the end of that blog post, and you'll earn my respect.


If you don't know the answer, I highly recommend reading, one, two and three, because without knowing the answer to this 1 question (and without possessing this capability,) you cannot secure anything in an Active Directory based Windows network.


Best wishes,
Sanjay

Pardon the Absence, and Get Ready!

Folks,

Hello again. I trust this finds you all doing well. It has been a few weeks since I last blogged. I hope you'll pardon my absence.

Yes I was supposed to answer a rather important question, in fact, possibly the world's most important cyber security question, for the whole world, back in July, but I had to postpone doing so, for a few good reasons, which I may reveal in days to come.

Let's just say that amongst other things (e.g. a rather interesting trip across the Atlantic), I was working on finalising a project that directly impacts cyber security worldwide today, you know, the kind of stuff that even James Bond doesn't have yet!



By the way, speaking of Mr. Bond, as you probably know, I'm a huge fan, so thought I'd share a catchy tune with you -



Oh, that project I was working is almost over (i.e. RC1), so its time for me to get back to blogging, and...     … well, get ready!

Best wishes,
Sanjay

Happy 4th of July!

Folks,

Here's wishing you all a very Happy Fourth of July!  Hope you have a great one!


I was supposed to answer a certain question today, but I decided to take the day off, so I'll answer it in days to come.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

Mimikatz DCSync Mitigation

Folks,

A few days ago I asked a (seemingly) very simple question ; no I'm not referring to this one, I'm referring to this one here  -

Can Anyone (i.e. any Cyber Security Company or Expert) Help Thousands of Microsoft's Customers MITIGATE the Risk Posed by Mimikatz DCSync?

Here's why I did so - While there's a lot of info out there on the WWW about how to use Mimikatz DCSync, and/or how to detect its use, there isn't one other* single correct piece of guidance out there on how to mitigate the risk posed by Mimkatz DCSync.

So, as promised, today I am (literally) going to show you exactly how thousands of organizations worldwide can now easily and demonstrably actually mitigate the very serious cyber security risk posed to their foundational security by Mimikatz DCSync.


In light of what I've shared below, organizations worldwide can now easily mitigate the serious risk posed by Mimikatz DCSync.




First, A Quick Overview

For those who may not know, and there are millions who don't, there are three quick things to know about Mimikatz DCSync.


Mimikatz DCSync, a Windows security tool, is the creation of the brilliant technical expertise of Mr. Benjamin Delpy, whose work over the years has very likely (caused Microsoft a lot of pain ;-) but/and) helped substantially enhance Windows Security.

Mimikatz DCSync targets an organization's foundational Active Directory domains, and instantly gives any attacker who has sufficient privileges to be able to replicate sensitive content from Active Directory, access to literally everyone's credentials!

Thus far, the only guidance out there is on how to DETECT its use, but this is one of those situations wherein if you're having to rely on detection as a security measure, then its unfortunately already TOO late, because the damage has already been done.



Detection Is Hardly Sufficient

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, so perhaps I'll paint a picture for you. Relying on detection as a security measure against Mimikatz DCSync is akin to this -

Castle romeo2

Lets say a nuclear weapon just detonated in a city, and the moment it did, detection sensors alerted the city officials about the detonation. Well, within the few seconds in which they received the alert, the whole city would've already been obliterated i.e. by the time you get the alert, literally everyone's credentials (including of all privileged users) would've already been compromised!

Make not mistake about it - a single successful use of Mimikatz DCSync against an organization's foundational Active Directory domain is tantamount to a complete forest-wide compromise, and should be considered a massive organizational cyber security breach, the only way to recover from which is to completely rebuild the entire Active Directory forest from the ground up!

This is why detection is grossly insufficient as a security measure, and what organizations need is the ability to prevent the use of Mimikatz DCSync's against their foundational Active Directory domains & thus the ability to mitigate this risk is paramount.



How to Mitigate Mimikatz DCSync

The key to mitigating this risk lies in identifying what it technically takes to be able to successfully use Mimikatz DCSync.

Specifically, if you know exactly what privileges an attacker needs to be able to successfully use Mimikatz DCSync against your Active Directory domain, then by ensuring that only highly-trustworthy, authorized individuals (and not a single other individual) actually currently possess those required privileges in your IT infrastructure, you can easily mitigate this risk.


Technically speaking, all that an attacker needs to successfully use Mimikatz DCSync is sufficient Get Replication Changes All effective permissions on the domain root object of an Active Directory domain, so all that organizations need to do is accurately identify exactly who has these effective permissions on the domain root object of each of their Active Directory domains.

While by default only the default administrative Active Directory security groups are granted this permission, since most Active Directory deployments have been around for years, and have likely gone through a substantial amount of access provisioning, in most Active Directory, a lot many more individuals than merely the members of the default AD admin groups may likely have this highly sensitive effective permission granted to them, either directly or via group membership, some of which may be direct, whilst others may be via nested group memberships, resulting in a potentially large and unknown attack surface today.

Now, it is paramount to understand ONE subtle but profound difference here - it is NOT who has what permissions on the domain root that matters, but who has what effective permissions on the domain root that matters, and this difference could be the difference between a $100 B organization being completely compromised or being completely protected from compromise.



The Key - Active Directory Effective Permissions

If you've followed what I've shared above, then you'll agree and understand that the key to being able to successfully mitigate the serious risk posed by Mimikatz DCSync lies in being able to accurately determine effective permissions in Active Directory.



In fact Effective Permissions are so important, essential and fundamental to Windows and Active Directory Security, that of the four tabs in all of Microsoft's Active Directory Management Tooling, one entire tab is dedicated to Effective Permissions.

Unfortunately, it turns out that not only is Microsoft's native Effective Permissions Tab not always accurate, it is substantially inadequate, and while I could elaborate on that, I'd rather let you come to the same conclusion yourself, and this ONE glaring inadequacy will be self-evident the moment you attempt to use it to try and find out exactly whom amongst the thousands of domain user account holders in your Active Directory domain(s), actually has the required effective permissions. In fact, the same is true of all tools/scripts that involve the use of Microsoft's APIs to do so, such as this dangerously inaccurate free tool.

Fortunately, in a world whose population is 7,000,000,000+ today, thanks to one (1) inconsequential individual, there's hope...



Finally, How to Easily and Reliably Mitigate the Risk Posed by Mimikatz DCSync

Here's a very short (and perhaps boring but insightful) video on how organizations worldwide can reliably mitigate this risk -


Note: This is NOT intended to demonstrate our unique tooling. It is solely intended to show what it takes to mitigate this serious risk. We have no particular interest in licensing our unique tooling to anyone. As such, over the years, we have NEVER, not once pitched our tooling to anyone; we've had almost 10,000 organizations worldwide knock at our doors completely unsolicited, so I hope that makes this point unequivocally.

Thus, as seen in the short video above, with the right guidance (knowledge) and capability (tooling), organizations worldwide can now easily and reliably mitigate the serious cyber security risk posed by Mimikatz DCSync to their foundational security.

Complete, illustrated, step-by-step details on how to easily and correctly mitigate Mimikatz DCSync can now be found here.


I'll say this one last time - a single successful use of Mimikatz DCSync against an organization's foundational Active Directory is tantamount to a forest-wide compromise and constitutes a massive cyber security breach, which is why mitigation is paramount.

Best wishes,
Sanjay


PS: *Here are 4 posts I've previously penned on Mimikatz DCSync - a summary, technical details, a scenario and the question.

PS2: In days to come, I'll answer this question too.

WHAT is the ONE Essential Cyber Security Capability WITHOUT which NOT a single Active Directory object or domain can be adequately secured?


Folks,

Hello again. Today onwards, as I had promised, it is finally TIME for us to help SAFEGUARD Microsoft's Global Ecosystem.


Before I share how we uniquely do so, or answer this paramount question, or ask more such ones, I thought I'd ask likely the most important question that today DIRECTLY impacts the foundational cyber security of 1000s of organizations worldwide.



Here It Is -
What Is the 1 Essential Cyber Security Capability Without Which NOT a single Active Directory object, domain, forest or deployment can be adequately secured?



A Hint

I'll give you a hint. It controls exactly who is denied and who is granted access to literally everything within Active Directory.


In fact, it comes into play every time anyone accesses anything in any Active Directory domain in any organization worldwide.




Make No Mistake

Make no mistake about it - one simply CANNOT adequately protect anything in any Active Directory WITHOUT possessing this ONE capability, and thus one simply cannot protect the very foundation of an organization's cyber security without possessing this ONE paramount cyber security capability. It unequivocally is as remarkably simple, elemental and fundamental as this.



Only 2 Kinds of Organizations

Thus, today there are only two kinds of organizations worldwide - those that possess this paramount cyber security capability, and those that don't. Those that don't possess this essential capability do not have the means to, and thus cannot adequately protect, their foundational Active Directory deployments, and thus by logic are provably and demonstrably insecure.


If you know the answer, feel free to leave a comment below.
I'll answer this question right here, likely on July 04, 2018.

Best,
Sanjay

Alarming! : Windows Update Automatically Downloaded and Installed an Untrusted Self-Signed Kernel-mode Lenovo Driver on New Surface Device

Folks,

Given what it is I do, I don't squander a minute of precious time, unless something is very important, and this is very important.


Let me explain why this is so alarming, concerning and so important to cyber security, and why at many organizations (e.g. U.S. Govt., Paramount Defenses etc.), this could've either possibly resulted in, or in itself, be considered a cyber security breach.

Disclaimer: I'm not making any value judgment about Lenovo ; I'm merely basing this on what's already been said.


As you know, Microsoft's been brazenly leaving billions of people and thousands of organizations worldwide with no real choice but to upgrade to their latest operating system, Windows 10, which albeit is far from perfect, is much better than Windows Vista, Windows 8 etc., even though Windows 10's default settings could be considered an egregious affront to Privacy.

Consequently, at Paramount Defenses, we too felt that perhaps it was time to consider moving on to Windows 10, so we too figured we'd refresh our workforce's PCs. Now, of the major choices available from amongst several reputable PC vendors out there, Microsoft's Surface was one of the top trustworthy contenders, considering that the entirety of the hardware and software was from the same vendor (, and one that was decently trustworthy (considering that most of the world is running their operating system,)) and that there seemed to be no* pre-installed drivers or software that may have been written in China, Russia etc.

Side-note: Based on information available in the public domain, in all likelihood, software written in / maintained from within Russia, may still likely be running as System on Domain Controllers within the U.S. Government.

In particular, regardless of its respected heritage, for us, Lenovo wasn't  an option, since it is partly owned by the Chinese Govt.

So we decided to consider evaluating Microsoft Surface devices and thus purchased a couple of brand-new Microsoft Surface devices from our local Microsoft Store for an initial PoC, and I decided to personally test-drive one of them -

Microsoft Surface



The very first thing we did after unsealing them, walking through the initial setup and locking down Windows 10's unacceptable default privacy settings, was to connect it to the Internet over a secure channel, and perform a Windows Update.

I should mention that there was no other device attached to this Microsoft Surface, except for a Microsoft Signature Type Cover, and in particular there were no mice of any kind, attached to this new Microsoft surface device, whether via USB or Bluetooth.


Now, you're not going to believe what happened within minutes of having clicked the Check for Updates button!



Windows Update
Downloaded and Installed an Untrusted
Self-Signed Lenovo Device Driver on Microsoft Surface! -

Within minutes, Windows Update automatically downloaded and had installed, amongst other packages (notably Surface Firmware,) an untrusted self-signed Kernel-mode device-driver, purportedly Lenovo - Keyboard, Other hardware - Lenovo Optical Mouse (HID), on this brand-new Microsoft Surface device, i.e. one signed with an untrusted WDK Test Certificate!

Here's a snapshot of Windows Update indicating that it had successfully downloaded and installed a Lenovo driver on this Surface device, and it specifically states "Lenovo - Keyboard, Other hardware - Lenovo Optical Mouse (HID)" -


We couldn't quite believe this.

How could this be possible? i.e. how could a Lenovo driver have been installed on a Microsoft  Surface device?

So we checked the Windows Update Log, and sure enough, as seen in the snapshot below, the Windows Update Log too confirmed that Windows Update had just downloaded and installed a Lenovo driver -


We wondered if there might have been any Lenovo hardware components installed on the Surface so we checked the Device Manager, and we could not find a single device that seemed to indicate the presence of any Lenovo hardware. (Later, we even took it back to the Microsoft Store, and their skilled tech personnel confirmed the same finding i.e. no Lenovo hardware on it.)

Specifically, as you can see below, we again checked the Device Manager, this time to see if it might indicate the presence of any Lenovo HID, such as a Lenovo Optical Mouse, and as you can see in the snapshot below, the only two Mice and other pointing devices installed on the system were from Microsoft - i.e. no Lenovo mouse presence indicated by Device Manager -



Next, we performed a keyword search of the Registry, and came across a suspicious Driver Package, as seen below -


It seemed suspicious to us because as can be seen in the snapshot above, all of the other legitimate driver package keys in the Registry had (as they should) three child sub-keys i.e. Configurations, Descriptors and Strings, but this specific one only had one subkey titled Properties, and when we tried to open it, we received an Access Denied message!

As you can see above, it seemed to indicate that the provider was Lenovo and that the INF file name was phidmou.inf, and the OEM path was "C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download\Install", so we looked at the file system but this path didn't seem to exist on the file-system. So we performed a simple file-system search "dir /s phidmou.*" and as seen in the snapshot below, we found one instance of such a file, located in C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\.

Here's that exact location on the file-system, and as evidenced by the Created date and time for that folder, one can see that this folder (and thus all of its contents), were created on April 01, 2018 at around 1:50 am, which is just around the time the Windows Update log too confirmed that it had installed the Lenovo Driver -



When we opened that location, we found thirteen items, including six drivers -


Next, we checked the Digital Signature on one of the drivers, PELMOUSE.SYS, and we found that it was signed using a self-signed test Windows Driver certificate, i.e. the .sys files were SELF-SIGNED by a WDKTestCert and their digital signatures were NOT OK, in that they terminated in a root certificate that is not trusted by the trust provider -


Finally, when we clicked on the View Certificate button, as can be seen below, we could see that this driver was in fact merely signed by a test certificate, which is only supposed to be used for testing purposes during the creation and development of Kernel-mode drivers. Quoting from Microsoft's documentation on Driver Testing "However, eventually it will become necessary to test-sign your driver during its development, and ultimately release-sign your driver before publishing it to users." -


Clearly, the certificate seen above is NOT one that is intended to be used for release signing, yet, here we have a Kernel-mode driver downloaded by Windows Update and installed on a brand new Microsoft surface, and all its signed by is a test certificate, and who knows who wrote this driver!

Again, per Microsoft's guidelines on driver signing, which can also be found here, "After completing test signing and verifying that the driver is ready for release, the driver package has to be release signed", and AFAIK, release signing not only requires the signer to obtain and use a code-signing certificate from a code-signing CA, it also requires a cross cert issued by Microsoft.

If that is indeed the case, then a Kernel-mode driver that is not signed with a valid code-signing certificate, and one whose digital signature does not contain Microsoft's cross cert, should not even be accepted into the Windows Update catalog.

It is thus hard to believe that a Windows Kernel-Mode Driver that is merely self-signed using a test certificate would even make it into the Windows Update catalog, and further it seems that in this case, not only did it make it in, it was downloaded, and in fact successfully installed onto a system, which clearly seems highly suspicious, and is fact alarming and deeply-concerning!

How could this be? How could Windows Update (a trusted system process of the operating system), which we all (have no choice but to) trust (and have to do so blindly and completely) have itself installed an untrusted self-signed Lenovo driver (i.e. code running in Kernel-Mode) on a Microsoft Surface device?

Frankly, since this piece of software was signed using a self-signed test cert, who's to say this was even a real Lenovo driver? It could very well be some malicious code purporting to be a Lenovo driver. Or, there is also the remote possibility that it could be a legitimate Lenovo driver, that is self-signed, but if that is the case, its installation should not have been allowed to succeed.



Unacceptable and Deeply Concerning

To us, this is unacceptable, alarming and deeply concerning, and here's why.


We just had, on a device we consider trustworthy (, and could possibly have engaged in business on,) procured from a vendor we consider trustworthy (considering that the entire world's cyber security ultimately depends on them), an unknown, unsigned piece of software of Chinese origin that is now running in Kernel-mode, installed on the device, by this device's vendor's (i.e. Microsoft's) own product (Windows operating system's) update program!

We have not had an opportunity to analyze this code, but if it is indeed malicious in any way, in effect, it would've, unbeknownst to us and for no fault of ours, granted System-level control over a trusted device within our perimeter, to some entity in China.

How much damage could that have caused? Well, suffice it to say that, for they who know Windows Security well, if this was indeed malicious, it would've been sufficient to potentially compromise any organization within which this potentially suspect and malicious package may have been auto-installed by Windows update. (I've elaborated a bit on this below.)

In the simplest scenario, if a company's Domain Admins had been using this device, it would've been Game Over right there!

This leads me to the next question - we can't help but wonder how many such identical Surface devices exist out there today, perhaps at 1000s of organizations, on which this suspicious unsigned Lenovo driver may have been downloaded and installed?

This also leads me to another very important question - Just how much trust can we, the world, impose in Windows Update?

In our case, it just so happened to be, that we happened to be in front of this device during this Windows update process, and that's how we noticed this, and by the way, after it was done, it gave the familiar Your device is upto date message.

Speaking which, here's another equally important question - For all organizations that are using Windows Surface, and may be using it for mission-critical or sensitive purposes (e.g. AD administration), what is the guarantee that this won't happen again?

I ask because if you understand cyber security, then you know, that it ONLY takes ONE instance of ONE malicious piece of software to be installed on a system, to compromise the security of that system, and if that system was a highly-trusted internal system (e.g. that machine's domain computer account had the "Trusted for Unconstrained Delegation" bit set), then this could very likely also aid perpetrators in ultimately gaining complete command and control of the entire IT infrastructure. As I have already alluded to above, if by chance the target/compromised computer was one that was being used by an Active Directory Privileged User, then, it would be tantamount to Game Over right then and there!

Think about it - this could have happened at any organization, from say the U.S. Government to the British Government, or from say a Goldman Sachs to a Palantir, or say from a stock-exchange to an airline, or say at a clandestine national security agency to say at a nuclear reactor, or even Microsoft itself. In short, for absolutely no fault of theirs, an organization could potentially have been breached by a likely malicious piece of software that the operating system's own update utility had downloaded and installed on the System, and in 99% of situations, because hardly anyone checks what gets installed by Windows Update (now that we have to download and install a whopping 600MB patch every Tuesday), this would likely have gone unnoticed!

Again, to be perfectly clear, I'm not saying that a provably malicious piece of software was in fact downloaded and installed on a Microsoft Surface device by Windows Update. What I'm saying is that a highly suspicious piece of software, one that was built and intended to run in Kernel-mode and yet was merely signed with a test certificate, somehow was automatically downloaded and installed on a Microsoft Surface device, and that to us is deeply concerning, because in essence, if this could happen, then even at organizations that may be spending millions on cyber security, a single such piece of software quietly making its way in through such a trusted channel, could possibly instantly render their entire multi-million dollar cyber security apparatus useless, and jeopardize the security of the entire organization, and this could happen at thousands of organizations worldwide.

With full respect to Microsoft and Mr. Nadella, this is deeply concerning and unacceptable, and I'd like some assurance, as I'm sure would 1000s of other CEOs and CISOs, that this will never happen again, on any Surface device, in any organization.

In our case, this was very important, because had we put that brand new Surface device that we procured from none other than the Microsoft Store, into operation (even it we had re-imaged it with an ultra-secure locked-down internal image), from minute one, post the initial Windows update, we would likely have had a potentially compromised device running within our internal network, and it could perhaps have led to us being breached.



If I Were Microsoft, I'd Send a Plane

Dear Microsoft, we immediately quarantined that Microsoft Surface device, and we have it in our possession.


If I were you, I'd send a plane to get it picked up ASAP, so you can thoroughly investigate every little aspect of this to figure out how this possibly happened, and get to the bottom of it! (Petty process note: The Microsoft Store let us keep the device for a bit longer, but will not let us return the device past June 24, and the only reason we've kept it, is in case you'd want to analyze it.)

Here's why. At the very least, if I were still at Microsoft, and in charge of Cyber Security -
  1. I'd want to know how an untrusted Kernel-mode device driver made it into the Windows Catalog
  2. I'd want to know why a Microsoft Surface device downloaded a purportedly Lenovo driver
  3. I'd want to know how Windows 10 permitted and in fact itself installed an untrusted driver
  4. I'd want to know exactly which SKUs of Microsoft Surface this may have happened on
  5. I'd want to know exactly how many such Microsoft Surface devices out there may have downloaded this package 

Further, and as such, considering that Microsoft Corp itself may easily have thousands of Surface devices being used within Microsoft itself, if I were still with Microsoft CorpSec, I'd certainly want to know how many of their own Surface devices may have automatically downloaded and installed this highly suspicious piece of untrusted self-signed software.


In short, Microsoft, if you care as deeply about cyber security as you say you do, and by that I'm referring to what Mr. Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, recently said (see video below: 0:40 - 0:44) and I quote "we spend over a billion dollars of R&D each year, in building security into our mainstream products", then you'll want to get to the bottom of this, because other than the Cloud, what else could be a more mainstream product for Microsoft today than, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Surface ?! -



Also, speaking of Microsoft's ecosystem, it indeed is time to help safeguard Microsoft's global ecosystem. (But I digress,)



In Conclusion

Folks, the only reason I decided to publicly share this is because I care deeply about cyber security, and I believe that this could potentially have impacted the foundational cyber security of any, and potentially, of thousands of organizations worldwide.


Hopefully, as you'll agree, a trusted component (i.e. Windows Update) of an operating system that virtually the whole world will soon be running on (i.e. Windows 10), should not be downloading and installing a piece of software that runs in Kernel-mode, when that piece of software isn't even digitally signed by a valid digital certificate, because if that piece of software happened to be malicious, then in doing so, it could likely, automatically, and for no fault of its users, instantly compromise the cyber security of possibly thousands of organizations worldwide. This is really as simple, as fundamental and as concerning, as that. 

All in all, the Microsoft Surface is an incredible device, and because, like Apple's computers, the entire hardware and software is in control of a single vendor, Microsoft has a huge opportunity to deliver a trustworthy computing device to the world, and we'd love to embrace it. Thus, it is vital for Microsoft to ensure that its other components (e.g. Update) do not let the security of its mainstream products down, because per the Principle of Weakest Link, "a system is only as secure as is its weakest link."


By the way, I happen to be former Microsoft Program Manager for Active Directory Security, and I care deeply for Microsoft.

For those may not know what Active Directory Security is (i.e. most CEOs, a few CISOs, and most employees and citizens,) suffice it to say that global security may depend on Active Directory Security, and thus may be a matter of paramount defenses.

Most respectfully,
Sanjay


PS: Full Disclosure: I had also immediately brought this matter to the attention of the Microsoft Store. They escalated it to Tier-3 support (based out of New Delhi, India), who then asked me to use the Windows Feedback utility to share the relevant evidence with Microsoft, which I immediately and dutifully did, but/and I never heard back from anyone at Microsoft in this regard again.

PS2: Another small request to Microsoft - Dear Microsoft, while at it, could you please also educate your global customer base about the paramount importance of Active Directory Effective Permissions, which is the ONE capability without which not a single object in any Active Directory deployment can be adequately secured! Considering that Active Directory is the foundation of cyber security of over 85% of all organizations worldwide, this is important. Over the last few years, we've had almost 10,000 organizations from 150+ countries knock at our doors, and virtually none of them seem to know this most basic and cardinal fact of Windows Security. I couldn't begin to tell you how shocking it is for us to learn that most Domain Admins and many CISOs out there don't have a clue. Can you imagine just how insecure and vulnerable an organization whose Domain Admins don't even know what Active Directory Effective Permissions are, let alone possessing this paramount capability, could be today?

2017 – The Year The World Realized the Value of Active Directory Security

Folks,

As we get ready to bid farewell to 2017, it may be fitting to recap notable happenings in Active Directory Security this year.

This appears to have been the year in which the mainstream Cyber Security community finally seems to have realized just how important and in fact paramount Active Directory Security is to cyber security worldwide, in that it appears that they may have finally realized that Active Directory is the very heart and foundation of privileged access at 85% of organizations worldwide!


I say so only because it appears to have been in this year that the following terms seem to have become mainstream cyber security buzzwords worldwide - Privileged User, Privileged Access, Domain Admins, Enterprise Admins, Mimikatz DCSync, AdminSDHolder, Active Directory ACLs, Active Directory Privilege Escalation, Sneaky Persistence in Active Directory, Stealthy Admins in Active Directory, Shadow Admins in Active Directory, Domain Controllers, Active Directory Botnets, etc. etc.



Active Directory Security Goes Mainstream Cyber Security

Here are the 10 notable events in Active Directory Security that helped it get mainstream cyber security attention this year -


  1. Since the beginning on the year, i.e. January 01, 2017, Mimikatz DCSync, an incredibly and dangerously powerful tool built by Benjamin Delpy, that can be used to instantly compromise the credentials of all Active Directory domain user accounts in an organization, including those of all privileged user accounts, has been gaining immense popularity, and appears to have become a must-have tool in every hacker, perpetrator and cyber security penetration-tester's arsenal.

  2. On May 15, 2017, the developers of BloodHound introduced version 1.3, with the objective of enhancing its ability to find privilege escalation paths in Active Directory that could help find out "Who can become Domain Admin?"  From that point on, Bloodhound, which is massively inaccurate, seems to have started becoming very popular in the hacking community.

  3. On June 08, 2017, CyberArk a Billion+ $ cyber-security company, and the self-proclaimed leader in Privileged Account Security, introduced the concept of Shadow Admins in Active Directory, as well as released a (massively inaccurate) tool called ACLight to help organizations identify all such Shadow Admins in Active Directory deployments worldwide.

  4. On June 14, 2017, Sean Metcalf, an Active Directory security enthusiast penned an entry-level post "Scanning for Active Directory Privileges and Privileged Accounts" citing that Active Directory Recon is the new hotness since attackers, Red Teamers and penetration testers have realized that control of Active Directory provides power over the organization!

  5. On July 11, 2017, Preempt, a Cyber Security announced that they had found a vulnerability in Microsoft's implementation of LDAP-S that permits the enactment of an NTLM relay attack, and in effect could allow an individual to effectively impersonate a(n already) privileged user and enact certain LDAP operations to gain privileged access. 

  6. On July 26, 2017, the developers of (massively inaccurate) BloodHound gave a presentation titled An ACE Up the Sleeve - Designing Active Directory DACL Backdoors at the famed Black Hat Conference USA 2017. This presentation at Black Hat likely played a big role in bringing Active Directory Security to the forefront of mainstream Cyber Security.

  7. Also on July 26, 2017, a second presentation on Active Directory Security at the Black Hat Conference titled The Active Directory Botnet introduced the world to a new attack technique that exploits the default access granted to all Active Directory users, to setup command and control servers within organizations worldwide. This too made waves.

  8. On September 18, 2017, Microsoft's Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA) Team penned a detailed and insightful blog post titled Active Directory Access Control List - Attacks and Defense, citing that recently there has been a lot of attention regarding the use of Active Directory ACLs for privilege escalation in Active Directory environments. Unfortunately, in doing so Microsoft inadvertently ended up revealing just how little its ATA team seems to know about the subject.

  9. On December 12, 2017, Preempt, a Cyber Security announced that they had found a flaw in Microsoft's Azure Active Directory Connect software that could allow Stealthy Admins to gain full domain control. They also suggested that organizations worldwide use their (massively inaccurate) tooling to find these Stealthy Admins in Active Directory.

  10. From January 26, 2017 through December 27, 2017, Paramount Defenses' CEO conducted Active Directory Security School for Microsoft, so that in turn Microsoft could help not just every entity mentioned in points 1- 9 above, but the whole world realize that in fact the key and the only correct way to mitigate each one of the security risks and challenges identified in points 1 - 9  above, lies in Active Directory Effective Permissions and Active Directory Effective Access.





Helping Defend Microsoft's Global Customer Base
( i.e. 85% of  Organizations Worldwide )

Folks, since January 01, 2017, both, as former Microsoft Program Manager for Active Directory Security and as the CEO of Paramount Defenses, I've penned 50+ insightful blog posts to help educate thousands of organizations worldwide about...


...not just the paramount importance of Active Directory Security to their foundational security, but also about how to correctly secure and defend their foundational Active Directory from every cyber security risk/challenge covered in points 1- 9 above.

This year, I ( / we) ...

  1. conducted 30-days of advanced Active Directory Security School for the $ 650+ Billion Microsoft Corporation

  2. showed thousands of organizations worldwide How to Render Mimikatz DCSync Useless in their Active Directory

  3. helped millions of pros (like Mr. Metcalf) worldwide learn How to Correctly Identify Privileged Users in Active Directory

  4. helped the developers of BloodHound understand How to Easily Identify Sneaky Persistence in Active Directory

  5. helped Microsoft's ATA Team learn advanced stuff About Active Directory ACLs - Actual Attack and Defense

  6. showed CyberArk, trusted by 50% of Fortune 100 CISOs, How to Correctly Identify Shadow Admins in Active Directory

  7. helped cyber security startup Preempt's experts learn How to Correctly Identify Stealthy Admins in Active Directory

  8. helped the presenters of The Active Directory Botnet learn How to Easily Solve the Problem of Active Directory Botnets

  9. helped millions of cyber security folks worldwide understand and illustrate Active Directory Privilege Escalation

  10. Most importantly, I helped thousands of organizations worldwide, including Microsoft, understand the paramount importance of Active Directory Effective Permissions and Active Directory Effective Access to Active Directory Security


In fact, we're not just providing guidance, we're uniquely empowering organizations worldwide to easily solve these challenges.





Summary

All in all, its been quite an eventful year for Active Directory Security (, and one that I saw coming over ten years ago.)

In 2017, the mainstream cyber security community finally seem to have realized the importance of Active Directory Security.


Perhaps, in 2018, they'll realize that the key to Active Directory Security lies in being able to accurately determine this.

Best wishes,
Sanjay.

PS: Why I do, What I Do.

Why I Do, What I Do

Folks,

I trust you're well. Today, I just wanted to take a few minutes to answer a few questions that I've been asked so many times.


Here are the answers to the Top-5 questions I am frequently asked -

  1. You're the CEO of a company (Paramount Defenses), so why do you blog so often, and how do you have time to do so?

    Good question. This is a bit of a unique situation, in that whilst I am the CEO of a company, I am also a subject matter expert in Active Directory Security (simply by virtue of my background) and thus I feel that it is my civic duty to help organizations understand the paramount importance of securing their foundational Active Directory deployments.

    In fact, over the last 7+ years, I've penned 150+ blog posts on Active Directory Security (here) and Cyber Security (here) on various topics such as Active Directory Privilege Escalation, the OPM Breach, Kerberos Token Bloat, Eff Perms, AdminSDHolder, Mimikatz DCSync, Sneaky Persistence, How to Correctly Identify Stealthy Admins in Active Directory, How to Correctly Identify Shadow Admins in Active Directory etc. and most recently on Active Directory Botnets.

    As to how I have the time to do so, that's actually not that difficult. We have a world-class team at Paramount Defenses, and I've been able to delegate a substantial amount of my CEO-related work amongst our executive leadership team.




  2. Speaking of which, how big is Paramount Defenses?

    At Paramount Defenses, we believe that less is more, so our entire global team is less than a 100 people. For security reasons, 100% of our staff are U.S. Citizens, and to-date, the entirety of our R&D team are former Microsoft employees.

    If by how big we are, you meant how many organizations we impact, today our unique high-value cyber security solutions and insights help adequately secure and defend thousands of prominent organizations across six continents worldwide.




  3. Why is it just you (and why aren't your employees) on Social Media (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.)?

    The simple answer to this question - For Security Reasons.

    At Paramount Defenses, we care deeply about cyber security, so we also strive to lead by example in every way.

    As it pertains to cyber security, we have found that the presence of an organization's employees on social-media almost always results in excessive information disclosure that could be very valuable for hackers and various other entities who may have malicious intent, so our corporate policies do not permit a social media presence.

    Also, we're not huge fans of Twitter, and we certainly don't care about being on Facebook. We do like and appreciate LinkedIn, and in fact, we lead the world's largest community of Active Directory Security Professionals on LinkedIn.




  4. What do you intend to accomplish by blogging?

    The intention is to help organizations worldwide understand just how profoundly important Active Directory Security is to organizational cyber security, and how paramount Active Directory Effective Permissions are to Active Directory Security.

    That's because this impacts global security today, and here's why -




    You see, the Crown Jewels of cyber security reside in Active Directory, and if they're compromised, its Game Over. By Crown Jewels, I'm referring to privileged access, or as commonly known, Domain Admin equivalent accounts.

    It is a fact that 100% of all major recent cyber security breaches (except Equifax) involved the compromise of a single Active Directory privileged user account. Such accounts are Target #1 for hackers, which is why it is so very important that organizations be able to exactly identify and minimize the number of such privileged accounts in Active Directory.

    Now, when it comes to identifying privileged user accounts in Active Directory, most organizations focus on enumerating the memberships of their default administrative groups in Active Directory, and that's it. Unfortunately, that's just the Tip of the Iceberg, and we have found that most of them do not even seem to know that in fact there are FAR many more accounts with varying levels of elevated admin/privileged access in Active Directory than they seem to know about.

    This isn't a secret; its something you know if you've ever heard about Active Directory's most powerful and capable cyber security feature - Delegation of Administration. The truth is that at most organizations, a substantial amount of delegation has been done over the years, yet no one seems to have a clue as to who has what privileged access. Here's why.

    In fact, Active Directory privileged access accounts have been getting a lot of attention lately, because so many cyber security experts and companies are starting to realize that there exists a treasure-trove of privileged access in Active Directory. Thus, recently many such cyber security expert and companies have started shedding light on them (for example, one, two, three etc.), and some have even started developing amateur tools to identify such accounts.

    What these experts and companies may not know is that their amateur tools are substantially inaccurate since they rely on finding out "Who has what Permissions in Active Directory" WHEREAS the ONLY way to correctly identify privileged user accounts in Active Directory is by accurately finding out "Who has what Effective Permissions in Active Directory?"

    On a lighter note, I find it rather amusing that for lack of knowing better, most cyber security experts and vendors that may be new to Active Directory Security have been referring to such accounts as Stealthy Admins, Shadow Admins etc.

    To make matters worse, there are many prominent vendors in the Active Directory space that merely offer basic Active Directory Permissions Analysis/Audit Tooling, yet they mislead organizations by claiming to help them "Find out who has what privileged access in Active Directory," and since so many IT personnel don't seem to know better, they get misled.

    Thus, there's an imperative need to help organizations learn how to correctly audit privileged users in Active Directory.

    Consequently, the intention of my blogging is to HELP thousands of organizations and cyber security experts worldwide UNDERSTAND that the ONLY correct way to identify privileged users in Active Directory is by accurately determining effective permissions / effective access in Active Directory. There is only ONE correct way to accomplish this objective.




  5. Why have you been a little hard on Microsoft lately?

    Let me begin by saying that I deeply love and care for Microsoft. It may appear that I may have been a tad hard on them, but that is all well-intentioned and only meant to help them realize that they have an obligation to their global customer base to adequately educate them about various aspects of cyber security in Windows, particularly the most vital aspects.

    In that regard, if you truly understand cyber security in Windows environments, you know that Active Directory Effective Permissions and Active Directory Effective Access play an absolutely paramount role in securing Windows deployments worldwide, and since Active Directory has been around for almost two decades by now, one would expect the world to unequivocally understand this by now. Unfortunately, we found that (as evidenced above) no one seems to have a clue.

    You may be surprised if I were to share with you that at most organizations worldwide, hardly anyone seems to even know about what Active Directory Effective Permissions are, let alone why they're paramount to their security, and this a highly concerning fact, because this means that most organizations worldwide are operating in the proverbial dark today.

    It is upon looking into the reason for this that we realized that in the last decade, it appears that (for whatever reason) Microsoft may not have educated its global customer based about Active Directory Effective Permissions at all - Proof.

    Thus, it is in the best interest of organizations worldwide that we felt a need to substantially raise awareness.

    As to how on earth Microsoft may have completely forgotten to educate the world about this, I can only guess that perhaps they must've gotten so involved in building their Cloud offering and dealing with the menace of local-machine credential-theft attack vectors that they completely seem to have missed this one paramount aspect of Windows security.

    Fortunately for them and the world, we've had our eye on this problem for a decade know and we've been laser-focused. Besides, actions speak louder than words, so once you understand what it is we do at Paramount Defenses, you'll see that we've done more to help secure Microsoft's global customer base than possibly any other company on the planet.

    Those who understand what we've built, know that we may be Microsoft's most strategic ally in the cyber security space.


Finally, the most important reason as to why I do, what I do is because I care deeply and passionately about cyber security.

Best wishes,

Time to DEMONSTRATE Thought Leadership in the Cyber Security Space

Folks,

Hope you're all well. Last year I had said that it was time for us to provide Thought Leadership to the Cyber Security space.


Since then, I've penned over 50 blog posts, on numerous important topics,
and helped 1000s of organizations worldwide better understand -

  1. The Importance of Active Directory Security

  2. Insight into Active Directory ACLs - Attack and Defense

  3. How to Defend Active Directory Against Cyber Attacks

  4. How to Mitigate the Risk Posed by Mimikatz DCSync

  5. How to Thwart Sneaky Persistence in Active Directory

  1. How to Identify Stealthy Admins in Active Directory

  2. Understand Windows Elevation of Privilege Vulnerability

  3. Illustrate Active Directory Privilege Escalation

  4. Correctly Identify Privileged Users in Active Directory

  5. Importance of Active Directory Effective Permissions
There's so much more to share, and I will continue to do so.





A Paramount Global Cyber Security Need

Today, I wanted to take a moment to touch upon one (not so) little aspect of cyber security that today profoundly impacts the foundational security of 85% of all business and government organizations worldwide, including most cyber security companies.

Folks, I am talking about empowering organizations worldwide identify exactly who holds the proverbial "Keys to the Kingdom" i.e. helping them accurately identify exactly who actually possesses what privileged access in Active Directory deployments.


The reason this is so important is because 100% of all major recent cyber security breaches (e.g. Snowden, Target, JP Morgan, Sony, Anthem, OPM) involved the compromise and misuse of guess what - just ONE Active Directory Privileged User Account.

Since we've been silently working on this 2006, we've a head start of about a decade. Over the last few months, we've seen several prominent vendors finally realize the importance of doing so, and we've seen them share guidance to this subject.

Unfortunately, just about every piece of advice out there, whether it be from prominent cyber security experts or billion dollar cyber security companies, on how to actually correctly audit privileged access in Active Directory, is dangerously inaccurate.





Thought Leadership

There's an old saying - "Actions Speak Louder Than Words." While there's no dearth of talk by so many big names out there on how to improve cyber security, identify privileged users etc., the key to actually (demonstrably and provably) enhancing cyber security lies in actually helping organizations do so, and we've been silently at work for a decade to help organizations do so.

So, in days to come, right here on this blog, I'm going to (hopefully for one last time), share exactly how organizations worldwide can today accurately and efficiently identify privileged access in their foundational Active Directory deployments worldwide.


In doing so, we will yet again demonstrate Thought Leadership in the Cyber Security space. By the way, this is neither about us, nor about pride. I've already said I'm just a nobody (, whose work possibly impacts everybody.) This is about a desire to help.

So, that post should be out right here on this blog next week, possibly as early as Monday morning.

Best wishes,
Sanjay

A Massive Cyber Breach at a Company Whilst it was Considering the ‘Cloud’

(A Must-Read for all CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CISOs, Board Members & Shareholders Today)


Folks,

Today was supposed to be an exciting Friday morning at a Multi-Billion $ organization since the world's top Cloud Computing companies were going to make their final pitches to the company's C-Suite today, as it was considering moving to the "Cloud."

With Cloud Computing companies spending billions to market their latest Kool-Aid to organizations worldwide (even though much of this may actually not be ready for mission-critical stuff), how could this company too NOT be considering the Cloud?



The C-Suite Meeting

Today was a HUGE day for this multi-billion dollar company, for today after several months of researching and evaluating their choices and options, the company's leadership would finally be deciding as to which Cloud Computing provider to go with.


This meeting is being chaired by the Chairman of the Board and attended by the following organizational employees -

  1. Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

  2. Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  1. Chief Information Officer (CIO)

  2. Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

 Also in attendance are about a dozen Vice Presidents, representing Sales, Marketing, Research and Development etc.




Meeting In-Progress

After breakfast, the presentations began at 9:00 am. The organization's CIO kicked off the meeting, rattling off the numerous benefits that the company could enjoy by moving to the Cloud, and minutes later the Vice President of Cloud Computing from the first Cloud Computing company vying for their business started his presentation. His presentation lasted two hours.

The C-Suite then took a break for lunch.

The next presentation began at 1:00 pm and was expected to last till about 4:00 pm. The Vice President of Cloud Computing from the second Cloud Computing company had started her presentation and was almost an hour into it, when all of a sudden this happened...

... the CISO's assistant unexpectedly entered the room, went straight to the CISO and whispered something into his ear.

Everyone was surprised, and all eyes were on the CISO, who grimly asked his assistant - "Are you 100% sure?"  He said "Yes."





Houston, We Have a Problem

The CISO walked up to the CIO and whispered something into his ear. The CIO sat there in complete shock for a moment!


He then gathered himself and proceeded to request everyone except the C-Suite to immediately leave the conference room.

He told the Vice President of this Cloud Computing company - "Hopefully, we'll get back to you in a few weeks."

He then looked at the CEO and the Chairman of the Board, and he said - "Sir, we have a problem!"




Its Over

The CEO asked the CIO - "What's wrong? What happened?"

The CIO replied - "Sir, about 30 minutes ago, an intruder compromised the credentials of each one of our 20,000 employees!"


The CEO was almost in shock, and just couldn't believe what he had just heard, so he asked - "Everyone's credentials?!"

The CIO replied - "I'm afraid yes Sir, yours, mine, literally everyone's, including that of all our privileged users!"

The CEO could sense that there was more bad news, so he asked - "Is there something else I should know?"

The CIO replied - "Sir, 15 minutes ago, the intruder logged on as an Enterprise Admin, disabled the accounts of each one of our privileged users, and used Group Policy to deploy malicious software to each one of our 30,000 domain-joined computers! By now, he could have stolen, exfiltrated and destroyed the entirety of our digital assets! We may have lost literally everything!"

The CEO was shocked! They'd just been breached, and what a massive breach it was - "How could this have happened?"




Mimikatz DCSync 

The CIO turned to the CISO, who stepped in, and answered the question - "Sir, an intruder used a tool called Mimikatz DCSync to basically request and instantly obtain the credentials of every single user from our foundational Active Directory deployment."


The CEO asked - "What is Active Directory?"

The CISO replied - "Sir, simply put, it is the very foundation of our cyber security"

The CEO then asked - "Wait. Can just anyone request and extract credentials from Active Directory?"

The CISO replied - "Sir, not everyone can. Only those individuals whose have sufficient access to do so, and by that I mean, specifically only those who have Get-Replication-Changes-All effective-permissions on the domain root object, can do so."

The CEO then said - "This does not sound right to me. I'm no technical genius, but shouldn't we have known exactly who all have this, whatever you just said, er yes that Get-Replication-Changes-All effective permissions in our Active Directory?!"

The CISO replied - "Sir, it turns out that accurate determination of effective permissions in Active Directory is actually very difficult, and as a result it is almost impossible to figure out exactly who has this effective permissions on our domain root!"

The CEO figured it out - "So you're saying that the intruder had compromised the account of someone who was not on your radar and not supposed to have this access, but actually did, and the intruder used that access to steal everyone's credentials?"

The CISO replied - "That's right. It appears we did not know that this someone had sufficient access (i.e. effective permissions) to be able to replicate secrets from Active Directory, because it is very difficult to accurately figure this out in Active Directory."



The CEO was furious! - "You're kidding right?! Microsoft's spent billions on this new fad called the "Cloud", yet it doesn't even have a solution to help figure out something as vital as this in Active Directory? How long has Active Directory been around ?!

The CISO replied - "Seventeen years."

The CEO then said in disbelief - "Did you just 17 years, as in S-E-V-E-N-T-E-E-N years?!  Get Satya Nadella on the line now! Perhaps I should #REFRESH his memory that we're a customer, and that we may have just lost a few B-I-L-L-I-O-N dollars!"




This is for Real

Make NO mistake about it. As amusing as it might sound, the scenario shared above is very REAL, and in fact today, most business and government organizations worldwide that operate on Active Directory have no idea as to exactly who has sufficient effective permissions to be able to replicate secrets out of their Active Directory. None whatsoever!


We can demonstrate the enactment of this exact scenario, and its underlying cause, to any organizations that wishes to see it.




This Could've Been (and Can Be) Easily Prevented 

This situation could easily have been prevented, if this organization's IT personnel had only possessed the ability to adequately and accurately determine effective permissions in their foundational Active Directory deployments.


Sadly, since Microsoft apparently never educated its customers about the importance of Active Directory effective permissions, most of them have no clue, and in fact have no idea as to exactly who can do what across their Active Directory deployments!

Unfortunately, Mimikatz DCSync is just the Tip of the Iceberg. Today most organizations are likely operating in the dark and have no idea about the actual attack surface, and thus about exactly who can create, delete and manage the entirety of their domain user accounts, domain computer accounts, domain security groups, GPOs, service connection points (SCPs), OUs etc. even though every insider and intruder could try and figure this out and misuse this insight to compromise their security.

Technically speaking, with even just minimal education and the right tooling, here is how easy it is for organizations to figure this out and lock this down today, i.e. to lock this down before an intruder can exploit it to inflict colossal damage - RIGHT HERE.


Oh, and you don't need to call Microsoft for this, although you certainly can and should. If you do, they'll likely have no answer, yet they might use even this to pitch you their latest toy, Microsoft ATA, and of course, their Cloud offering, Microsoft Azure.

Wait, weren't these C*O discussing the Cloud (and likely Microsoft Azure) just a few hours (and a few billion dollars) ago?!




Fast-Forward Six Months

Unfortunately, given the massive scale of this breach, the company did not survive the attack, and had to declare bankruptcy. The C*Os of this company are still looking for suitable employment, and its shareholders ended up losing billions of dollars.


All of this could've been prevented, if they only knew about something as elemental as this, and had the ability to determine this.





Summary

The moral of the story is that while its fine to fall for the latest fad, i.e. consider moving to the "Cloud" and all, but as AND while you consider and plan to do so, you just cannot let you on-prem cyber defenses down even for a moment, because if you do so, you may not have a company left to move to the Cloud. A single excessive effective permission in Active Directory is all it takes.


I'll say this one more time and one last time - what I've shared above could easily happen at almost any organization today.

Best wishes,

CEO, Paramount Defenses



PS: If this sounds too simple and high-level i.e. hardly technical, that is by intent, as it is written for a non-technical audience. This isn't to showcase our technical depth; examples of our technical depth can be found here, here, here, here, here  etc.  etc.



PS2: Note for Microsoft - This may be the simplest example of "Active Directory Access Control Lists - Attack and Defense."

Here's why - Mimikatz DCSync, which embodies the technical brilliance of a certain Mr. Benjamin Delpy, may be the simplest example of how someone could attack Active Directory ACLs to instantly and completely compromise Active Directory. On the other hand, Gold Finger, which embodies the technical expertise of a certain former Microsoft employee, may be the simplest example of how one could defend Active Directory ACLs by being able to instantly identify/audit effective permissions/access in/across Active Directory, and thus lockdown any and all unauthorized access in Active Directory ACLs, making it impossible for an(y) unauthorized user to use Mimikatz DCSync against Active Directory.



PS3: They say to the wise, a hint is enough. I just painted the whole picture out for you. (You may also want to read this & this.)

PS4: If you liked this, you may also like - How To Easily Identify & Thwart Sneaky Persistence in Active Directory

Some Help & Good News for Microsoft regarding Active Directory Security


Folks,

You'll want to read this short blog post very carefully because it not only impacts Microsoft, it likely impacts you, as well as the foundational security of 85% of all business and government organizations worldwide, and it does so in a positive way.



A Quick and Short Background

From the White House to the Fortune 1000, Microsoft Active Directory is the very foundation of cyber security at over 85% of organizations worldwide. In fact, it is also the foundation of cyber security of almost every cyber security company worldwide.


Active Directory is the Foundation of Cyber Security Worldwide

The entirety of an organization's building blocks of cyber security, including the user accounts used by the entirety its workforce, as well as the user accounts of all its privileged users, the computer accounts of the entirety of its computers, and the security groups used to provision access to the entirety of its IT resources, are stored, managed and protected in Active Directory.

During the past few years, credential-theft attacks aimed at the compromise of an organization's privileged users (e.g. Domain Admins) have resulted in a substantial number of reported and unreported breaches at numerous organizations worldwide. In response, to help organizations combat the menace of these credential-theft attacks, Microsoft has had to make substantial enhancements to its Windows Operating Systems as well as acquire and introduce a technology called Microsoft ATA.

These enhancements have made it harder for perpetrators to find success with traditional credential-theft attacks, so they've started focusing their efforts on trying to find ways to attack the Active Directory itself, as evidenced by the fact that in the last year alone, we've seen the introduction of Mimikatz DCSync, BloodHound and recently the advent of Active Directory Botnets.

Make no mistake about it. There's no dearth of opportunity to find ways to exploit weaknesses in Active Directory deployments because there exists an ocean of access within Active Directory, and sadly due to an almost total lack of awareness, education, understanding and tooling, organizations have no idea as to exactly what lies within their Active Directory, particularly in regards to privileged access entitlements, and thus today there likely are 1000s of privilege escalation paths in most Active Directory deployments, waiting to be identified and exploited. All that perpetrators seem to lack today is the know-how and the tooling.

Unfortunately, since the cat's out of the bag, perpetrators seem to be learning fast, and building rapidly, so unless organizations act swiftly and decisively to adequately lock-down vast amount of access that currently exists in their foundational Active Directory deployments, sadly the next big wave of cyber breaches could involve compromise of Active Directory deployments.





Clearly, Microsoft Has No Answers

It gives me absolutely no pleasure to share with you that unfortunately, and sadly as always, Microsoft yet again seems to be playing catch-up, and in fact, it has no clue or any real answers, ideas or solutions to help organizations in this vital regard.


Here's Proof - Last week, on September 18, 2017, Microsoft's Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA) Team posted this -



If and when you read it, it will likely be unequivocally clear to you as to just how little Microsoft understands about not just the sheer depth and breadth of this monumental challenge, but about the sheer impact it could have on organizations worldwide!

You see, if you understand the subject of Active Directory Security well enough, then you know that Active Directory access control lists (ACLs) today don't just impact organizational security worldwide, they likely impact national and global security!

That said, in that post, the best Microsoft could do is concede that this could be a problem, wonder why organizations might ever need to change AdminSDHolder, falsely assume that it may not impact privileged users, praise a massively inaccurate tool for shedding light on this attack vector, and end by saying - "if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably leads somewhere."

Oh, and the very last thing they tell you that is their nascent ATA technology can detect AD multiple recon methods.


In contrast, here's what they should have said - "We care deeply about cyber security and we understand that left unaddressed, this could pose a serious cyber security risk to our customers. Be rest assured that Microsoft Active Directory is a highly robust and securable technology, and here's exactly how organizations can adequately and reliably identify and lock-down privileged access in their Active Directory deployments, leaving no room for perpetrators to identify and exploit any weaknesses."

The reason I say that should've been the response is because if you know enough about this problem, then you also know that it can actually be completely and sufficiently addressed, and that you don't need to rely on detection as a security measure.

BTW, to appreciate how little Microsoft seems to understand about this huge cyber security challenge, you'll want a yardstick to compare Microsoft's response with, so here it is (; you'll want to read the posts) - Active Directory Security School for Microsoft.



Er, I'm really sorry but you are Microsoft, a US$ 550 Billion corporation, not a kid in college. If the best you can do concerning such a profoundly important cyber security challenge is show how little you seem to know about and understand this problem, and only have detection to offer as a solution, frankly, that's not just disappointing, that's deeply concerning, to say the least.

Further, if this is how little you seem to understand about such a profoundly important cyber security challenge concerning your own technology, I cannot help but wonder how well your customers might actually be protected in your recent Cloud offering.





Fortunately There's Help and Good News For Microsoft

I may appear to be critical of Microsoft, and I do still believe that they ought to at least have educated their customers about this and this huge cyber security challenge, but I also love Microsoft, because I've been (at) Microsoft, so I'm going to help them.


To my former colleagues at Microsoft I say - "Each one of us at Microsoft are passionate, care deeply and always strive to do and be the best we can, and even though I may no longer be at Microsoft, (and I still can't believe how you missed this one), luckily and fortunately for you, we've got this covered, and we're going to help you out."

So, over the next few days, not only am I going to help reduce the almost total lack of awareness, education and understanding that exists at organizations today concerning Active Directory Security, I am also going to help organizations worldwide learn just how they can adequately and swiftly address this massive cyber security challenge before it becomes a huge problem.

Specifically, in days to come, as a part of our 30-Day Active Directory Security School, you can expect the following posts -


  1. What Constitutes a Privileged User in Active Directory

  2. How to Correctly Audit Privileged Users/Access in Active Directory

  3. How to Render Mimikatz DCSync Useless in an Active Directory Environment

  4. How to Easily Identify and Thwart Sneaky Persistence in Active Directory

  5. How to Easily Solve The Difficult Problem of Active Directory Botnets

  6. The World's Top Active Directory Permissions Analysis Tools (and Why They're Mostly Useless)

  7. The Paramount Need to Lockdown Access Privileges in Active Directory

  8. How to Attain and Maintain Least Privileged Access (LPA) in Active Directory

  9. How to Securely Delegate and Correctly Audit Administrative Access in Active Directory

  10. How to Easily Secure Active Directory and Operate a Bulletproof Active Directory Deployment

You see, each one of these Active Directory security focused objectives can be easily accomplished, but and in order to do so, what is required is the capability to accurately audit effective access in Active Directory. Sadly, let alone possessing this paramount cyber security capability, Microsoft doesn't even seem to have a clue about it.

Each one of these posts is absolutely essential for organizational cyber security worldwide, and if you know of even one other entity (e.g. individual, company etc.) on the planet that can help the world address each one of these today, do let me know.

So, over the next few days, I'll pen the above, and you'll be able to access them at the Active Directory Security Blog.

Until then, you may want to go through each one of the 20 days of posts that I've already shared there, as well as review this.



In fact, this cannot wait, so let us begin with the "actual" insight on Active Directory ACLs that all organizations worldwide must have today -


Together, we can help adequately secure and defend organizations worldwide and deny perpetrators the opportunities and avenues they seek to compromise our foundational Active Directory deployments, because we must and because we can.


Best wishes,
Sanjay

CEO, Paramount Defenses

Formerly Program Manager,
Active Directory Security,
Microsoft Corporation


PS: Microsoft, you're welcome. Also, I don't need anything from you, except a Thank you note.