Category Archives: Microsoft Azure

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.