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Tracking Privileged Accounts in Windows Environments

Published: 2015-09-20
Last Updated: 2015-09-24 09:47:45 UTC
by Xavier Mertens (Version: 1)
12 comment(s)

While speaking with a customer, he complained about the huge number of privileged users having domain admin rights in his network. It seems to be a recurrent problem for him: The security team reviews all the users at a time t and it reduces the number of privileged accounts to the strict minimum. But quickly, the number of administrators is growing again and, at time t+x, they have to restart the cleaning process. Amongst the SANS 20 Critical Security Controls, the point #12 focuses on controlling administrative privileges. The following controls are already in place by the customer:

  • Auditing privileged accounts usage
  • Auditing privileged accounts changes (creation, removal)
  • Strong password policy

Unfortunately, the control #7 (CSC 12-7) remains a pain: the utilization of privileged accounts for non-administration tasks like reading e-mails or surfing the web. As most of the controls remains technical, a suggestion was to add a extra layer of awareness for administrators to remind them that using privileged accounts can be dangerous. Instead of simply displaying a warning message, the idea was to force the administrator to describe (log) in a few words why he started an administrator session. The information is logged and can be used later to generate activity reports from their SIEM like this example:

Timestamp Host User Reasons of the session
2015-09-12 17:23:00 ServerA a-user1 Installed patch MS-15-xxx
2015-09-14 09:43:12 DC1 administrator Installed agent from xxxx
2015-09-15 12:16:34 SQL-2 a-user2 Emergency reboot

Not valid, funny or empty reasons can we investigated case by case improving the control of privileged users.

There are commercial solutions which implement this like Cyber-Ark or Digital Guardian. I wrote a PowerShell script which can be deployed as a logon script. Details are available on my blog.


Xavier Mertens
ISC Handler - Freelance Security Consultant
rootshell.be
truesec.be

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