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I would like some help understanding the security issues/risks associated with the compromise of Active Directory Domain/Enterprise Admin accounts.
We are in the midst of conducting an audit of administrative privileges in our environment, and have found that we seem to have an excessive number of domain admin accounts in 2 of our Active Directory domains, as well as what seems like an excessive number of enterprise admin accounts in our forest root domain.
It seems like many Server Operators / Server admins also have Domain Admin rights in our AD, and unfortunately, there is not much in way of documentation to know why that is the case. So we are approaching every IT team whose members are Domain Admins and requesting data on why they need to be Domain Admins.
The challenge is that we are getting a lot of pushback from these individuals and their managers want to know how their inclusion in the Domain Admins group increases security risk to the comapny. (Many of these folks belong to internal LOB management teams, and are no DS experts, so they think Server Operators and Domain Admins is very similar, and since they are not very willing to give up unrestricted access, thus the pushback.)
I am looking to make a case as to why it is important for us to make sure that only our Directory Services (and a few other) team members should be Domain Admins, so I was looking for some support / clarity on exactly what the security risk posed by the compromise of a Domain Admin account is to the company.
This seemed to be right right forum to request some help from, so if you could help me come up with a simple, clear statement in this regard, it would be immensely helpful.
Thank you in advance.
First of all, let me say that this is indeed one of the best forums to discuss a question that is as valuable as the one you have asked. This is a very important question, and may be very well one of the most important questions pertaining to Active Directory Security.
The risk posed by the compromise of a Domain Admin's account is one of the most serious risks to Active Directory, and by extension one of the most serious risks to a Windows Server based IT infrastructure, because, should a Domain Admin account be compromised, the entire Active Directory deployment instantly becomes exposed to compromise.
This is because Domain Admins have full and sweeping powers over the entire Active Directory deployment, and as a result can access, modify or control virtually any resource stored in or protected by Active Directory.
Examples of such resources include all domain user and computer accounts, all security groups, all GPOs, all OUs, all files stores on all domain-joined machines, all RAS/ISA servers running on domain-joined machine and/or availing of Windows integrated authentication (single sign-on.)
In fact, the compromise of any Active Directory administrative account, not just one of a Domain Admin, can have very serious consequences on organizational security, and according to some sources, this is the 2nd most security risk to Active Directory.
This is why it is very important to ensure that your organization must do whatever it can to minimize the number of not just the Domain Admins accounts, but also all Active Directory administrative accounts. This one single step can dramatically reduce your attack surface.
You are on the right track, and I would highly recommend that you do your best to try and minimize the number of administrative accounts in your Active Directory. The fact of the matter is that most IT personnel do not actually need Domain Admin access, and that one of the strengths of Active Directory is that it lets you provision access for everyone who needs access to its content, based on the principle of least privilege.
If you need some supporting documentation to convince management of the importance of this measure, I would recommend reading Microsoft IT's Best Practices for Securing Active Directory Security whitepaper, which along with sufficient context, can be downloaded from here.