Home Security New method to attack Active Directory detailed

Australian information security company Threat Intelligence has revealed details of a new attack technique whereby a Microsoft Windows Active Directory domain controller can be transformed into a command-and-control centre for an internal botnet.

The company's managing director Ty Miller gave a presentation on the attack method at the recent Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, along with senior security consultant Paul Kalinin.

Miller said that there was no need to compromise passwords as the attack could be carried out with bog standard user accounts.

Asked if he had contacted Microsoft about his findings, Miller told iTWire that the Active Directory Botnet threat attack was not a vulnerability and as such a patch wasn't required. It was a flaw in how Active Directory was being implemented. 

"Microsoft Security Program staff from the US were in attendance at the Black Hat presentation and are aware of the potential attack technique," he added.

Due to the architecture of nearly every Active Directory implementation, almost all servers, workstations, laptops, mobile devices, and wireless devices in organisations can connect to a Domain Controller for authentication purposes.

"This provides the ability for our internal Active Directory Botnet to communicate through a network of strategically placed Active Directory C&C servers," he said.

The Active Directory Botnet attack technique revealed a fundamental flaw in the way almost every organisation implemented their Microsoft Windows Active Directory solution, he said, compromising their overall security and ability to contain security breaches.

Miller said standard Active Directory attributes and features forced the Domain Controllers to act as a central communications point for all internally compromised systems.

Detailing the way the attack was implemented, Miller said standard Active Directory accounts supported more than 50 user attributes that could be combined to create a communication channel between any compromised domain machine located in any part of an organisation.

"The Active Directory Botnet Client injects unique data entries into their corresponding Active Directory account attributes within the target Domain Controller, and begins polling to identify other compromised systems within the domain," Miller said.

"At this point, any Active Directory Botnet Client within the domain can identify compromised machines and begin issuing commands to be executed on either individual systems or across all infected endpoints." 

He said if an organisation used the Azure Cloud Active Directory, then the Active Directory Botnet could use the synchronisation from an on-premise Active Directory to the cloud to create an egress channel. 

This could be then used to extract data from the organisation through production Active Directory protocols.

Graphic: courtesy Microsoft.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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