What is Active Directory (AD)?


What is Active Directory, you ask? At first pass, it sounds like a way to track your workouts, right? In reality, Active Directory, or AD, is a Microsoft directory service designed for Windows networks and included with most Windows operating systems.

As Microsoft explains it, “Active Directory stores information about objects on the network and makes this information easy for administrators and users to find and use. [It] uses a structured data store as the basis for a logical, hierarchical organization of directory information.”

In other words, Active Directory helps administrators find the details they need to do their jobs, while simultaneously beefing up security. It maps out and organizes information about user accounts and devices — like a user’s title, login details, etc. — as well as information about permissions, or who’s allowed to do what within your domain network (think: authentication and authorization). It kind of functions like the IT version of a guest list at a nightclub, helping administrators play the role of bouncer by automatically dictating and determining who should be granted access to your network’s resources (e.g. who’s let into the metaphorical club versus who’s got a seat in the VIP section).

What Are Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS)?

Active Directory Domain Services, or AD DS, refer to the functions within Active Directory that manage users and networks, thus allowing administrators to sort and arrange information in a distributed database. Microsoft describes AD DS as a means of “storing directory data and making this data available to network users and administrators.”

These services also provide security certificates and rights management (again, enabling administrators to quickly and efficiently play the role of nightclub bouncer). Additional Microsoft and Windows products, including Exchange Server and SharePoint Server, use AD DS to determine resource access.

What About Domains, Domain Controller, and Forests?

An excellent question. Now, we know that administrators use Active Directory to store and sort user accounts and devices into a more logical, hierarchical order, or a logical structure. This information is then grouped and stored in what’s called a domain.

Domain Controller, or DC, is a server that runs Active Directory and hosts AD DS, using data stored on Active Directory to authenticate and authorize users.

A forest, on the other hand, is a construct within AD DS that’s used to group one or more domains together. Domains in the forest maintain a level of trust with each other, allowing a user in Domain A to access resources in Domain B.

Hold the phone. What Is Azure AD DS?

All right, there are a few types of Active Directory (and AD DS), each deployed through different methods and for different purposes. Some are server-based, others are cloud-based. Azure Active Directory is Microsoft’s cloud-based Identity and Access Management, or IAM, solution. In 2020, it was named a Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Access Management. It’s kind of a big deal.

That said, Azure Active Directory is not simply a cloud-based version of Active Directory, nor is it designed to replace Active Directory. Both are organizational directory tools, yes, but one is able to manage on-premise infrastructure (AD), while the other manages access to cloud-based systems and applications (Azure AD). Azure Active Directory is, however, able to sync with on-premise Active Directory (which would be server- or computer-based), allowing administrators to seamlessly utilize both.

Additionally, Azure Active Directory offers authentication to thousands of SaaS systems and applications — from Slack to Salesforce — making it a cornerstone of Office 365 and the most common way users are identified in the cloud. As a result, it’s also cybercriminals’ main vehicle for entering a network. (And cybercriminals are definitely not on the guest list at our metaphorical nightclub.)

How Do I Protect My Organization From Security Breaches In Azure Active Directory?

Microsoft recommends implementing a number of technical controls — such as banning common passwords, enforcing multi-factor authentication, blocking legacy authentication, and protecting your privileged identities — if you’re wondering how to prevent data breaches.

Microsoft has also mapped out a handful of security best practices for Azure Active Directory, including:

  • “Treat identity as the primary security perimeter”
  • “Centralize identity management”
  • “Manage connected tenants”
  • “Enable single sign-on”
  • “Turn on Conditional Access”
  • “Plan for routine security improvements”
  • “Enable password management”
  • “Enforce multi-factor verification for users”
  • “Use role-based access control”
  • “Lower exposure of privileged accounts”
  • “Control locations where resources are located”
  • “Use Azure AD for storage authentication”

This is where CoreView comes into play.

Beyond boosting efficiency and easing SaaS management, CoreView offers a number of products and services to help strengthen security and protect your organization. Our platform allows you to track everything from failed login attempts to locked accounts to a user’s login status — all of which may be indicators of a potential security or data breach — giving your team ways to stop cyber attacks before they even begin.

Learn how we mitigate risk and streamline administrative processes with a personalized CoreView demo today.

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