Securing the Keystone: Active Directory Privileged Access Management

The biggest problem with granting too many permissions is that you may be delegating the right to grant permissions.

In the realm of cybersecurity, few areas are as critical as managing privileged access. Privileged accounts, often referred to as the "keys to the kingdom," have the power to unlock and control vast portions of an organization's IT infrastructure. In this blog, we'll explore the importance of Privileged Access Management (PAM) in the context of Active Directory, the most important component in most IT environments, and how it helps protect your fortress.

The Significance of Active Directory

Active Directory (AD) is a Microsoft technology used by many organizations to manage and authenticate users and devices within their network. It serves as a centralized directory service, providing a foundation for access control, security, and user management. Given its crucial role, securing Active Directory is a top priority in any organization's cybersecurity strategy.

The Temptation to Over-Grant Permissions

One of the most common reasons for over-granting permissions is the desire to make the user experience as smooth as possible. It's natural to want to avoid potential roadblocks that could hinder users from doing what they need to do. As a result, administrators often lean towards granting extensive permissions without thoroughly evaluating the consequences.

This can manifest in various ways:

  1. Unchecked Access

When users or applications are granted permissions without adequate scrutiny, they can access parts of the system they shouldn't have access to. Unchecked access can lead to data breaches, unauthorized modifications, and other security vulnerabilities.

  1. Data Exposure

Over-granting permissions can expose sensitive data to individuals who shouldn't have access to it. This can be particularly concerning when dealing with personal or confidential information.

  1. Increased Attack Surface

With a surplus of permissions in place, the attack surface of a system widens significantly. Hackers and malicious actors often seek out weaknesses in your security, and excessive permissions provide them with more opportunities to exploit.

  1. Privilege Creep

Over-granting permissions can empower privilege creep, a phenomenon in which users accumulate more access rights over time, often without proper oversight. This gradual expansion of privileges can result in a tangled web of permissions, making it challenging to track and manage who has access to what. Some examples include:

  • Lot of users in groups which are privileged
  • Elevated privileged service accounts
  • Rights to add or modify objects in a domain or multiple AD domains

The Challenge of Privileged Access

Within an Active Directory environment, privileged access refers to accounts with elevated permissions, including domain administrators, server administrators, and other roles that hold significant control over AD and other systems. These accounts are prime targets for attackers because compromising them can result in extensive, far-reaching damage.

The challenge is two-fold:

  • Insider Threats: Even trusted insiders can misuse their privileges, intentionally or accidentally causing harm to the organization.
  • External Threats: Hackers are constantly probing for weaknesses in AD to gain unauthorized access to privileged accounts through ransomware attacks.

The Dangers of Privilege Creep

Privilege creep is a significant concern in security and access management. As more users gain excessive permissions over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain control and monitor access effectively. This can lead to security vulnerabilities, compliance issues, and a greater risk of data breaches.

Moreover, privilege creep can be particularly damaging when an employee with excessive access leaves the organization. Revoking privileges and permissions is a labor-intensive task and can often be overlooked, leaving a potential door open for future misuse of those privileges.

Striking the Right Balance

Balancing the need for a seamless user experience with stringent security practices is a delicate but necessary task. To mitigate the risks of over-granting permissions and the resulting privilege creep, consider the following steps:

  • Regular Audits: Conduct periodic audits of user permissions to identify and rectify over-granting. Remove unnecessary permissions and revoke access where needed.
  • Principle of Least Privilege / Zero Standing Privilege: Follow the principle of least (or exact) privilege, which dictates that users and systems should have the minimum access necessary to perform their tasks. This approach minimizes the attack surface and reduces the potential for privilege creep.
  • Delegation: Grant access based on the roles and responsibilities, ensuring that individuals have only the permissions necessary for their tasks at finer level. This ensures that users only have the access required for their specific tasks.
  • Training and Awareness: Educate employees about the importance of responsible access management and the risks of privilege creep. Create a culture of security awareness within the organization. 

Introducing Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Privileged Access Management is a comprehensive security strategy aimed at reducing the risks associated with privileged accounts and enhancing the security of an organization's digital assets. In an Active Directory context, PAM typically includes the following components:

One Identity Active Roles takes Least Privilege / Zero Standing Privilege seriously: it ringfences the directory and no one has any rights that are not conferred by Active Roles, either by policy or by request. Centralized, event-driven workflows ensure enforcement of the policies, and fine-grained delegation allows scoping to OU and attribute levels to achieve a fully Least Privilege stance.

Just-In-Time Privilege: PAM enables the assignment of privileges only when needed and for a specific duration. This minimizes the window of opportunity for attackers while reducing the risk of insider threats.

Fine Grained Delegation: With fine-grained delegation, access is granted based on roles and responsibilities, ensuring that individuals have only the permissions necessary for their tasks at finer level across various AD domains and Azure AD (Microsoft Entra ID) tenants with a single pane of glass.

Benefits of PAM in Active Directory

Implementing PAM in Active Directory brings numerous benefits:

Manage Privileges: Active Roles PAM helps protect the biggest problem with granting too many permissions: the ability to grant privileges!

Manage Attack Surface: By controlling and limiting privileged access, the attack surface becomes smaller, making it harder for attackers to find vulnerabilities.

Compliance and Auditing: Active Roles PAM assists in robust auditing and reporting capabilities.


Active Directory is the cornerstone of user and system management for many organizations, making its security paramount. Privileged Access Management is a critical piece of the cybersecurity puzzle, helping to safeguard sensitive data, reduce the risk of insider and external threats, and enhance overall security. As organizations face an ever-evolving threat landscape, implementing a comprehensive PAM strategy in their Active Directory environment is not just a best practice but a necessity to secure their digital fortress.

In conclusion, over-granting permissions might seem like a quick fix for ensuring a smooth user experience, but it can lead to a cascade of issues, including privilege creep and security vulnerabilities. Striking the right balance between convenience and security is essential for safeguarding your organization's digital assets. Regularly review and audit permissions, adhere to the principle of least privilege, and employ robust access control measures to keep your digital realm secure and efficient.


One Identity Active Roles Customer Success Stories

How to find and manage privileged accounts in Active Directory

One Identity Active Roles product

JIT Privilege Elevation with Active Roles and Safeguard on the One Identity YouTube Channel

For more information on how Active Roles can secure and manage your Active Directory, visit Active Roles (

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