Top Tools and Best Practices for Active Directory Management

By Tek-Tools on April 20, 2020

Active Directory (AD) is a Microsoft directory service with a common interface for organizing and maintaining an organization’s information. Like a phone directory storing information like contact names, addresses, and phone numbers, AD includes information such as users, accounts, domain names, and resources (printers, computers, and more) within a network. System administrators maintain these directories to get easy access and control over network resources.

However, maintaining Active Directory is a cumbersome task. IT admins manually perform repetitive and mundane tasks including filling up user account entries and configuring user properties. These tasks are time consuming, tiresome, and error prone. Moreover, accomplishing these tasks without any errors requires in-depth knowledge of Active Directory management.

Active Directory management tools help automate these cumbersome tasks, simplify AD management, and provide detailed status reports of various tasks. With Active Directory management tools, IT administrators can also design templates for effective management of user accounts.

Outlined below are a few Active Directory best practices.

Active Directory Best Practices

Implement Permission Inheritance

After organizing Active Directory, it’s time to improve it by implementing the least privilege principle and permission inheritance model. The least privilege model works on “no more no less” theory. Every user is granted only those permissions and access rights they need to complete a task within a network. As the number of users increases, the inherited permission or role-based model is of great help. These models allow IT admins to provide access to the parent object or to a specified role, so the objects below the specified role or parent will automatically get access to the same amount of permissions as the parent object. These models automate and ease the task of managing permissions, thereby ensuring consistency.

Optimize Password Policies

There are several ways to optimize password setup to ensure users don’t need to reset later. Implementing self-service password management and single-sign-on helps domain users update personal details and set passwords on-premises or remotely. However, access to these services must be highly secured, as unauthorized access can lead to data exposure. A two-factor authentication solution is another way to secure your Active Directory. It takes users to a short verification process after logging in to the system and entering the domain credentials. They get a verification code or OTP via SMS or email. Other measures to secure Active Directory include updating passwords regularly, creating long passwords, and allowing three login attempts.

Set Up Multiple Domain Name System (DNS) Servers

Domain Name Server (DNS) in AD is used to locate objects within Active Directory. The DNS maintains a database of services running on a network saved as service records. These records consist of user tickets raised to locate a service (like needing a printer) to IT admins. Maintaining such records on a single DNS server is challenging, and if it fails, businesses have to deal with a huge amount of data loss, so it’s advisable to have multiple DNS servers. They act as a first and a second-level backup. As each DNS server has its own database, it becomes easier to find an address corresponding to a record. If the requested information isn’t available in the first-level DNS server, it’s forwarded to second and third-level DNS servers.

Schedule Routine Clean-Ups

Over time, resources (computer) and user accounts become obsolete and need to be deleted. Based on your organization’s Active Directory housekeeping policies, you can eliminate unnecessary, inactive, and disabled user accounts and resources. Scheduling routine clean-ups helps secure your Active Directory and enhances performance. You can also automate routine clean-ups using Active Directory management tools to help you detect and remove dormant accounts.

Choose the Best Tools to Secure Your Active Directory

It can be challenging to keep up with the Active Directory best practices highlighted above. Fortunately, several tools can help you navigate through the complex AD environment. Listed below are some of the best AD tools.

Automation Tools

Active Directory automation tools like ADManager Plus automate various AD tasks via a customizable approval-based workflow system. The tool enables AD admins to define who should review, approve, and act on automated processes. It helps you act quickly on user account management. You can also use this tool to notify users about the execution of automated tasks.

Permissions Analyzer Tools

Permission analyzer tools help administrators gain insights into user and group permissions and access rights. With custom dashboards, you can see a hierarchical view of permissions and access rights assigned to individual users and get detailed information on how users gained the permission (via inheritance or admin).

Dameware Remote Support

screenshot of dameware remote support’s new active directory user account creation window

SolarWinds® Dameware® Remote Support (DRS) is designed to establish a remote session with end users working outside the network. This can be done by clicking a connection link provided to the end users. It enables admins to remotely access PCs (Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux computers) inside and outside your corporate network. Its RDP and VNC protocols let admins graphically control a remote computer regardless of its location. The tool’s remote administration capabilities help you provide excellent end-user support by troubleshooting errors quickly.

SolarWinds offers both on-premises DRS Active Directory management and SaaS-based Dameware Remote Everywhere versions to help you manage Active Directory. You can learn more about the features and advantages by comparing Dameware remote software options here.

Access Rights Manager

screenshot of solarwinds access rights manager's risk assessment dashboard

SolarWinds Access Rights Manager (ARM) helps you control and manage user permissions for Active Directory management. The tool features role-specific templates, which IT teams can use to create secure accounts and monitor for suspicious account activity. In addition, the tool provides a self-service permission portal to help you more easily review user entitlement, which also helps reduce IT workloads. Its intuitive risk assessment dashboards and customizable reports help demonstrate compliance and regulatory requirements like GDPR, PCI DSS, and HIPAA. With its high level of automation, SolarWinds ARM allows IT admins to focus on other critical operational tasks. You can try ARM free for 30 days.

Why Choose Third-Party Active Directory Tools?

Active Directory maintains a vast database and needs regular maintenance and security checks. Third-party tools are well-equipped with an administrative toolkit to significantly reduce IT admins’ workloads by keeping a check on inherited permissions and access rights. Although deciding on choosing a tool inevitably depends on your specific needs like team size and network, SolarWinds Access Rights Manager and Dameware Remote Support are worth trying. These tools come well-equipped with automation, security, and on-premises/remote networking features teams can use to more efficiently manage Active Directory.

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