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Preventing Windows Accounts Being Bruteforced

Published: 23 January 2021

In a previous article we discussed how bruteforcing Windows accounts is often easier than people expect. In this post - we'll cover some steps to harden these accounts.

The Observation Window

When configuring an account lockout threshold on a Domain another setting is suggested, the observation window. This setting effectively reduces the protection of the account lockout by setting a timer. For example, a lockout threshold of 5 and an observation window of 30 minutes has the impact of meaning that if an attacker attempts 5 incorrect passwords within 30 minutes the account will lock - but four passwords would not cause it to lock.

Therefore, an attacker could attempt 4 passwords every 30 minutes - or 192 per account per day, without locking any accounts.


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Strong Passwords: The Problem with Rotation

Published: 10 June 2021

Password rotation has previously been included within best practice guides as a method of minimising the risk of compromised passwords being valid at the time a threat actor attempts to use them. Recent research has indicated that the enforcing password rotation is linked to increased risk of weak passwords, due to users selecting passwords based on patterns - such as `Password1`, `Password2`, `Password3`, or patterns such as `Summer 2021`, `Autumn 2021`, `Winter 2021`.


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Strong Passwords: The Problem with Complexity

Published: 07 June 2021

Weak passwords are those which are predictable and can be easily guessed. To ensure that users do not select weak passwords organisations may look to enforce password complexity. Complexity refers to the requirement to use a mixed character set. For example, on Active Directory accounts complexity requires three of the four: uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols. However it is still possible to select weak passwords with complexity enabled, such as `Welcome!`, `Summer2020`, or `Password123456`.


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Strong Passwords: Three Random Words

Published: 23 January 2021

When performing security tests, we very often come across weak passwords. We often see dictionary words with suffixes such as Welcome1, Password123, or Lockdown2020. We also see "leet" substitutions, such as P@55w0rd, 3l3ph@nt, or L0ckd0wn. We've previously shown how quickly password cracking can be performed. With passwords like the above they would be cracked easily. Simple protections such as "Password complexity" don't solve the problem on their own, for example complexity enforces the requirement for three of the following: uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols - which all of the weak options above meet.


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Bruteforcing Windows Accounts

Published: 19 October 2020

A common configuration on Windows Active Directory accounts is to have an account lockout threshold of say, 5 invalid attempts, and an observation window of 30 minutes. This is likely due to the fact that the “Suggested Setting” after setting a threshold is to enable a short observation window.

When setting an account lockout threshold, Windows “suggests” that you set the observation window at the same time, to 30 minutes. The observation window is often overlooked as a security risk; however it allows an attacker to perform a bruteforce attack without locking an account.


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Bruteforcing Kerberos

Published: 19 October 2020

It is possible to brute-force Windows accounts directly, using tools like Metasploit using modules such as smb_login, which will target port 445 (SMB). However, it’s also possible to brute-force the Active Director authentication protocol Kerberos directly.

This can be beneficial to an attack for two reasons, the first is that it will be logged differently and depending on how the blue team are monitoring for attacks it might fly under the radar. A standard login attempt that fails will result in event 4625, whereas a failed Kerberos login attempt will likely result in event 4771.


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ASREP Roasting

Published: 19 October 2020

If an Active Directory user has pre-authentication disabled, a vulnerability is exposed which can allow an attacker to perform an offline bruteforce attack against that user’s password.

This attack is commonly known as “AS-REP Roasting” in reference to Authentication Service Requests, a part of the process of authentication with Kerberos. An attacker who is able to find a user with pre-authentication disabled can request an AS-REP ticket for that user and this will contain data encrypted with the user’s password.


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