IS Decisions logo

IS Decisions Blog

Secure remote access to Active Directory

A guide to securing remote access to Active Directory for your on-premise Active Directory identities. Close common security gaps for a hybrid or fully remote workforce with UserLock.

Published Jun 12, 2024
Secure Remote Access to Active Directory

Remote work is here to stay. The risks are real, but UserLock can help secure remote access to your Active Directory (AD) environment and cloud apps.

 With UserLock, you can protect your sensitive resources from anywhere by enabling secure connections to your network, applications, and data when users log on remotely to your on-premise Active Directory.

What is secure remote access?

With the rise in work-from-home and hybrid workplaces, remote access is in its heyday. Ensuring secure remote access has never been more critical. It means enabling secure remote connections like RDP and VPN to your network, applications, or data when your users log on remotely — from anywhere outside the office.

Employees who work outside of the traditional office environment need secure remote access to prevent unauthorized access, protect sensitive data, and maintain the integrity of the corporate network.

The need to secure remote access to Active Directory for remote work security

The reality is that remote work expands your attack surface. During the pandemic, making remote work, well, work, was the priority. So cybersecurity measures to accommodate the rapid shift to the cloud and rise in remote access often didn't get the attention it deserved. And many of the breaches we've seen over the past few years trace directly to that.

The role of Identity and Access Management (IAM) for remote access security is critical in adjusting IT security for the new world of work. One where focusing security on access, following a zero-trust security model, is key.

As you know, your users' remote connections to your on-premise Active Directory put sensitive resources at risk. With IAM, you can strengthen login security, enforce robust authentication methods, and set granular access controls to mitigate remote work risks.

The risks of remote work for on-premise Active Directory environments

For on-prem Active Directory infrastructures, remote work amplifies several risks, such as phishing, credential theft, and the challenge of a broader threat surface.

Attackers take advantage of remote access system vulnerabilities to target unsuspecting remote employees with phishing attacks and social engineering techniques.

Credential theft is another significant risk, as compromised login credentials can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data and resources within the AD environment.

The broader threat surface created by remote work and the cloud identity sprawl that often goes hand-in-hand makes it more difficult for IT teams to secure and monitor access to corporate resources.

The challenge for IT teams to secure remote access

We all know remote work adds complexity and creates more stress for IT. And with remote work, controlling security only at the endpoint is impossible.

The challenge is that employees in a remote or hybrid workforce don't always do what we expect (or want) them to do. And IT has zero control over that.

Remote employees use different internet connections, with or without VPN, and connect to the network (or not) from different types of computers and devices. Sometimes, they're logging on without any internet connection at all.

And in a BYOD environment, it's impossible to push security software and updates to personal devices or to control every internet connection.

Remote work security solutions have to focus on access and must be context-sensitive.

Your security measures need to detect threats from inside or outside the network and deliver a real-time response. It must limit access based on user role, monitor access events, and provide more prominent visibility on risks for each user and the network.

Secure remote access to Active Directory with these 14 tips

Here are a few tips for securing remote access so your organization can operate safely while supporting a hybrid or fully remote work model.

1. Enable multifactor authentication (MFA) to secure remote access to Active Directory and cloud apps

Hackers notoriously exploit and target remote connections due to their vulnerability. Ensure you have MFA for remote work to secure machine, network, and cloud app access when users work remotely.

Make sure your MFA solution works without internet access (power outages happen, and you never know when your users may need to log on without it — have you ever tried working in the car?).

Configure MFA to persist so you can secure off-domain connections, when users don't connect to the corporate network or don't use a VPN.

Enable remote MFA enrollment to allow users to set up MFA from any location securely.

2. Use access management to secure remote access

Restrict remote access to authorized domain machines to prevent unauthorized devices from accessing corporate resources.

Restrict remote access to specific countries to mitigate the risk of attacks from high-risk regions.

Enforce logoff times and working hours to reduce the risk of unauthorized access outside regular business hours.

3. Monitor remote user sessions and all external access to sensitive systems

Implement real-time monitoring and alerting capabilities to promptly detect and respond to suspicious activities or potential security incidents.

4. Implement a remote worker equipment policy

Make sure all devices used for remote work meet minimum security requirements, like up-to-date antivirus software and operating systems.

If you have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, mitigate the risks by implementing BYOD security best practices.

5. Strengthen password management policy

As we all know, Windows credentials are extremely easy to compromise. And AI makes password-based authentication even weaker.

But it's still important to make sure your remote users follow best practices for strong passwords: they must be long, complex, and unique on each device or service.

6. Put strict policies around security updates

Since cybercriminals quickly exploit outdated software vulnerabilities, deploy updates as soon as they are available and on all accessible equipment in your information system. Make sure your remote users know the importance of running updates on their end as well.

7. Tighten up your user provisioning and deprovisioning

Although arguably the least sexy part of any IT admin's job, user provisioning and deprovisioning are key to overall AD security. When your users are remote, it's especially critical to ensure you're tracking inactive users and promptly deactivating user accounts.

8. Backup data regularly

Sometimes, backups are the only way for your organization to recover data after a cyber-attack. Make sure to perform and test backups regularly to ensure they're working.

9. Use professional antiviral solutions

To protect against the latest cyber threats, deploy enterprise-grade antivirus and anti-malware software on all devices used for remote work.

10. Monitor and log all external access

You'll want to closely monitor your users' remote logins with Active Directory credentials. Keep detailed Active Directory access event logs of all access attempts, administrator actions, MFA failures, and user session history.

11. Train employees on cyber best practices

Educate employees on cyber awareness, best practices for remote work security, and how to identify and report suspicious activity. Be clear with remote employees about exactly what they can, and cannot do.

12. Provide reactive IT support to remote employees

Your organization should establish a dedicated IT support team, or person, to quickly and efficiently address technical or security issues for remote workers.

13. Prepare an incident response plan

Develop a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines the organization's steps during a cyber attack, including defining roles and responsibilities, establishing communication protocols, and detailing recovery procedures.

14. Get buy-in from leadership

Engage senior management and executives in developing and implementing remote work security policies to ensure everyone supports and follows remote work best practices.

How UserLock helps you secure remote access for Active Directory identities

1. Restrict remote access with role-based access controls (RBAC) and contextual factors

  • Limit access based on role: Set access policies at the protected account leve, by user, group, or OU, so you can easily follow the least privilege principle and limit access to only what's needed to get the job done. As a bonus, this makes change management easy, too, since you can easily update policies when users change roles or leave the company.

    protected accounts
  • Limit remote access to authorized domain machines: Prevent unauthorized devices from accessing corporate resources.

    Workstation restrictions
  • Put geolocation restrictions on remote access: Mitigate the risk of attacks from high-risk regions by restricting user login based on country.

    Geolocation restrictions
  • Enforce logoff times and working hours: Limit the window of opportunity for attackers with logon hour restrictions.

    Hours restrictions

2. Enable MFA and access controls on all remote connections

  • VPN: Secure connections to your infrastructure using a "VPN" (Virtual Private Network). When possible, limit VPN access to only authorized laptops and deny attempts to access from another machine. UserLock allows you to apply MFA for VPN connections.

  • RDP: Secure Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connections with MFA to prevent unauthorized access.

  • RD Gateway: Protect the Remote Desktop Gateway with MFA to secure remote access to internal resources.

  • RD Web Access: Secure Remote Desktop Web Access with MFA to enable secure remote access through a web browser.

  • Microsoft DirectAccess and AlwaysOn VPN: Provide seamless and secure remote access to corporate resources with MFA.

  • Outlook Web Access (OWA): Secure access to email through a web browser with MFA.

  • Office 365: Protect access to Office 365 applications and services with MFA.

  • SaaS cloud apps: Secure access to cloud-based applications and services with MFA. With UserLock SSO, you gain immediate access to cloud applications without having to log in separately.

  • Offline (no internet): Offline MFA maintains security even when users aren't connected to the internet.

  • Off-LAN (VPN-less): Enforce MFA and access controls for domain-joined machines that don't connect to the LAN (also known as VPN-less or off-domain).

Read how Dobbs Peterbilt secures their mobile workforce with UserLock's offline MFA for remote working.

3. Monitor and react to any user session directly from the UserLock console

  • Get real-time visibility into remote access activities.

  • Detect and respond to suspicious activities or potential security incidents with a one-click logoff or automatic scripts.

    AD user block logon attempt
  • Set up alerts and notifications for critical events, such as failed login attempts or access from unusual locations.

    UserLock admin alerts
  • Keep a detailed log of all access and access attempts, including MFA events and administrator actions.

  • Review and analyze user session data to identify trends, anomalies, and potential security risks.

Securing remote access: the key to safe hybrid workforce access to Active Directory

Securing remote access is critical for organizations embracing remote work and hybrid workplaces. It's a challenge that can be especially hard for organizations whose IT infrastructure is built around their on-premise AD, since remote work often brings a need to secure cloud access in the easiest, most secure way possible.

With UserLock, you can mitigate remote work risks, ensure only the right people get access to your Active Directory environment, and secure sensitive data and resources.

Closing gaps in your remote access security helps you maintain a strong cybersecurity posture and lets your employees (and organization) enjoy the benefits of flexible working without sacriicing security or productivity.

Try UserLock for free

3400+ organizations like yours choose UserLock to secure access for Active Directory identities and meet compliance requirements.

Download a free trial