All About Active Directory Certificate Services

Active Directory Certificates Services (AD CS) is a tool released for Windows Server in 2008. It allows administrators to customize services used in managing public key certificates. AD CS provides the functionality required by organizations that use Windows as their primary IT infrastructure.

Active Directory Certificates Services were developed for large-scale enterprise management. However, public key infrastructure caters to the security needs of the organization. It can be used for cryptography, securing web servers, automated authentication, mail encryption, etc.

AD CS and PKI synergize in a Windows environment to handle complex IT tasks in an enterprise. However, many people don’t realize the importance of active directory certificate services in an enterprise network.

This article will provide a brief overview of active directory certificate services. By the end of the article, you’ll have a pretty good idea about the concept of active directory certificate services.

1. What is Active Directory Certificate Services?

Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) is a Microsoft product developed for enterprises to manage their public key infrastructure. It is a server-based solution that provides enterprises with encryption, digital signatures, and digital certificates.

You can use AD CS on Virtual Private Networks (VPN), Encrypting File Systems (EFS), Secure Wireless Networks, Network Access Protection (NAP), etc. Active Directory Certificate Services are designed to issue digital signatures in a Windows environment. These certificates are often more secure and easier to use than traditional passwords. Some of Active Directory Certificate Services‘ best practices include:

Ensure that there is a proper backup for the certificates and database

Constantly reviewing permissions and access control

Avoid issuing certificates directly to users from the root certification authority

Always use Secure Socket Layer (SSL) when doing web-based enrollment

2. What is The Use of Active Directory Certificate Services?

The primary purpose of AD CS is to offer public key infrastructure services and manage security in a windows environment. Active Directory Certificate Services creates, authenticates, and cancels any of the public key certificates used in an enterprise.

Each of these certificate services can be used to encrypt network traffic, files, and emails. Networks like Transport Layer Protocol (TCP), Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and Network Access Protection (NAP) can be encrypted using Active Directory Certificate Services.

3. Active Directory Certificate Practices

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The primary purpose of using Active Directory Certificate Services in a Windows environment is to improve security in the enterprise network. It ensures that users’ activities in a network are closely monitored to prevent security lapses.

However, before implementing AD CS in your enterprise network, you must follow the industry’s best practices for operating Active Directory Certificate Services. They are:

Place Security Permission on Servers

If you’re running an enterprise network, you’ll have many important files you won’t want every user in the network to access. When you establish security permissions on your servers, you limit each user’s activities and roles in the network.

For example, the Network or Certificate Administrator has full permissions to the entire network, while a certificate manager should only have the authorization to issue and manage certificates. Likewise, authenticated users; the permissions of each user in the network should be regulated based on their roles and importance to the enterprise.

Never Use Default AD CS Certificate Templates
Using the default settings in any security service is not always a good idea. Each enterprise operates differently; therefore, they require custom templates to help manage network users’ activities and permissions.

Before you deploy Active Directory Certificate Services, ensure you have a plan for each template. Do not deploy templates that are not necessary for your enterprise.

Suppose you implement templates irrelevant to your enterprise. In that case, you’re at a higher risk of experiencing a settings misconfiguration which can allow every user on the network to access any file on the server.

Always Turn on Expiry Notification on your Certificates

Turning on auto-renewal or enrollment in your group policy is always a good idea. It ensures that the domain certificates are renewed before they expire. The subscription’s expiration for most active directory certificates can leave your server susceptible to virus attacks from cyber criminals.

While the Network Administrator might not notice a few expired certificates, a hacker will instantly seize that opportunity to create a back door into your enterprise network.

4. Advantages of Active Directory Certificate Services

Enhanced security

Leverages existing group policy

Easy installation

Supports efficient management of certificates in an enterprise

Automates life cycle management and enrollment of certificates

5. Disadvantages of Active Directory Certificate Services

Risk of cross-site scripting attacks (XSS)

It takes up a lot of hardware and resources

Complex maintenance

Difficult to use and implement


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Active Directory Certificate Services are essential factors that influence the security and functionality of users and files in a Windows environment. AD CS is better than traditional passwords and can improve an organization’s security. However, before implementing AD CS in your enterprise, ensure you follow the industry’s best practices for Active Directory.

By Hammad Hassan

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