Active Directory (AD) is Microsoft’s identity and access management (IAM) solution that allows IT teams to centrally manage user accounts and devices within an IT infrastructure. AD has become an increasingly integral component for many IT environments due to its benefits, such as single sign-on (SSO), enhanced security, and streamlined IT management.
Therefore, understanding how Active Directory works should be a top priority for any IT administrator because nearly all cybersecurity attacks affect it. In this post, you’ll learn more about AD, how it works, and why you may want to consider migrating from an on-prem to fully optimized cloud-based IAM.
Why Did Microsoft Release Active Directory?
The history of AD dates back to 2000 when Microsoft officially released Windows 2000 Server operating system (OS) as a replacement for Windows NT-based user authentication. At the time, Windows NT-based platforms only provided a flat and non-extensible domain model for user authentication, which didn’t scale well for large enterprises.
With AD, the company could now anchor user management and access control in IT infrastructures that were largely dominated by Windows OSs. Over the years, Microsoft strengthened AD capabilities, adding features such as federation services, rights management, and SSO.
Today, AD is part of nearly every task that users perform on Windows-based networks, including Exchange Server, SharePoint, and Office Communications Server, among others. Users can also leverage the lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) to add Unix and Linux-based machines under access controls in AD and other third-party applications.
Today, most organizations predominantly use AD as an on-prem IAM solution. However, you can also synchronize AD with Azure AD to accomplish hybrid identity goals through the Azure AD Connect feature; however, you can only get this feature if you enroll in an Azure subscription.
Understanding Active Directory Services
The primary goal of AD is to allow IT administrators to manage permissions and control access to corporate resources. Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) is the foundation of AD that allows it to provide these services. AD DS provides authentication and authorization measures to users, determining which corporate resources they can access.