Active Directory Domain Services Elevation of Privilege Vulnerability

This bulletin was written by Michal Nowakowski of the Kudelski Security Threat Detection & Research Team

Update June 1st, 2022, 1830h UTC (2.30PM EDT)

Microsoft released on May 19th an out-of-band patch to address the authentication issues encountered on Windows Servers with Domain Controller service enabled induced by the initial patch released on May 10th. Please follow Microsoft’s guidance on how to update your Domain Controllers.

Update May 16th, 2022, 1800h UTC (2PM EDT)

Microsoft and the U.S CyberSecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recommend that organizations avoid installing some patches released on May 10th on servers acting as domain controllers. Patches provided by Microsoft on May 10th are causing some authentication issues to users. As such, Microsoft recommends currently only installing the patch on Windows Workstations and Windows Servers without Domain Controller service enabled.

The patches causing issues include the first patches for the vulnerability described in this advisory (CVE-2022-26923). Additionally other patches released by Microsoft (such as a patch for CVE-2022-26925, known as PetitPotam) appear to also cause authentication issues.

Organizations who may have already deployed Microsoft’s patches for the Certificate Services vulnerability described in this blog may consider changing the registry key entry named StrongCertificateBindingEnforcement (described in the “Solutions & Patches” section of this blog post) to a value of “0” in order to disable certificate mapping checks temporarily – while Microsoft works on addressing issues caused by this patch. Alternatively, organizations may choose to review windows event audit logs to identify offending certificates, and then manually map certificates that are causing authentication failures.

This blog post will be updated with the most recent information about this vulnerability as the situation progresses.


On May 10th Microsoft recently disclosed an Active Directory Domain Privilege Escalation Vulnerability (CVE-2022-26923) which was part of May 2022 Security Updates. It is a high severity vulnerability, which could allow any domain user to escalate privileges to that of a Domain Administrator if Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) are running on the domain.

This vulnerability stems from a bug in how machine certificates are issued by Active Directory Certificate Services which fails to check the if the SAM Account Name of the entity requesting a certificate matches the dNSHostName attribute of an issued certificate. Additionally, AD Certificate Services did not explicitly check for a “$” at the end of an account name (used to denote a machine account). By abusing this vulnerability, an attacker can request (& receive) a certificate for the DNS hostname of a domain controller. This certificate can be abused to impersonate a domain controller.

There are already numbers of publicly available Proof of Concept (PoC) exploits for the vulnerability, including detailed write-ups on how it works and how to abuse it. Microsoft has chosen to patch this vulnerability in a staged manner, first enabling auditing of suspicious or misconfigured certificates, and then later disallowing authentication using such certificates. Microsoft’s decision was made in order to prevent potential impact on a client’s Active Directory environment. The patches released May 10th enable additional auditing of certificates that may have been issued in error or could be malicious.

The Cyber Fusion Center strongly recommends that organizations who run Active Directory Certificate Services apply Microsoft’s provided patches as quickly as possible. Applying such patches will enable organizations to begin auditing certificates that may have been issued incorrectly – or malicious certificates that may have been issued due to this vulnerability.

For details regarding how to immediately enable features that block such misconfigured or malicious certificates, please review the patches and solution section of this advisory. For temporary mitigation options, please review the mitigations section of this advisory.

Attack / Vulnerability Details

To successfully exploit this Privilege Escalation vulnerability and perform DCSync attack, an adversary would perform the following steps:

  • Create a Machine Account on the domain
    • Note: by default, any domain authenticated user can add up to 10 machines accounts to a domain
  • Modify the dNSHostName attribute of the newly created machine account to be DNS hostname of Domain Controller
  • Request & receive a certificate using modified attributes in machine account
  • Authenticate with requested certificate

Attackers in possession of such a certificate can retrieve a hash of the domain controller’s domain account. This hash could then be used to impersonate a domain controller and replicate all domain user’s password data (known as a “DCSync Attack”) to a system the attacker controls. 

Solutions & Patches

Microsoft has released patches for this vulnerability in a staggered fashion in order to limit impact for organizations who may have misconfigured certificates. The patches released on May 10th, enable auditing to help organizations identify misconfigured or malicious certificates that are being actively used for authentication and do not prevent the usage of malicious certificates by default. Organizations can choose to enable enforcement.

Microsoft recommends that organizations leave AD Certificate Services / Authentication systems in “audit mode” for at least a month and work to review audit logs related to misconfigured certificates. Once organizations are confident that there will be no or little operational impact to enforcing additional security requirements to use certificates for authentication, they can enable enforcement by editing the following registry key (only available after the patch is installed):

Registry SubkeyHKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Kdc
Data1 – Checks if there is a strong certificate mapping. If yes, authentication is allowed. Otherwise, the KDC will check if the certificate has the new SID extension and validate it. If this extension is not present, authentication is allowed if the user account predates the certificate.

2 – Checks if there’s a strong certificate mapping. If yes, authentication is allowed. Otherwise, the KDC will check if the certificate has the new SID extension and validate it. If this extension is not present, authentication is denied.

0 – Disables strong certificate mapping check. Not recommended.

Note: Microsoft will issue a patch in May 2023 to automatically enable enforcement

The CFC strongly recommends organizations deploy the May 10th patch and review audit logs for misconfigured certificates prior to this deadline.


Organizations who are not able to patch their Active Directory Certificate Services systems, could potentially consider hardening Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) environment by restricting certificate enrollment. Additionally, organizations may consider disabling the ability for regular / non-administrative domain users from enrolling new machine accounts to the domain.

As mentioned previously, the ability for regular users to enroll new machine accounts is enabled by default. Organizations can modify their Active Directory schema by modifying the “MS-DS-Machine-Account-Quota” attribute to disallow non-privileged users from enrolling any machine accounts

Note: Modifying the MS-DS-Machine-Account-Quota attribute does not necessarily prevent exploitation but reduces your overall attack surface for this vulnerability.

What the Cyber Fusion Center is doing

To obtain visibility into any activity potential exploit or attack activity related to the vulnerability described in this document, the Cyber Fusion Center is investigating additional detection capabilities identifying the manipulation of the servicePrincipalName attribute performed using the setspn.exe process. This process is used either to delete values that contain dNSHostNam or add new ones.

The CFC will continue to test and validate its detection methodology, once validated, the CFC will begin deployment of the detection to all relevant clients with Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) enabled. MDR ONE Clients will have detection capabilities as soon as the detection is finalized.

In parallel, the latest Windows Security Update added several new Event IDs which are currently being investigated by the Detection Engineering to understand how they could be leveraged for detection in the future.


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