Windows Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory

- select the contributor at the end of the page -
If you have been supporting servers for any amount of time, you have no doubt come across requests from manager for security audits, if you don't already have them in place yourself to keep an eye on things.

Auditing is exactly what it sounds like -- it keeps a record of things that have been modified in Active Directory. In previous versions of Windows Server there was not a lot of granular control in what you were auditing. Let's explore some of the new auditing features in Server 2008.

Auditing Changes in Windows Server 2008

One of the most significant changes over the Server 2000 and Server 2003 versions of auditing is that now you can not only audit who and what attribute was changed but also what the new and old value was. This is significant because you can now tell why it was changed and if something doesn't look right you're able to easily find what it should be restored to.

Another significant change is that in the past you were only able to turn auditing policy on or off for the entire Active Directory structure. In Windows Server 2008 the auditing policy is configurable for four subcategories:

  • Directory Service Access
  • Directory Service Changes
  • Directory Service Replication
  • Detailed Directory Service Replication

This article will focus on enabling auditing on Directory Service Changes which will show us the ability to audit changes to Active Directory Domain Services.

Implementing Auditing on Windows Server 2008

In Server 2008 when setting up auditing there are three places you can modify to implement controls:

  • Global Audit Policy – In Server 2008 the Global Audit Policy is not on by default and must be enabled.
  • System Access Control List (SACL) – Is the ultimate authority if an access check gets audited or not.

    The SACL is part of the security descriptor for an active directory object and specifies which operations should be audited. These are set by the security administrators who have been assigned Manage Auditing and Security Log privileges. It is assigned automatically to the Administrators Group.

  • Schema – To protect administrators from generating too many auditing events there is an override that can be set in the schema to exclude any events that have an attribute set.

    We will not be covering the Schema modification in this article, but this is important for you to know.

How to Enable Global Audit Policy on Windows Server 2008

The first step is to enable the audit policy. I will walk you through both doing it through the GUI and then through the command line:

1. Go to Start, Administrative Tools, and then click on Group Policy Management.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 1

2. Navigate down through your Forest, to the Domains, then Domain Controllers and left click on Default Domain Controllers Policy.

You will get a warning that changes here will impact all other locations that the GPO is linked to. Click Ok.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 2

3. Right click on Default Domain Controllers Policy and then left click on Edit…

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 3

4. Navigate under Computer Configurations → Policies → Windows Settings → Security Settings → Local Policies → Audit Policy

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 4

5. Right click on Audit Directory Service Access, and then click Properties.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 5

6. Select Define these policy settings and then select Success. Click on Apply and then Ok.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 6

That's it! You now have configured auditing via GUI.

Let's take a look at the command line method (much faster):

1. Start Command Prompt with elevated rights.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 7

2. Type in the following command and hit Enter:

auditpol /set /subcategory:"directory service changes" /success:enable

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 8

I told you it was much faster! You should see The command was successfully executed. Now let's move on to the next step.

How to Setup Auditing in System Access Control List (SACL)

As was mentioned earlier, the SACLs do most of the work in determining what gets auditing and what doesn't. Please note that there are many different types of SACLs that can be setup; we are only using one as an example.

1. Open Active Directory Computers and Users.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 9

2. Click on View and make sure that Advanced Features is enabled. If not left click on it to place a check next to it.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 10

3. Right click on any of the Organizational Units you want to audit; in our example I am going to audit Users. Then click on Properties.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 11

4. In the Properties window click on Security.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 12

5. Next click on Advanced.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 13

6. Click the Auditing tab, then click Add.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 14

7. Under Enter the object name to select:, type in Authenticated Users and click Ok.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 15

8. In the next window under Apply onto:, select Descendant User Objects and under Access check the box for Successful next to Write all properties and click Ok.

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 16

9. Click Ok until you are out of any dialog boxes.

Now that we have enabled auditing in a SACL let's go ahead and give it a test.

Example: Security Events with Auditing Enabled

With auditing enabled, all events will be logged under the Security Event Viewer. Let's see what happens when you change a value on an object.

For brevity sake, I am going to create a user called audittest, change his name from Audit Test to Test Audit and then we will take a look in the security log to see what was shown.

There are two images that show the change that corresponds with Event 5136, here is the first one which shows the value being deleted, which in this case is Audit Test:

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 17

The next image shows the changed object's new value which in our case is Test Audit:

Server 2008: Auditing Active Directory - 18

So you can see that it is very helpful if you are watching these types of things to know what the old value was compared to the new value, in case you need to quickly and easily reset the attribute without having to go to a backup.

There are a ton of things you can audit depending on the situation and your need.

Ready to test your skills in Active Directory? See how they stack up with this assessment from Smarterer. Start this Active Directory test now

Get our content first. In your inbox.

Loading form...

If this message remains, it may be due to cookies being disabled or to an ad blocker.


Dave Lawlor

Dave Lawlor has been working in the IT field since leaving the U.S. Army in 1996.  Working his way up from printer hardware repair to running a corporate datacenter for a multinational corporation, Dave has seen many environments throughout the years. Focusing on web sites and search engine optimization the last few years, with the release of Server 2008 it has renewed his passion for the Wintel platform and server technologies. David also runs where he posts free videos and walk-throughs for a variety of server technologies. David currently works as a freelance technical consultant and writer for a variety of companies in the Chicago area. (MCTS, MCP, A+)