Retrieving Cleartext GMSA Passwords from Active Directory

December 28, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 8 Comments on Retrieving Cleartext GMSA Passwords from Active Directory

Have you ever wondered how the automatically generated passwords of Group Managed Service Accounts (GMSA) look like? Well, you can fetch them from Active Directory in the same way as Windows Servers do and see yourself. Here is how:

Creating a GMSA

To start experimenting, we need to have a GMSA first, so we create one:

We can check the result in the Active Directory Users and Computers console:

Group Managed Service AccountUnfortunately, the built-in GUI will not help us much when working with GMSAs. Although there is a nice 3rd party tool, we will stick to PowerShell.

Setting the Managed Password ACL

Now we need to provide a list of principals that are allowed to retrieve the plaintext password from DCs through LDAP. Normally, we would grant this privilege to one or more servers (members of the same cluster/web farm). But we will grant the privilege to ourselves instead:

Of course, you should not use the built-in Administrator account in a production environment.

Retrieving the Managed Password

Now comes the fun part:

Note that until now, we have only used regular, built-in cmdlets from the ActiveDirectory module, courtesy of Microsoft.

Decoding the Managed Password

Let’s have a look at the msDS-ManagedPassword attribute, that has been returned by the command above. It is a constructed attribute, which means that its value is calculated by DC from the KDS root key and the msDS-ManagedPasswordId attribute every time someone asks for it. Although documented, the cryptographic algorithm used is quite complicated. Furthermore, the value of the msDS-ManagedPasswordId gets re-generated every (msDS-ManagedPasswordInterval)-days (30 by default).

We see that the msDS-ManagedPassword attribute of our GMSA contains a sequence of bytes. It is a binary representation of the MSDS-MANAGEDPASSWORD_BLOB data structure, which contains some metadata in addition to the actual password. As there had been no publicly available tool to decode this structure, I have created one myself:

TADA!!! The CurrentPassword property contains the actual cleartext password of the GMSA in question. Why does it look like gibberish? Because it is just 256 bytes of pseudorandom data, interpreted as 128 UTF-16 characters. Good luck writing that on your keyboard. But if we calculate its NT hash, it will match the hash stored in AD.


We have seen that retrieving the value of GMSA passwords is quite easy. But don’t be afraid, there is no security hole in Active Directory. The cleartext password is always passed through an encrypted channel, it is automatically changed on a regular basis and even members of the Domain  Admins group are not allowed to retrieve it by default. So do not hesitate and start using the (Group) Managed Service Accounts. They are much safer than using regular accounts for running services.

If you want to play more with this stuff, just grab the DSInternals module. And for developers, the C# code I use to decode the structure can be found on GitHub.

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Source Code Released

December 27, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | No Comments on Source Code Released

Good news: I have open-sourced the DSInternals PowerShell Module. Its source codes can now be found at GitHub and Visual Studio 2013 is needed to build it.

Just note that it is still work in progress. It lacks documentation and needs some heavy code refactoring. Any help is welcome.

Retrieving DPAPI Backup Keys from Active Directory

October 26, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 3 Comments on Retrieving DPAPI Backup Keys from Active Directory


The Data Protection API (DPAPI) is used by several components of Windows to securely store passwords, encryption keys and other sensitive data. When DPAPI is used in an Active Directory domain environment, a copy of user’s master key is encrypted with a so-called DPAPI Domain Backup Key that is known to all domain controllers. Windows Server 2000 DCs use a symmetric key and newer systems use a public/private key pair. If the user password is reset and the original master key is rendered inaccessible to the user, the user’s access to the master key is automatically restored using the backup key.

The Mimikatz Method

Benjamin Delpy has already found a way to extract these backup keys from the LSASS of domain controllers and it even works remotely:

Mimikatz DPAPI Backup Keys

Key Storage

I have taken Benjamin’s research one step further and I can now extract these keys directly from the Active Directory database, where they are physically stored:

Backup Key Storage

The keys are stored in the currentValue attribute of objects whose names begin with BCKUPKEY and are of class secret. The BCKUPKEY_PREFERRED Secret and BCKUPKEY_P Secret objects actually only contain GUIDs of objects that hold the current modern and legacy keys, respectively. Furthermore, the currentValue attribute is encrypted using BootKey (aka SysKey) and is never sent through LDAP.

The Database Dump Method

The Get-BootKey, Get-ADDBBackupKey and Save-DPAPIBlob cmdlets from my DSInternals PowerShell Module can be used to retrieve the DPAPI Domain Backup Keys from ntds.dit files:

Note that mimikatz would name these files similarly.

The DRSR Method

The same result can be achieved by communicating with the Directory Replication Service using the Get-ADReplBackupKey cmdlet:


I am already starting to repeat myself:

  • Restrict access to domain controller backups.
  • Be cautious when delegating the “Replicating Directory Changes All” right.


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Dumping the contents of ntds.dit files using PowerShell

October 20, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 69 Comments on Dumping the contents of ntds.dit files using PowerShell

Although there exist several tools for dumping password hashes from the Active Directory database files, including the open-source NTDSXtract from Csaba Bárta whose great research started it all, they have these limitations:

  • They do not support the built-in indices, so searching for a single object is slow when dealing with large databases.
  • Most of the tools are either Linux-only or running them on Windows is not simple enough.
  • Almost none of these tools can modify the database. And if they do, they do not support transaction logs and are quite cumbersome.

Therefore, I have decided to create my own set of PowerShell cmdlets that wouldn’t have these shortcomings. In the process, I have unintentionally created my own framework that is built on top of Microsoft’s ManagedEsent library and hides the complexity of the underlying database. I am planning to release it at GitHub later this year.

One of the cmdlets I have created is Get-ADDBAccount, which can be used to extract password hashes, Kerberos keys and even reversibly encrypted passwords from ntds.dit files. Here is an example of its usage:

The output is identical to what the Get-ADReplAccount cmdlet would return:

I have also created several Views that generate output for the most popular password crackers, including Hashcat, John the Ripper and Ophcrack:

But with the Golden Ticket or Pass-the-Hash functionality of mimikatz, an attacker could seize control of the entire Active Directory forest even without cracking those password hashes.

As a countermeasure, it is crucial for companies to secure physical access to domain controllers, their backups and their VHD/VHDX/VMDK images in case of virtualized DCs. Turning on BitLocker is not a bad idea either. I really look forward to the new security features planned for Windows Server 2016, including Shielded VMs and Virtual TPMs.

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How Azure Active Directory Connect Syncs Passwords

October 18, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 11 Comments on How Azure Active Directory Connect Syncs Passwords

Many people have asked me about the security implications of synchronizing passwords from Active Directory to Azure Active Directory using the Azure AD Connect tool. Although there is an article on Technet that claims that the passwords are synced in a very secure hashed form that cannot be misused for authentication against the on-premise Active Directory, it lacks any detail about the exact information being sent to Microsoft’s servers.

post at the Active Directory Team Blog hints that the Password Sync agent retrieves pre-existing password hashes from AD and secures them by re-hashing them using SHA256 hash per RFC 2898 (aka PBKDF2) before uploading them to the cloud. This sheds some light on the functionality, but some important implementation details are still missing, including the number of SHA256 iterations, salt length and the type of hash that is extracted from AD. Some research on this topic has been done by Alan Byrne, but it is inconclusive. Therefore, I have decided to do my own research and to share my results.


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List of Cmdlets in the DSInternals Module

September 29, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 14 Comments on List of Cmdlets in the DSInternals Module

Here is the list of cmdlets currently contained in the DSInternals PowerShell module:

Online operations with the Active Directory database

Offline operations with the Active Directory database

  • Get-ADDBAccount – Reads one or more accounts from a ntds.dit file, including the secret attributes.
  • Get-BootKey – Reads the BootKey (aka SysKey) from an online or offline SYSTEM registry hive.
  • Set-ADDBBootKey – Re-encrypts a ntds.dit with a new BootKey. Highly experimental!
  • Get-ADDBBackupKey – Reads the DPAPI backup keys from a ntds.dit file.
  • Add-ADDBSidHistory – Adds one or more values to the sIDHistory attribute of an object in a ntds.dit file.
  • Set-ADDBPrimaryGroup – Modifies the primaryGroupId attribute of an object in a ntds.dit file.
  • Get-ADDBDomainController – Reads information about the originating DC from a ntds.dit file, including domain name, domain SID, DC name and DC site.
  • Set-ADDBDomainController – Writes information about the DC to a ntds.dit file, including the highest commited USN and database epoch.
  • Get-ADDBSchemaAttribute – Reads AD schema from a ntds.dit file, including datatable column names.
  • Remove-ADDBObject – Physically removes specified object from a ntds.dit file, making it semantically inconsistent. Highly experimental!


The output of the Get-ADDBAccount and Get-ADReplAccount cmdlets can be formatted using these additional Views:

  • HashcatNT – NT hashes in Hashcat‘s format.
  • HashcatLM – LM hashes in Hashcat’s format.
  • JohnNT – NT hashes in the format supported by John the Ripper.
  • JohnLM – LM hashes in the format supported by John the Ripper.
  • Ophcrack – NT and LM hashes in Ophcrack‘s format.

Password hash calculation

Password decryption


  • Test-PasswordQuality – Performs AD audit, including checks for weak, duplicate, default and empty passwords.
  • Save-DPAPIBlob – Saves the output of the Get-ADReplBackupKey and Get-ADDBBackupKey cmdlets to a file.
  • ConvertTo-Hex – Helper cmdlet that converts binary input to the hexadecimal string format.

I promise to publish more information about my cmdlets in the near future.

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New version of the DSInternals module released

September 5, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | No Comments on New version of the DSInternals module released

I have released a new version of the DSInternals PowerShell module. This is mainly a bugfix release. You can grab it from the Downloads section. Or, if you have PowerShell 5, you can install the module from the PowerShell Gallery by running this command:

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Retrieving Active Directory Passwords Remotely

August 4, 2015 | Michael Grafnetter | 104 Comments on Retrieving Active Directory Passwords Remotely

I have finally finished work on the Get-ADReplAccount cmdlet, the newest addition to my DSInternals PowerShell Module, that can retrieve reversibly encrypted plaintext passwords, password hashes and Kerberos keys of all user accounts from remote domain controllers. This is achieved by simulating the behavior of the dcromo tool and creating a replica of Active Directory database through the MS-DRSR protocol. Furthermore, it has these properties:

  • It does not even need the Domain Admins group membership. The Replicating Directory Changes All permission is more than enough for this cmdlet to do its job.
  • It opens door to other attacks, e.g. pass-the-hash, pass-the-ticket or PAC spoofing, that can be used to seize control of the entire Active Directory forest. Long live mimikatz!
  • It cannot be effectively blocked by firewalls, because the directory replication service (the DRSGetNCChanges call to be more precise) shares the same port with other critical services, like user name resolution (exposed by the DsCrackNames call).
  • It only uses documented features of Active Directory and is not a hack per se.
  • It leaves only minimal footprint on Domain Conrollers and can be easily overlooked by security audits.

Usage example:

Sample output:

You could even dump all accounts at once, but this can cause heavy (=suspicious) replication traffic:

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