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By David Rowe

Forget-me-not list: privileged groups to audit today

This security post continues the mini series Active Directory Builtin groups that are often overlooked. The permissions for the groups are granted by default upon the creation of a domain. The focus on the these groups plans to be a reference point for budding security analysts and engineers.

For a full list of permissions on the default built in groups, please reference the Microsoft article


The list of groups covered in this series, in alphabetical order:

As a recap:

Each group will be defined with my everyday and very general overview. I'll list security fears related to the rights granted to the group. I'll then finish up by describing some basic recommendations to perform on the group listed and accounts added to the group.

Account operators

Defined: Often used as the default group for managing users groups and computers in the domain, this group has many permissions often overlooked. The permissions granted to this group are granted at the root of the domain. This group controls most every user and group and computer in the entire organization


  • Can read the LAPS attribute on all computers in the domain
  • Default permissions to log on locally to domain controllers
  • Can self escalate into exchange groups, which have write access on the root of the domain

The recommendation:

  • Empty this group
  • Apply permissions directly to OUs instead of through this domain wide group - I'll be posting about unraveling the account operators later


Backup operators

Defined: This group is used to create system backups of the most privileged servers in the domain.


  • Can override security restrictions
  • Allow log on locally
  • Allow log on as batch job
  • Shut down systems
  • Can backup files (ntds.dit)

The recommendation:

  • Empty the group if you can.
  • Monitor logins from accounts in this group
  • Use this group for least privileged rights to back up Active Directory.
  • Time bound the service account in the group


Exchange groups

Defined: Microsoft exchange creates these groups when an administrator installs exchange into an Active Directory environment. Follow this link for the full list of groups created are in the Microsoft Exchange Security Groups OU.



  • Exchange groups can edit the security on the root of the domain.
  • As effective as Domain admin with root ACLpermissions

The recommendation:


Group policy creator owners

Defined: Members of this group have full control over all group policy objects (GPOs) in the domain. This includes changing the security of these GPOs, adding additional users to any GPO, and editing GPOs.


  • GPOs applied to root can affect all users and computers on the domain
  • Can control highly privileged policies that control privileged users and computers


  • Remove all users from this group


Print Operators

Defined: Members can log on locally to domain controllers. Load and unload drivers on domain controllers. Shut down the DOMAIN CONTROLLERS.


  • No one but DAs should be performing those functions listed above


  • Empty the group


Remote desktop services users

Defined: can log onto computers via RDP


  • Can access all machines on the domain
  • Machines often have user privilege exploits that allow users to gain admin access


  • Empty the group
  • Don't put "Domain Users" in this group

Domain Users in RDP Users


Server operators

Defined: members of this group can administer servers in the domain


  • Unintended access granted to all servers in the domain through this group
  • Users in this group are often easy pivot point for attacks for lateral movement


  • Empty the group


The common goal here for all these built in groups is to empty the group when possible. Remove all users. Remove all groups nested inside these groups. Once completed your AD environment will be in a much more secure state.

Don't forget that when you audit these groups for users, please place the administrators in a centralized admin OU. For more info on that read Why aren't your administrators in one place?



For the full ESAE series, please begin with: What is Microsoft ESAE


For further reading on the admin account series, please visit the following links:

Who needs an admin account? 

What is an admin account? (What are the tiers?) 

Where do you put an admin account?


Tags: ESAE, Microsoft, Red Forest

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