If you are looking at using Microsoft Sentinel, then Active Directory is likely high on your list of sources to onboard. If you already use it, you probably spend a fair bit of time digging through Active Directory logs. Despite Microsoft’s push to Azure Active Directory, on premise Active Directory is still heavily used. You may have migrated off it for cloud workloads, but chances are you still use it on premises. Attacking and defending Active Directory is a such a broad subject it is basically a speciality within cyber security itself.

You can onboard Active Directory logs a number of ways, they all have their pros and cons. The purpose of this post is to show you the different options and hopefully you can make an informed decision of which way to go.

You may have heard reference to the Log Analytics agent, or the Azure Monitor Agent. You may already be licensed for Defender for Identity too. Do I need these all? Can I use multiple?

Let’s break it down.

So in general to ship logs to Sentinel from Active Directory you will need an agent installed. You could be doing native Windows Event Forwarding, but to keep it simple, let’s look at the agent options.

Log Analytics Agent

  • The events written to Sentinel will be an exact match for what are logged on your domain controllers. If EventId 4776 is logged on the server, Sentinel will retain an exact copy. These are written to the SecurityEvent table.
  • Which EventIds you ingest depends on what tier you choose here.
  • There is no way to customize the logging apart from those predefined levels.
  • The cost will depend what logging level you choose. If you choose all events and you have a busy domain, it can be significant.
  • Events will be in near real time.
  • This agent is end of life in 2024.
  • Often also referred to as the Microsoft Monitoring Agent.

Azure Monitor Agent

  • The events written to Sentinel will be an exact match for what are logged on your domain controllers. If EventId 4776 is logged on the server, Sentinel will retain an exact copy. These are written to the SecurityEvent table.
  • Which EventIds you ingest you can fully customize. This is done via Data Collection Rules. If you only want specific EventIds you can do that. You can even filter EventIds on specific fields, like process names.
  • Non Azure VM workloads need to be enrolled into Azure Arc to use this agent. This includes on premises servers, or virtual machines in other clouds.
  • The cost will depend what logging level you configure via your rules.
  • Events will be in near real time.
  • At the time of writing this post, the Azure Monitor agent is still missing some features compared to the Log Analytics agents. View the limitations here.

Defender for Identity

  • If you have the Defender for Identity agent installed you can leverage that in Sentinel.
  • You can send two types of data from the Defender for Identity service to Sentinel.
  • Alerts from Defender for Identity are written to the SecurityAlert table.
    • For instance, a reconnaissance or golden ticket usage alert. This is only the alert and associated entities. No actual logs are sent to this table.
    • This data is free to ingest to Sentinel. You can enable it via the ‘Microsoft Defender for Identity’ data connector.
  • Summarized event data can also be written back to Sentinel. These are the same logs that appear in Advanced Hunting if you have previously used that. They are –
    • IdentityLogonEvents – will show you logon events, both in Active Directory and across Office 365.
    • IdentityDirectoryEvents – will show you directory events, such as group membership changing, or an account being disabled.
    • IdentityQueryEvents – will show you query events, such as SAMR or DNS queries.
    • This data is not free to ingest. You can enable it via the ‘Microsoft 365 Defender’ data connector under ‘Microsoft Defender for Identity’
  • There is no ability to customize these events. They will change or update only as the Defender for Identity product evolves.
  • The cost will depend on the size of your environment of course. It should be significantly less than raw logs however. We will explore this soon.
  • There is a delay in logs as they are sent to the Defender for Identity service, then to Sentinel.

So the first two agents are pretty similar. The Azure Monitor agent is the natural evolution of the Log Analytics agent. Using the new one gives you the ability to customize your logs, which is a huge benefit. It is also easy to have different collection rules. You could take all the logs from your critical assets. Then you could just take a subset of events from other assets. You also get the added Azure Arc capability if you want to leverage any of it.

Data Coverage

For the Log Analytics and Azure Monitor agents the coverage is straight forward. Whatever you configure you will ingest into Sentinel. For the Log Analytics agent, this will depend on which logging tier you select. For the Azure Monitor Agent it will depend on your Data Collection Rules.

For Defender for Identity it gets a little trickier. We have no control over the events that are sent to Sentinel. I imagine over time these change and evolve as the product does. The best way to check is to have a look at some of the actions that are being logged. You can run this query to summarize all the events in your tenant. This will also work in Advanced Hunting.

| where TimeGenerated > ago(7d)
| summarize count()by ActionType 

Here is a sample of a few of the events we see.

Some are the same as what we see with standard logs. Group membership changed, account password changed etc. The difference is we don’t see all the EventIds that make up these activities. These Defender for Identity events are similar to Azure Active Directory audit logs. We don’t see what is happening behind the scenes in Azure AD. We do see activities though, such as users being added to groups.

Just because you aren’t getting the raw logs, doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact there are some things unique to these events we don’t get from actual domain controller logs. Defender for Identity is a really great service and we benefit from the correlation it does.

Have a look at some of these activities – encryption changes, WMI execution, there are many interesting findings. Potential lateral movement path identified is really great too. Defender for Identity is by no means BloodHound for mapping attack paths. It does still provide interesting insights though. Without Defender for Identity doing the hard work for you, you would need to write the logic yourself.

Data Size

Ingestion costs are always something to keep an eye on, and Active Directory logs can be noisy. With the Log Analytics agent your data costs will basically be inline with what tier of logging you choose. The higher the tier, and the larger your domain, the more it will ingest. The Azure Monitor agent is much the same. However you get the added benefit of being able to configure what logs you want. Given domain controllers are critical assets you are likely to want most EventIds though.

With Defender for Identity, it is different. It will only send back certain audit events. The size and complexity of your domain is still relevant though. The more audit events you generate, the more that will be ingested back to Sentinel. What may be more useful however is the relative size of the logs. Using KQL we can calculate the difference between normal logs and those from Defender for Identity. You may send non DCs to the same SecurityEvent table. If so, just include a filter in your query to only include DCs.

union withsource=TableName1 SecurityEvent, Identity*
| where TimeGenerated > ago(7d)
| where Computer contains "DC" or isempty( Computer)
| summarize Entries = count(), Size = sum(_BilledSize), last_log = datetime_diff("second",now(), max(TimeGenerated)), estimate  = sumif(_BilledSize, _IsBillable==true)  by TableName1, _IsBillable
| project ['Table Name'] = TableName1, ['Table Entries'] = Entries, ['Table Size'] = Size,
          ['Size per Entry'] = 1.0 * Size / Entries, ['IsBillable'] = _IsBillable, ['Last Record Received'] =  last_log , ['Estimated Table Price'] =  (estimate/(1024*1024*1024)) * 0.0
 | order by ['Table Size']  desc

In a lab environment with a few DCs you can see a significant difference in size. Every environment will vary of course, but your Defender for Identity logs will be much smaller.

Log Delay

A key focus for you may be how quickly these logs arrive at Sentinel. As security people, some events are high enough risk we want to know instantly. When using either the Log Analytics or Azure Monitor agent, that happens within a few minutes. The event needs to be logged on the DC itself. Then sent to Sentinel. But it should be quick.

Events coming in from Defender for Identity first need to be sent to that service. Defender for Identity then needs to do its correlation and other magic. Then the logs need to be sent back to Sentinel. Over the last few days I have completed some regular activities. Then calculated how long it takes to go to Defender for Identity, then to Sentinel.

  • Adding a user to a group – took around 2.5 hours to appear in Sentinel on average.
  • Disabling a user – also took around 2.5 hours to appear in Sentinel.
  • Changing job title – took around 4 hours to appear in Sentinel.

These time delays may change depending on how often certain jobs run on the Microsoft side. The point is that they are not real time, so just be aware.

Query Differences

One of the biggest differences between the Log Analytics/Azure Monitor agent and Defender for Identity is data structure. For the Log Analytics and Azure Monitor agents the data is a copy of the log on your server. Take EventId 4725, a user account was disabled. That is going to look the same in Event Viewer as in Sentinel. We can use simple KQL to parse what we care about.

| where EventID == 4725
| project TimeGenerated, EventID, Activity, UserDisabled=TargetAccount, Actor=SubjectAccount

And we see our event.

With Defender for Identity, the raw event data has been converted to an activity for us. We don’t need to search for specific EventIds. There is an ‘account disabled’ activity.

| where ActionType == "Account disabled"
| project TimeGenerated, UserDisabled=TargetAccountUpn

We can also see here the differences between what data we are returned. Defender for Identity just tells us that an account was disabled. It doesn’t tell us who did it. Whereas the logs taken from one of the other agents has far more information.

Interested in group membership changes? When you look at the logs straight from a domain controller there are lots of EventIds you will need. Active Directory tracks these differently depending on the type of group. EventId 4728 is when a user is added to a security-enabled global group. Then you will have a different EventId for a security-enabled local group. Then the same for group removals. And so on. We can capture them all with this query.

| project TimeGenerated, EventID, AccountType, MemberName, SubjectUserName, TargetUserName, Activity, MemberSid
| where EventID in (4728,4729,4732,4733,4756,4757)

In Defender for Identity, these events are rolled up to a single activity. It logs these as ‘Group Membership changed’. Regardless of group type or whether it was someone being added or removed. That means we can return all group changes in a single, simple query.

| where ActionType == "Group Membership changed"
| extend ToGroup = tostring(AdditionalFields.["TO.GROUP"])
| extend FromGroup = tostring(AdditionalFields.["FROM.GROUP"])
| project TimeGenerated, Actor=AccountName, UserAdded=TargetAccountUpn, ToGroup, FromGroup

You may be thinking that the Defender for Identity logs are ‘worse’. That isn’t true, they are just different. They also provide you some insights over and above what you get from security events directly.

Defender for Identity does lateral movement path investigation. This won’t give you the insights of a tool like BloodHound. It can still be useful though. For example, you can find which of your devices or users have the most lateral movement paths identified.

| where ActionType == "Potential lateral movement path identified"
| summarize arg_max(TimeGenerated, *) by ReportId
| summarize Count=count()by AccountUpn, DeviceName
| sort by Count desc 

Events that are painful to find in regular logs can be simple to find in the Defender for Identity events. For instance when accounts have their encryption types changed. Parsing that from the security events is hard work. With the Defender for Identity events it is really simple.

| where ActionType == "Account Supported Encryption Types changed"
| parse AdditionalFields with * 'FROM AccountSupportedEncryptionTypes":"' PreviousEncryption '"' *
| parse AdditionalFields with * 'TO AccountSupportedEncryptionTypes":"' CurrentEncryption '"' *
| project TimeGenerated, TargetDeviceName, PreviousEncryption, CurrentEncryption

It will even show you when a device changes operating system version.

| where ActionType == "Device Operating System changed"
| extend ['Previous OS Version'] = tostring(AdditionalFields.["FROM Device Operating System"])
| extend ['Current OS Version'] = tostring(AdditionalFields.["TO Device Operating System"])
| project TimeGenerated, TargetDeviceName, ['Previous OS Version'], ['Current OS Version']


Hopefully that sheds some light on the various options. If you need real time detection, then the only real option is the Log Analytics or Azure Monitor agent. The delay with logs being sent via Defender for Identity means you may be too late spotting malicious activity. Which of the agents you choose between the two is up to you.

  • If you need the ability to customize which logs you want, then the Azure Monitor agent is for you. Keep in mind for non Azure workloads, you will require the machine enrolled to Azure Arc.
  • The Log Analytics agent is definitely easier to deploy today. Keep in mind though, you are limited to your logging tiers. The agent is also end of life in a couple of years.

The Defender for Identity agent provides a different set of information. If you don’t have the requirement (or budget) to log actual events then it is still valuable. If you already use Defender for Identity and are starting to explore Sentinel, they are a good starting point. The cost will be significantly less than the other two agents. Also it does a lot of the hard work for you by doing its own event correlation.

You can also use multiple agents! Given the Azure Monitor agent is replacing the Log Analytics agent, they obviously perform similar functions. Unless you have very specific requirements you probably don’t need both of them. But you can definitely have one of them and the Defender for Identity agent running. You obviously pay the ingestion charges for both. But as we saw above, the Defender for Identity traffic is relatively small. If you go that route you get the logs for immediate detection and you also get the Defender for Identity insights.