Exchange-AD-Privesc: Exchange privilege escalations to Active Directory


This repository provides a few techniques and scripts regarding the impact of Microsoft Exchange deployment on Active Directory security. This is a side project of AD-Control-Paths, an AD permissions auditing project to which I recently added some Exchange-related modules.

General considerations

For pentesters looking to take control of an AD domain, Exchange is a valid intermediary target. The servers are much less secure than domain controllers by default and the control groups are distinct in the usual permissions models, which provides numerous alternative targets. They are also more difficult to migrate and business critical, so organizations often adopt a slower migration process for Exchange than for AD and do not specifically harden the servers.

Exchange deployment on an Active Directory domain is an interesting case. Many attributes and classes are added to the schema, security groups are created and DACL on some AD objects are heavily modified.

Basically, you can select among 3 permissions models:

  • RBAC Split (recommended and most commonly deployed)
  • Shared permissions (default)
  • AD Split

Particularly, DACLs for RBAC Split and Shared models are enumerated here:

High-value targets:

  • Exchange Trusted Subsystem and Exchange Windows Permissions groups, which are trustees for many ACE added during deployment on AD objects.
  • Exchange servers: they are members of Exchange Trusted Subsystem and Exchange Windows Permissions groups. They can be compromised using many more techniques than domain controllers: local administrators domain accounts, Kerberos delegation, SMB relay, RODC replication, etc. The usual stuff.
  • Organization admins: they are part of the local administrators’ group on Exchange servers. They also have full control on the OU containing the Exchange security groups. They can launch service/psexec/runas/… under computer identity/NetworkService/LocalSystem to control Exchange Trusted Subsystem and Exchange Windows Permissions SIDs.


git clone

Domain object DACL privilege escalation

A privilege escalation is possible from the Exchange Windows permissions (EWP) security group to compromise the entire prepared Active Directory domain.

DISCLAIMER: This issue has been responsibly disclosed to MSRC in October 2017 and after a few back and forth emails, they decided it was working as intended and would not fix it.

  • Description of the issue

When preparing Exchange 2010/2013/2016 installation in Shared permissions (default) or RBAC split permissions, some ACEs are positioned on the domain object for the Exchange Windows Permissions security group. This happens during the “Setup /PrepareDomain” command.

Two ACEs on the domain object are missing the INHERIT_ONLY_ACE bit in the Flags field.

This is their SDDL representation:

(OA;CI;DTWD;;4828cc14-1437-45bc-9b07-ad6f015e5f28;<SID of EWP>)
(OA;CI;DTWD;;bf967aba-0de6-11d0-a285-00aa003049e2;<SID of EWP>)



Notice the missing ‘IO’ (inherit_only) flag. As a matter of fact, INHERITED_OBJECT_TYPE ACE effectively apply to the object itself when the inherit_only flag is not set.

This is how they are documented on Technet, so it is definitely missing that information:

AccountACE typeInheritancePermissionsOn property/ Applies toComments
Exchange Windows PermissionsAllow ACEAllWriteDACL/ user
Exchange Windows PermissionsAllow ACEAllWriteDACL/ inetOrgPerson

This is how they appear in the GUI (DSA console), which is also missing that information:

DSA ACE view

The issue can be confirmed in the “Effective Access” tab of the domain object when specifying EWP.

DSA effective access

Coincidentally, INHERITED_OBJECT_TYPE ACE created with DSA console always have the IO flag. Creating a ‘self and specific descendents’, INHERITED_OBJECT_TYPE ACE is only possible programmatically and only viewable programmatically.

  • Technical consequence

The Allow permission to WriteDACL is granted to the Trustee on the domain object itself and not only on its user/inetOrgPerson descendants, effectively giving complete control to anyone with the Exchange Windows Permissions SID in its token.

  • Expected behavior

The Allow permission to WriteDACL should only be given on child objects matching the INHERITED_OBJECT_TYPE Guid. It is supposed to only apply to the user or inetOrgPerson classes. This is not consistent with the other INHERITED_OBJECT_TYPE ACEs on the domain object for the same Trustee, which all have the INHERIT_ONLY_ACE bit in the Flags field.

  • Security Consequence

A privilege escalation is possible from the Exchange Windows permissions (EWP) security group to compromise the entire prepared Active Directory domain. Just set the Ds-Replication-Get-Changes-All extended right on the domain object. This is enough to use a DRSUAPI replication tool ala DCSync to get all the domain secrets (Kerberos keys, hashes, etc.).

You can control the SID of the EWP group from Organization management, from Account operators or from an Exchange server. Interestingly, the RBAC system is proxified through EWP so a privilege escalation is possible from the Active Directory Permissions RBAC role to compromise the entire prepared Active Directory domain.


Copyright (c) 2018 Géraud de Drouas