Why you should change your KRBTGT password prior disabling RC4

While chilling on my couch, I stumbled over this pretty interesting Reddit thread: Story Time – How I blew up my company’s AD for 24 hours and fixed it : sysadmin (reddit.com)

Long story short: A poor guy applied some STIG hardening and his Active Directory blew up. Root cause was disabling RC4, which caused Kerberos failures, primarily documented by errors like “The encryption type requested is not supported by the KDC.” The guy fixed it by shutdown all domain controllers, changing the KRBTGT account password on one domain controller, and finally, everything came back

So why blew everything up after disabling RC4? Let’s travel back in time. Microsoft released Active Directory with the release of Windows 2000. At this time, Active Directory supported DES and RC4 to encrypt Kerberos tickets. With RFC 6649 (Deprecate DES, RC4-HMAC-EXP, and Other Weak Cryptographic Algorithms in Kerberos), DES was retired in July 2012, but Microsoft disabled DES with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. Disabling DES was no big deal, because Active Directory was designed to select the highest supported cipher for encrypting the Kerberos tickets. In addition to this, support for AES was added with Windows Server 2008.

If you deploy a new domain controllers, with a higher Windows OS version, and you remove all older domain controllers, you will be able to raise the Domain, and the Forest Functional Level (DFL/ FFL). The functional levels determine the available domain or forest capabilities. With the DFL of Windows 2008, Microsoft added AES support. But only if you raise the DFL vom Windows 2003 to 2008, or any higher DFL, the KRBTGT password will be changed to get it stored AES encrypted.

Let me make this clear: This only happens when raising the DFL vom 2003 to 2008 or any higher version. Not if you go from 2008 to 2012 R2, from 2012 R2 to 2016 etc. Only from 2003 to 2008 or higher. This should be done automatically and you can verify this by checking the PasswordLastSet of the user account:

PS C:\windows\system32> Get-ADUser "krbtgt" -Property Created, PasswordLastSet


Created           : 6/22/2005 2:48:12 PM
DistinguishedName : CN=krbtgt,CN=Users,DC=mlnetwork,DC=local
Enabled           : False
GivenName         :
Name              : krbtgt
ObjectClass       : user
ObjectGUID        : dfc8490d-374f-4570-944e-d5fa41d601ab
PasswordLastSet   : 3/3/2015 8:29:08 AM
SamAccountName    : krbtgt
SID               : S-1-5-21-3103332001-754687911-2831376874-502
Surname           :
UserPrincipalName :

As you can see, the user account was created on the 22. June 2005, which is creation date of this Active Directory domain. The PasswordLastSet dates back to the 3rd March 2015, possibly the date where the DFL was raised to 2008 or above. If you don’t see a suitable date in the PasswordLastSet attribute, you should change the KRBTGT password! It looks like that there are some domains out there where the KRBTGT password wasn’t changed during the DFL raise.

Domain Controller with Windows 2008 and later will always use AES for the Ticket Granting Ticket (TGT). Once your domain functional level (DFL) is 2008 or higher, the KRBTGT account will always default to AES. For any other accounts (user and computer) the selected encryption type is determined by the msDS-supportedEncryptionTypes attribute of the account.

And let me get this pretty clear: As long as you are running Windows Server 2000, 2003, or Windows XP, you can’t disable RC4, because these operating systems simply doesn’t support AES (Source)!

So prior disable RC4, or do any hardening regarding Kerberos, make sure that you change the KRBTGT password. And change it twice. Or use the KRBTGT Reset script. You should also confirm, that your TGTs are encrypted with AES. You can check this with klist tgt.  If the TGTs are still being issued with RC4, you should check the pwdLastSet attribute on the KRBTGT account.

What should I do?

To be honest: You should change the KRBTGT password regularly, e.g. every 180 days. This is possible sind Server 2008 (and DFL/ FFL Windows 2008). This blog post of Quest gives you a pretty good summary of why and how. You might also want to take a look at this Microsoft website, if you want to know more about the KRBTGT account. You don’t need to document the password. Simply change it. If you want a more controlled way, you can use this script: Microsoft KRBTGT Reset script.

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Patrick Terlisten
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