Disaster Recovery for Active Directory: Planning Your Strategy

by Jessica Elliott
Disaster Recovery for Active Directory: Planning Your Strategy

Active Directory (AD) is the heart of most enterprise infrastructure, and if it’s down, most (if not all) business activities screech to a halt. Employees can’t log in, access data or run applications, resulting in costly downtime and negative customer experiences. Strong preparedness through incident response (IR) and disaster recovery (DR) planning is the only way to mitigate your damages.

AD incident response detects, isolates and eliminates threats. Then disaster recovery for Active Directory kicks into high gear, focusing on reconnecting domain controllers (DCs). However, the process is lengthy, and errors can reset the clock. Explore what Active Directory DR means, how it works, and why a strategy is paramount to your efforts.

What Is Disaster Recovery for Active Directory?

Active Directory disaster recovery refers to the process of restoring components critical to normal operations. It’s part of your business continuity plan, which also includes incident response. An AD DR plan involves several recovery phases and prioritizes getting your domain controllers (the server running your AD domain services) working again.

A cybersecurity risk assessment can help identify potential Active Directory vulnerabilities for planning purposes. The ITIC 2022 Global Server Hardware Security survey found “76% of respondents cited security and data breaches as the greatest threat to server, application, data center, network edge and cloud ecosystem stability and reliability.”

However, natural disasters, user errors and even untested software changes can lead to:

  • Deleted objects
  • Single domain controller, site or companywide AD corruption
  • Site, corporate or single domain controller hardware failure

How an Active Directory DR Plan Works

A disaster response plan is complex, and mistakes can cause more damage. Therefore, companies need a concisely documented and well-rehearsed plan. A typical incident response and disaster recovery strategy takes a symptom-cause-recovery approach.

At a high level, the goal is to get your primary domain controller online and then restore the rest. The recovery time varies based on your tools, processes, documentation and familiarity with the steps. For instance, companies using a purpose-built automated disaster recovery solution can reduce downtime and associated costs. In addition, the root cause can influence your restoration approach.

First, you must select one DC per domain to restore using a clean operating system (OS) or bare-metal recovery. The former is often the preferred method because it uses a Windows server and doesn’t install entire disk partitions, reducing threats after zero-day exploitation.

Next, restore the data backup of your Active Directory and focus on getting your DC functioning and communicating as a forest. Microsoft’s Active Directory Forest Recovery Guide has dozens of steps and configuration procedures. Microsoft encourages organizations to develop a custom disaster recovery strategy with a “detailed topology map of your forests.”

Once you have one operational domain controller, you can promote the rest. Like the initial phase, this process requires careful coordination and is unique to your AD environment.

Advantages of Proactive Disaster Recovery Planning

An Active Directory disaster recovery plan accounts for variations and provides a step-by-step playbook for recovery. After all, any disruption to your Active Directory impacts operations almost immediately. It can cripple your business, affecting your reputation and profitability.

Although accidental modifications to Active Directory can occur internally, external security breaches pose much more significant threats. Your risk assessment and cybersecurity program should address concerns impacting your daily transactions and network reliability. Gartner states, “The restore process from many well-documented ransomware attacks has been hindered by not having an intact Active Directory restore process.”

A proactive approach reduces downtime and related costs. Indeed, the “hourly cost of downtime now exceeds $300,000 for 91% of SME and large enterprises,” according to ITIC. For 44% of survey respondents, “a single hour of downtime can potentially cost their businesses over one million ($1 million).”

Developing a disaster recovery strategy and holding regular recovery drills helps your team handle the problems efficiently and effectively. Moreover, a strategic approach lowers your chances of secondary issues during and after the process. It allows your company to recover quicker and implement measures to safeguard against reoccurrence.

Formulate Your Approach to Active Directory Disaster Recovery

Don’t take a wait-and-see approach to your Active Directory response. Instead, develop a purpose-built solution and framework for detecting, responding and recovering. With more than 20 years of experience in defensive cybersecurity and software architecture and engineering, The Migus Group leverages expertise to evaluate your incident response and disaster recovery system.

As your trusted partner, The Migus Group can design a strategic roadmap to keep your business operational during a crisis. Contact The Migus Group to discuss your concerns and secure your organization.

Jessica Elliott is a business technology writer specializing in cloud-hosted and cybersecurity services. Her work appears in U.S. News, Business.com and Investopedia.