Locked out users

Posted July 5th, 2012

We get a lot of questions about Active Directory users who are (suddenly) locked out. There are two scenario’s in which users are locked out:

1. It happens regularly, for instance, 10 times a day.
2. The number of locked out users suddenly spikes, for no apparent reason.

Starting with the first scenario. Lock outs usually originate from cached credentials, meaning that an end user has changed his or her password, but has a persistent drive mapping under his or her old credentials, or is still logged on to a second computer with the old credentials, or scheduled jobs are running under an account and the password on the job hasn’t been reset. Cached credentials can be tricky, because access tokens can be appointed to a lot of different resources (applications, drive mappings, TS sessions, principally anything that needs authentication).

The second scenario can be caused by a number of different reasons, all of which are ‘serious’:

- Brute force attack. Someone is trying to hack into your AD by trying out a list of passwords.
- Broken replication. The replication between your DCs is broken, because of which password resets are not synchronized between your DCs.


First, make sure that failed logon attempts are logged to the event viewer on your domain controllers (all of them, because which DC handles an authentication request depends on which one responds first). Only choose failed logon attempts, because if you also log successful logon attempts, your eventviewer log file will explode in size.

Then, in the event viewer you can see from which workstation a failed logon attempt originates (if it originates from computer in your forest). You can see whether you’re likely dealing with a cached credentials problem, or, for instance, with a brute force attack.

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