How to create a fine-grained password policy in AD

(Last updated on January 5, 2021)

For the first 8 years of Active Directory, the only native way of having multiple password policies in your AD forest, was to have multiple domains. When Server 2008 arrived on the scene, Microsoft introduced the concept of fine-grained password policies (FGPP), which allowed different policies within the same domain.

Traditionally, the Default Domain Policy is where the standard password policy settings are configured. It is somewhat strangely done under the Computer Configuration area of that GPO, posing a problem when wanting to apply different password policies to different users. So, to move away from using Group Policy, the concept of a Password Settings Container in AD, and applying the FGPP’s by AD security group, rather than a GPO linked to an OU, was introduced.

The original interface to configure FGPP was horrible. You had to use scary tools such as Adsiedit.msc, or helpful third party tools such as Specops Password Policy Basic. However, with the advent of Server 2012, a different configuration tool (written in PowerShell) was introduced – Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC), which is what we are going to use to evaluate what FGPP can offer you.

Active Directory Administration Center

You can find ADAC under the Windows Administrative Tools.

If you have domain admin level privileges, you will see “system\Password Settings Container” underneath your domain name on the left.

If you select that link you will see that you can choose New>Password Settings on the right.

The following configuration interface will be launched.

You have the same basic options in here, as you do in the Default Domain Policy:

  • Name – Give it a decent name that reflects the group or individual that this policy will apply to
  • Precedence – If there is more than one FGPP that applies to a user e.g. they are in multiple AD groups, then the precedence defines which policy should apply
  • Minimum Password Length – All passwords should have a minimum number of characters
  • Password history – The number of passwords that should be remembered by AD for each user so that they cannot be reused
  • Complexity Required – 3 out of the 5 character types (upper, lower, digits, special and Unicode), must not contain the username
  • Store Passwords with reversible encryption
  • Protect from Accidental Deletion
  • Minimum Password Age – Stops users changing their password multiple times on the same day so that they go past what was set in the Password History field and can re-use the same password again
  • Maximum Password Age – When should the password expire
  • Lockout Policy – How many times can the user enter the incorrect password before the account is locked out, and how long should they be locked out for
  • Directly Applies to – Who should this policy apply to either a User or a Group, you cannot apply it to an OU

You can find the Password Settings Container in Active Directory Users and Computers.

If you have enabled Advanced Features, you will find it under the System container.

If there is an object in here, you can view its properties and configured settings under the Attribute Editor tab.

As you can see, it is not exactly “fine-grained” password policy. Complexity is either on or off. Interestingly, even Microsoft now regards the complexity settings as anti-security.

While we still have to live with passwords there are more versatile, user friendly, and feature rich solutions available. Specops Password Policy allows you to follow the latest NIST and NCSC guidelines, and gives true fine-grained control over any password policy requirements that you may need to apply to your organization e.g. block weak passwords, enforce a passphrase, disallow incremental passwords or block consecutive identical characters.

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Written by

Darren James

Product Specialist, Specops Software

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