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Why Active Directory Account Getting Locked Out Frequently – Causes

Danny Murphy | 4 min read| Updated On - April 22, 2024

Common Causes of Frequent Active Directory Account Lockouts

Account lockouts are a common problem experienced by Active Directory users. They arise because of Account Lockout Policies configured in the default domain policy for the Active Directory domain. In this article, we will go through some of the root causes of account lockouts and the way to simplify the troubleshooting process.

Common Causes of Account Lockouts

1. Mapped drives using old credentials:

Mapped drives can be configured to use user-specified credentials to connect to a shared resource. Afterward, the user may change the password without updating the credentials in the mapped drive. The credentials may also expire, which will lead to account lockouts.

2. Systems using old cached credentials:

Some users are required to work on multiple computers. As a result, a user can be logged on to more than one computer simultaneously. These other computers may have applications that are using old, cached credentials which may result in locked accounts.

3. Applications using old credentials:

On the user’s system, there may be several applications that either cache the users’ credentials or explicitly define them in their configuration. If the user’s credentials are expired and are not updated in the applications, the account will be locked.

4. Windows Services using expired credentials:

Windows services can be configured to use user-specified accounts. These are known as service accounts. The credentials for these user-specified accounts may expire and Windows services will continue using the old, expired credentials; leading to account lockouts.

5. Scheduled Tasks:

The Windows task scheduler requires credentials to run a task whether the user is logged in or not. Different tasks can be created with user-specified credentials which can be domain credentials. These user-specified credentials may expire and Windows tasks will continue to use the old credentials.

The following Active Directory attributes determine how many passwords change attempts a user can make in a given period of time:

maxPwdAge, lockoutThreshold, lockoutObservationWindow, and lockoutDuration.

If a password is set to never expire or the account lockout is configured as ‘not to expire,’ the lockout will not happen.

How to Resolve Account Lockouts

Windows security logs go a long way to resolving account lockouts, however extracting account lockout information from Windows Security Logs is not always a reliable process. Account lockout information can be retrieved from the PDC emulator DC as it is responsible for processing lockouts. But, the PDC emulator also processes a lot of other events for the entire domain; including authentication failures and password changes. In large environments, where there are lots of users, these event logs will be collected on the PDC emulator and a large volume of logs will collect. Subject to the size limit of the event logs, you may find that the old logs have been purged and the only available logs are those from the last few hours.

To simplify the process of determining the account lockout status, Microsoft offers the Account Lockout Status (LockoutStatus.exe) tool which is a blend of command-line and graphical tools. With this tool, every DC in the target user account’s domain that can be contacted is searched for.

To download and run the tool, follow the below-given steps:

1. Run the installer file to install the tool

2. Go to the installation directory and run the ‘LockoutStatus.exe’ to launch the tool

3. Go to ‘File > Select Target…’ to find the details for the locked account

0 Select Target and Credentials
Figure 1: Account Lockout Status Tool

4. Go through the details presented on the screen. The DC with a large number of bad password counts was probably authenticating DC at the time of lockout.

5. Go to the concerned DC and review the Windows security event log. For Windows Server 2008, the event ID is 4740, and for Windows Server 2000 and 2003 the event ID is 644. In the event details you will find the ‘Caller Machine Name’ where the failed authentication attempt happened.

Troubleshoot Account Lockouts with Lepide Auditor

If you’re experiencing a high number of account lockouts in a secure environment it would indicate an imbalance between security and convenience. Every organization needs to determine an appropriate compromise between security and convenience. To do this, they will need to consider the sensitivity of the information in their settings, the risks they can bear, and their users’ interests.

Third-party solutions, such as Lepide Active Directory Auditor, can help navigate to the source and root cause of account lockouts faster and fix them easily.

Active Directory Account Lockout

As you can see in the above screenshot, Lepide AD Auditor can quickly generate the report of all locked accounts, you can investigate the reason for the lockout of each account individually and resolve it.

Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy

Danny brings over 10 years’ experience in the IT industry to our Leadership team. With award winning success in leading global Pre-Sales and Support teams, coupled with his knowledge and enthusiasm for IT Security solutions, he is here to ensure we deliver market leading products and support to our extensively growing customer base

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