Threat Level: green Handler on Duty: Guy Bruneau

SANS ISC: Changing your AD Password Using the Clipboard - Not as Easy as You'd Think! SANS ISC InfoSec Forums

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Changing your AD Password Using the Clipboard - Not as Easy as You'd Think!

Let me know if this scenario is familiar?

  • You are working in a customer's AD domain
  • You only have access to a member workstation
  • Your account doesn't have Domain Admin rights
  • Your account does not have Local Admin rights on the workstation you are connected to.
  • You want to use a long, complex password
  • ... aaand Microsoft won't allow you to paste a password into their GUI "password change".  Apparantly Microsoft wants us to continue to use passwords like "Passw0rd1!" and "Winter2021!" forever, until all AD domains are "passwordless"

If you are in this boat, you might think - great, I can't paste into the GUI, but how about "net user"?  Sadly, you need local or domain admin to change passwords using this command (see the list above).  If you try to change your own password using "net user", you'll end up with an "access denied" error.

OK, we still have PowerShell though, I can use the AD module there!  Except, sadly, you don't have local Admin rights so you can't install a new Powershell module.

What to do?  Happily you can still use PowerShell to get the job done, but we'll use ADSI to rescue the situation.  This script will do the job:

$oldpw = "existingoldpassword"
$newpw = "somenewpassword"
$user = $env:username
$domain = $env:userdomain
$user = [adsi]"WinNT://$domain/$user"
$user.ChangePassword($oldpw, $newpw)

If you use this approach, for goodness sake please don't save this script with your old and passwords in it!  

This second script will at least ask you for the passwords - and you can paste them into the input fields.  This still isn't great as the passwords are still in clear text as variables, but at least when you exit PowerShell they'll cease to be easily retrievable (unless someone collects a memory image of your workstation that is).  As a nice bonus, I cleared the clipboard in this one (from my diary last year )

$oldpw = read-host -prompt "Enter your existing password"
$newpw = read-host -prompt "Enter your new password"
$user = $env:username
$domain = $env:userdomain
$user = [adsi]"WinNT://$domain/$user"
$user.ChangePassword($oldpw, $newpw)

# Overwrite the password variables (I know that this doesn't really over-write)
# also clear the clipboard
$oldpw = "*" * 50
$newpw = "*" * 50

Set-Clipboard $null

This script has done the job for me so far - I can use a long, complex (AKA un-type-able) password, paste into the input fields, and still have my password change intervals match my clients' policies.  If you have a more elegant solution by all means post to our comment section below, this is a common enough situation that improving this would be a welcome thing for lots of us!

Or if you are reading this Microsoft (whichever manager that thought "disabling paste will make this waaay more secure"), letting us paste into the password change fields would make this detour unneccessary, and it would improve account security for lots (and lots) of us!  I use Windows Hello (using my fingerprint) to login to my laptop, but sadly, even though AD has started the "passwordless" journey, realistically AD passwords aren't going anywhere anytime soon - even "passwordless" shops are going to need some passwords for some situations for years to come.

Rob VandenBrink
rob <at>

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Rob VandenBrink

571 Posts
ISC Handler
Nov 15th 2021
Maybe use read-host -MaskInput when asking for the password so it doesn't show up on screen?
It seems there's also -AsSecureString to not have the plain text password in memory, but I'm not sure if it makes a difference for this short script. (Maybe when it's interrupted between entering the passwords and overwriting the variables?)

4 Posts
Good call on using MaskInput, I'll update the script - that was a clear miss on my part.

I didn't store either password using SecureStrings on purpose - I figured if in the very next line I have to decrypt it, then in the line after that I destroy it and exit, there wasn't a lot of point. For the 15 minutes that I have into the script, I figured that adding SecureStrings would add more complexity but not a whole lot of benefit (for my use case).

If I'm wrong in your use case though, by all means encrypt! For instance, I can certainly see that there will be environments that will need to encrypt "because auditors" - I'm sure that there are shops where encrypting strings in a situation like this will add other more tangible benefits.
Rob VandenBrink

571 Posts
ISC Handler
After a quick check, most of my client's servers are still running Powershell 5, which doesn't have MaskInput as an option. So this definitely one of those "it works on my machine" things, at least for now.

It makes good sense to keep PowerShell up-to-date, but for older versions that's a manual process that is often an uphill battle to get clients to undertake.

Luckily, starting with PowerShell 7.2 standard Windows Updates will handle that "update PowerShell" thing for us - it's integrated into Windows Update from that version forward. It's a mystery to me why it took them so long to do that, but I'm glad that this is a problem that'll solve itself (over the next few years hopefully)
Rob VandenBrink

571 Posts
ISC Handler
You can clear variables and then run the garbage collector to remove them from memory.

Clear-Variable oldpw
Clear-Variable newpw

Note that you don't include the $ at the beginning of the variable name when clearing them. In my experience, the data assigned to a variable lingers in memory for awhile even after assigning it to null or something else. I noticed this when working with large datasets. This seems to resolve that issue, though I'm not sure how much it matters if the script is short-lived.

9 Posts

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