Active Directory List Object Mode

This is something I've been wanting to blog about for a long time, but have been putting it off because I knew it might turn in to a long, time-consuming post. Well it's time to bite the bullet and get started.

We were facing a bit of a problem in one of our managed hosting environments. We had this high-volume, multitenant Active Directory being used by dozens of different customers. There was a business requirement in this domain that customers not be able to read from one another's organization units for the sake of the mutual privacy of the customers. Things seemed to be working well for a while, but one day, it appeared that customer users logging on to many of the client computers were failing to process Group Policy upon logon:

Event ID: 1101
Source: Userenv
User: NT Authority\System
Description: Windows cannot access the object OU=Customers, DC=contoso, DC=com in Active Directory. The access to the object may be denied. Group Policy processing aborted.

To start troubleshooting, I copied one of the affected user accounts and used it to log in to one of their machines, and I was able to reproduce the issue. Upon trying to update Group Policy with gpupdate.exe, I noticed that the computer configuration was updating fine, while only the user portion of the update failed, and the event 1101 was produced.

The basic layout of the OU structure in the domain was this:

    + Customers (OU)
          + Customer1 (OU)
          + Customer2 (OU)
          + ...

Still using my customer-level user account, I noticed that I was able to browse the contents of my own Customer1 OU, but I was not able to browse the contents of any other OU. The permissions on these OUs had certainly been modified.

In fact, it was that the read permission for the Authenticated Users security group had been removed from the access control list on the Customers OU. That explains the event 1101s and the GPO processing failures. From Microsoft:

[GPO processing fails] when the Group Policy engine cannot read one of the OUs.

The Group Policy engine must be able to read all OUs from the level of the user object or the computer object to the level of the domain root object. Also, the Group Policy engine must be able to read the domain root object and the site object of the computer. This is because these objects may contain links to group policies. If the Group Policy engine cannot read one of these OUs, the events that are mentioned in the "Symptoms" section will be logged.

So in satisfying the business requirement that no customer be allowed to list the contents of another customer's OU, Group Policy processing had been broken. But simply giving Authenticated Users their read permissions back on the Customers OU, they get to browse all the other customers OUs as well.

We needed the best of both worlds.

This Microsoft article would lead you to believe that if a security principal just had the Read gpLink and Read gpOptions access control entries, then GPO processing should work fine:

But that's not enough. The four ACEs that were needed on the Customers OU were:

  • Read gpLink
  • Read gpOptions
  • Read cn
  • Read distinguishedName

Now we're making progress, but we're still not out of the woods. Giving Authenticated Users the List Contents permission on the Customers OU would allow them to see the names of all the other customer's OUs, although now they show up as "Unknown" object types and can't have their respective contents listed. But that's a messy solution in my opinion and doesn't fully satisfy the requirement. Customer1 shouldn't even be aware of Customer2's existence.

There's one last piece of the puzzle missing, and that brings me to List Object Mode.

List Object Mode is one strategy available to Active Directory administrators to allow for hiding certain bits of data from certain users. List Object mode has to be enabled manually; it's turned off by default. To enable it, set the value of the dsHeuristics property in the Configuration partition to 001 using ADSI Edit, like so:


Now you will have a new access control entry in the list on objects in your forest: List Object. The ACE was actually there before, but Active Directory doesn't enforce it by default.

List Object Mode is a form of Access Based Enumeration, (not to be confused with file system ABE,) where items are not displayed to users that do not have List Object permissions to them. By default, when a user has the List Contents permission on an OU, and queries that OU, he or she is given a list of all child OUs in that parent OU, even if the user doesn't have read access to those other child OUs.  They show up in ADUC as "Unknown" object types and get that little blank page for an icon which is the Microsoft universal symbol for "wth is this?"

By using List Object permissions after having enabled it as just described, Active Directory evaluates the permissions of all the child objects under the object that was queried before returning the results to the user. Unless the user has the List Object permission on the object, it is omitted from the results. So now we have a customer user who is able to read just his or her own OU, and the other Customer OUs are completely hidden from view.

And no more Group Policy failures due to access denied, either.

So are there disadvantages to enabling and using List Object mode in your domain? Yes there are. So even though it may be appropriate for your environment, List Object Mode is not for everybody and it's not a decision that should be made lightly:

  • Significantly increased access control checks on LDAP queries = busier domain controllers.
  • You may need to rethink your entire User and Computer organization strategy to accommodate for how the new permissions work.
  • It's a less common configuration that fewer people are familiar with. Administrative complexity++. You need to fully document the change and make sure every administrator is aware of it.

So there you have it. Now go impress your friends with your knowledge of AD List Object Mode!

Comments (5) -

Hi Ryan,

I can't find the "Read CN" and "Read distinguishedName" ACE's in the security settings of the OU.
Am I doing something wrong?

I'm also looking for those ACE's
did you find it?

Hi Ryan,

Same thing here, I can't find the "Read CN" and "Read distinguishedName" ACE's in the security settings of the OU.  Can you explain where to find these ACE's??

I've found out the "Read CN" and "Read distinguishedName" ACE's are only available through ADSIEDIT. If you use the permissions tab in Active Directory Users and Computer the Read CN" and "Read distinguishedName" ACE's are not displayed.

However after setting the right ACE's i am still getting eventid 1101.

I've did the following (which worked):

add the Authenticated Users group to the top OU (so that would be customers) but only add it to that object, not to the descendants. For all the children, remove authenticated users (and/or change the schema) and give those list object permissions as described above: no 1101 event id's and they can only browse their own OU.

Comments are closed