How to Make Your Active Directory Work with Linux Devices

Written by David Worthington and Greg Keller on January 30, 2023

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Microsoft Active Directory (AD) is the most common Windows-based user directory solution. AD leverages LDAP under the hood, but it largely uses Kerberos as the authentication protocol for Windows machines.

Because of this, Linux and Mac devices struggle to integrate with AD. Why is that important? AD is made up of three major components: authentication, authorization, and management. If a business uses 100% Windows systems, AD accomplishes all three tasks.

However, if a business uses any Linux or Mac devices, cloud infrastructure or applications, or non-Windows infrastructure, AD starts to fail. While some may wonder if they should keep or replace AD altogether, others will need to know what methods exist to manage everything together through their existing infrastructure.

Unmanaged devices mean that identities aren’t being managed and resources aren’t being protected. Identity is the new perimeter and it’s important to manage all devices as a gateway. This article overviews several options that enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to manage their Linux devices/users.

If AD Fails, How Are Businesses Managing Directories?

There are several ways that organizations can connect their Linux devices to Active Directory. The easiest is by using LDAP via the PAM module that’s built into Linux.

Organizations can also use Kerberos under this model. However, each of these approaches creates extra work and could add security issues (through increased attack surface area), instead of completely rectifying the issues where AD fails. 

IT will also have to implement a dedicated authentication tool. This often requires heavy IT intervention and physical servers and exists independent of current identity practices and infrastructure.

Open Source Solutions

Another method is to leverage Samba and Winbind. This requires setting up Samba, which is no easy feat, and may require changes to the network perimeter. Winbind is used to resolve user and group information from Windows Server. PAM will provide authentication services.

It’s also possible to use OpenLDAP’s proxy service for integration with Active Directory. This isn’t a trivial setup and likewise increases IT management overhead and infrastructure.

Azure Active Directory and Intune

Microsoft recently added support for Linux to its Intune endpoint management service. Using Intune will obligate you to configure a hybrid server infrastructure that syncs AD with Azure AD (AAD). This can be significant work, and AAD is segmented into premium tiers by its features.

Then, an additional Intune subscription is necessary to manage your devices. Intune setup can be complex and MIcrosoft’s support for Linux is limited at this time. It imposes restrictions on which browser you may use with Edge being the sole option available to make Intune function.

The Better Approach to Making Active Directory Work with Linux Devices

JumpCloud is an open directory platform that unifies identity, access, and device management capabilities, regardless of the underlying authentication method or device ecosystem.

JumpCloud’s open directory platform provides an alternative approach to connecting Linux or Mac devices to Active Directory. It also has integrated device management capabilities.

This cloud directory platform acts as an “extension” to AD, solidly fixing the areas where AD falls apart. It authenticates, authorizes, and manages Android, Linux, Mac, and Windows devices. Not just one of them — all of them. How? Active Directory Integration is the key to making all it work.

How AD Integration Works

Linux and Mac devices connect to JumpCloud’s cloud-based directory platform via their native authentication mechanisms (and through an agent).

Users are added to JumpCloud’s virtual identity provider either via our Active Directory Integration, or they can be manually added.

If Active Directory is connected through the JumpCloud AD Integration feature, then any updates in AD are automatically replicated to JumpCloud and, by consequence, to all Linux devices in the directory, too.

For example, a new user can be added in AD and as a result given access to all of their Linux cloud servers hosted at AWS®. The reverse is also true where a user terminated in AD is automatically deleted from the AWS servers. This is accomplished by an active sync process between AD and JumpCloud.

Linux and Mac machines can be easily connected to Microsoft AD through JumpCloud’s hosted directory service. This eliminates the headaches associated with manual management or work-around solutions with Chef or Puppet.

JumpCloud also supports multiple Linux distros, giving you the choice to work how you want to. This allows you to utilize the speed, stability, and security of Linux-based systems, without losing sight of what’s happening in the other operating systems your organization supports.

Other practical benefits include:

  • Eliminating the need for multiple passwords and siloed management.
  • Reducing administrative or technical overhead.
  • Reducing authentication friction and improving the end-user experience.

Compliance and Security

JumpCloud provides a collection of pre-built policies for Linux such as full-disk encryption. These policies help organizations to manage and secure their deployed Linux endpoints more efficiently while improving their overall security posture. Additional policies include:

  • Check partition and mount options: Directories that are used for system-wide functions can be further protected by placing them on separate partitions.
  • Check Disk Encryption: This policy will check a Linux machine for Full-Disk or Home-Directory encryption and report the status.
  • Disable USB Storage: This policy prevents USB mass storage devices, such as flash drives and USB hard drives, from being used on the system.
  • Lock Screen Policy: The user’s screen saver will lock after the amount of seconds specified. A password will be required to unlock the screen saver. 
  • File Ownership and Permissions: Secure system files for Linux systems.
  • Network Parameters: Enhance a system’s network security by setting kernel parameters for IP forwarding, packet routing, Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) requests, path filtering, and Transmission Control Protocol Sync (TCP SYN) cookies.
  • Disable Unused Filesystems: Prevent an unauthorized user from introducing data into or extracting data from a system. An admin can now determine if a filesystem type isn’t necessary and disable it.

The open directory platform is also a great directory choice for organizations that don’t use AD but would like to manage their Linux devices in a similar way.

Learn More About Connecting Linux Devices to Active Directory

Feel free to give our AD to Linux/Mac connection a try with our open directory platform. We offer a free account with 10 users and 10 devices. If any questions come up or if you would like to learn more, drop us a note.

Need more tailored, white-glove implementation assistance? Schedule a free 30-minute technical consultation to learn about the service offerings available to you.

JumpCloud also provides a decentralized password manager and vault for Linux.

David Worthington

I'm the JumpCloud Champion for Product, Security. JumpCloud and Microsoft certified, security analyst, a one-time tech journalist, and former IT director.

Greg Keller

JumpCloud CTO, Greg Keller is a career product visionary and executive management leader. With over two decades of product management, product marketing, and operations experience ranging from startups to global organizations, Greg excels in successful go-to-market execution.

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