What’s special about the builtin Administrator account?

Every installation of Windows based on the Windows NT code base has a builtin admin account called Administrator. Every installation of Active Directory Directoy Services also has a builtin admin account called Administrator. (If you are running a version of Windows other than English, your accounts may be named something else.) This account provides complete access to files, directories, services, and other facilities. But are there other things that make these account special?

  • The Relative Identifier (RID) is always 500
    In Windows each Security Principal is identified with a Security Identifier or SID. The SIDs have two parts; the machine or domain component and the Relative Identifier (RID). The RID is simply a whole number incremented with one (1) each time a new Security Principal, typically a group or user, is created. The builtin Administrator accounts, whether they are in a local SAM database or in Active Directory, always have the RID 500. This means that if you know the domain or machine component of the SID, you also know the full SID of the builtin Administrator. From there it is easy to do a “reverse lookup” and find the actual username of the builtin Administrator, and then to start trying to break into it. (Some older code even lets you authenticate with the SID directly, as opposed to a username.) See next bullet.
  • The account cannot be locked out
    The builtin Administrator account cannot be locked out of the system no matter how many failed logon attempts it accumulates. This makes it a prime target for brute force attacks. Auditing can help you find out if someone is trying to do a brute force attack using the builtin Administrator account. Other, manually created, administrator accounts can be locked out, and therefore do not present a similar threat. Renaming your builtin Administrator account will afford you some protection, but be aware of the limitations of this; see previous bullet.
  • The account cannot be deleted
    At least not using the default Windows tools.
  • The account is disabled on client OSs as of Windows XP
    In Windows XP and onwards, the builtin Administrator account does not have a password and is disabled. During setup you are required to create at least one new account, and this account becomes an administrator.

2 thoughts on “What’s special about the builtin Administrator account?”

  1. Nice post Morgan. 🙂 May I suggest that renaming the administrator account can provide a little better protection against brute force attacks? Also there’s a small typo in your last sentence. (lease -> least)

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