A: Every Windows user, computer, or service account has a unique alphanumeric identifier called the security ID (SID). Windows security-related processes, such as authentication, authorization, delegation, and auditing, use SIDs to uniquely identify security principals. Because SIDs are used by system processes, the format of a SID—unlike the format of a logon name—isn't user- or administrator-friendly.

To illustrate, let us analyze an example SID that I retrieved from my test Active Directory (AD) system: S-1-5-21-4064627337-2434140041-2375368561-1036. All SID fields have a specific meaning; so, for the above sample SID:

  • S: The initial S identifies the following string as a SID.
  • 1: The revision level, or version, of the SID specification. To date, this has never changed and has always been 1.
  • 5: The identifier authority value. This is a predefined identifier for the top-level authority that issued the SID. This is typically 5, which represents the SECURITY_NT_AUTHORITY.
  • 21-4064627337-2434140041-2375368561: This section is the domain or local computer identifier (in this example, a domain identifier). This is a 48-bit string that identifies the authority (the computer or domain) that created the SID.
  • 1036: The Relative ID (RID) is the last part of a SID. The RID uniquely identifies a security principal relative to the local or domain security authority that issued the SID. Any group or user that the Windows OS doesn't create has a RID of 1000 or greater by default.

The SID of an AD domain account is created by a domain's security authority that runs on every Windows domain controller (DC). The SID of a local account is created by the Local Security Authority (LSA) service that runs on every Windows box.

An important property of a SID is its uniqueness in time and place. A SID is unique in the environment where it was created (in a domain or on a local computer). It's also unique in time: If you create a user object, delete it, then recreate it with the same name, the new object won't have the same SID as the original object.