Table Of Contents
- Why are Directory Groups Ignored?
- Active Directory Group Management Best Practices
- Putting Best Practices into Practice
Active Directory groups are integral for managing user access to resources and distributing information. More importantly, effectively managing Azure AD and Active Directory groups is the most proactive security measure IT can put in place. Yet, Azure AD and Active Directory groups are rarely given a second look after they’re created, despite their impact on security, information distribution, and permissions management.
Why are Directory Groups Ignored?
The pace of business and breadth of demands on IT make it difficult to keep all these groups top of mind. Purging old groups and cleaning up your directory may have crossed your mind, but considering the time and effort involved, you would likely have traded it off in favor of other job responsibilities. As a result, groups keep building up in your directory, simply adding to the problem.
Out of sight, out of mind is not the right approach for keeping things safe. Groups and group-related issues can all be fixed and the first place to start is by asking yourself these questions:
- Are you certain that every group serves a purpose today?
- Does each group have a description with a clearly defined business purpose?
- Does every group have an appropriate owner that can attest to the group’s purpose, membership, and accuracy?
- Is group membership regularly updated?
- Has every tenured staff member been taken out of every group they were part of?
- Do groups have permission to only the necessary resources?
- How many groups are nested within other groups?
The wrong answers to these questions can upset the most security-minded IT pros. The fact is, after years of neglect, your groups and their members have increased exponentially, with little or no attention to evaluating the groups’ current memberships, ownerships, permission sets, and even their existence.
What should you do about it?
The next step is to devise a strategy for managing your groups in terms of members, access, permissions, and auditing.
Where should you start from? Is it just a matter of cleaning up the mess?
The short answer is yes.
You should begin to think about cleaning up and organizing the massive number of groups, memberships, permissions, and nesting occurrences in your directory.
Following are seven best practices for managing groups in Active Directory and Azure AD, the result of which will be safer groups and a secure environment.
Active Directory Groups Management Best Practices
Imanami has been championing Active Directory groups management for thousands of customers for over 20 years and here are the seven best practices for Active Directory group management based on that experience:
- Always Know What You Have
- Use Standards
- Establish Group Ownership
- Implement Change Accountability
- Periodically Certify
- Automate Group Processes
- Delete Unnecessary Groups
As you consider implementing these best practices, it’s important to view them as a method both to clean up what you currently have and to manage your existing and newly created groups as you move forward.
#1: Always Know What You Have
To get control of your Active Directory groups, reorganize them, and establish a process for continual management, you must be aware of what you have in your directory. For that purpose, you can begin with inventorying the Active Directory groups along with focusing on the most neglected ones within your directory, which are likely to include the following:
- Groups With No Member
- Groups With No Owner
- Groups With No Recent Changes
- Groups that Appear To Be Duplicative (Via Either Name Or Membership)
- Groups that Are Nested Within Other Groups
Do it the easy way: GroupID by Imanami is equipped with features that enable you to stay informed on the current state of your groups. These features include:
- Group Reporting
- Group Info Retrieval
- Similar Groups’ Identification
Once you have visibility into the current state of your Active Directory and Azure AD groups, you can follow the remaining best practices to further organize, configure, use, and manage your groups.
#2: Use Standards
After uncovering the Active Directory groups, you’ll probably discover a few groups with mysterious or cryptic names, such as HQ-RTAudBkPr. Any idea what they are or what the name implies?
You wouldn’t be alone. Most IT professionals will have several of these — with barely any clue as to why they exist. Naming certainly is important, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be standardized as part of proper group management. Here are a few more standards you should consider when creating and organizing groups:
- Group Scope in Active Directory — Group Scope in Active Directory impacts replication, members, and membership within other groups.
- Group Type — Security and distribution groups serve very different purposes but can overlap in functionality (as in the case of a mail-enabled security group).
- Group Description — You have the Description and Notes fields for groups. Use them.
- Object Placement — Just as you use folder structures in a file system to help you quickly identify what a folder contains, take advantage of organizational units in the directory for both documentation and delegation purposes.
- Use of Nesting Hierarchies — Group Nesting isn’t bad if it’s done properly, especially within distribution groups.
GroupID is built to easily implement standards in group names, scope, type, and descriptions.
#3: Establish Group Ownership
IT should be the delegator, not the owner of groups. From a best practice perspective, ownership is much more than merely populating the “Managed By” field with the Domain Admins group. It’s about looking beyond group creation and the process of initially adding members and assigning permissions. So, to create an Active Directory group, IT should designate one or more individuals within the organization as its owners, responsible for its membership, assigned permissions, and even its existence.
This would not only reduce the workload on IT but also put ownership in the hands of:
- Department Heads
- Project Leaders
In short, roles that are better positioned to decide whether the group has the right members and whether the assigned permissions are appropriate for the intended tasks. The goal is to empower end-users within the organization who are closest to the actual purpose the group serves.
#4: Implement Change Accountability
As a routine practice, users submit helpdesk tickets for getting added to various Active Directory groups, it’s often the case that these requests just ‘happen’, leaving you with little or no accountability. To help re-establish some accountability, you should change the process of how groups are modified so that changes would require the approval of the group owner or a person of authority before they are committed to the directory.
Tracking should include changes to:
- Group Attributes
- Group Nesting
- Assignment of Permissions
- Group Life Cycle Through to Deletion
You can employ several means to account for changes to groups.
Track all changes made to groups, from creation to deletion. GroupID Automate and Self-Service can log and maintain the history for each group, that you can view in group properties. Users who make changes to a group are also encouraged to add comments against changes, that could include a reason to justify the change.
Do you have processes in place to verify any changes made to objects within Active Directory and Azure AD? If not, then think about it now. Implement workflows to seek approval for the create, edit, and delete events for group objects in the directory.
Set a Group Security Type:
Using GroupID Automate and Self-Service, you can assign a security type to groups, based on their level of criticality. Security types are:
- Private – closed membership
- Semi-Private – users can send join and leave requests to group owners
- Public – open to all users
#5: Periodically Certify
Even if you have implemented accountability into your group changes, you should periodically perform an audit. For Active Directory groups, this audit should take the form of group attestation, where group owners must verify the group’s attributes, members, and permissions.
In addition to certifying that a group’s members and permissions are correct, you also need to periodically have the group’s owner attest to the need for the group’s existence.
For example, you might have a group that exists to provide access to a CRM application, but once you move to a cloud-based CRM system, you no longer need that group. Without making changes to your current model, that group is likely to remain in your directory for years to come. However, by establishing attestation, the application owner (who participated in the creation of the group and was responsible for it) can make the appropriate decision and inform IT that the group is no longer necessary.
#6: Automate Group Processes
IT teams and helpdesk bear the burden of manually managing active directory groups-related tasks, such as:
- Adding And Removing Group Members
- Updating Group Attributes
- Deleting Groups
As such, it is not surprising that human error remains the driving force behind a sizeable chunk of cybersecurity problems.
As much caution as you may exercise, human error is inevitable in manual processes. A pragmatic approach to tackle the problem lies in automation, and directory group management is no exception. Fully or partially automating group-related processes, such as group creation, memberships, group expiry, and deletion, is certainly the right course.
#7: Delete Unnecessary Active Directory Groups
This is probably the least observed practice with groups. Why? If you’ve never performed any of the best practices noted above, you’ve never been in a situation where you were 100% sure that a group could be deleted. Had you implemented group attestation, you could have spoken with authority on the existence of every group. It’s simple – if a group has failed attestation by its owner, it’s time to eliminate that group. Manually deleting such a group is okay but it’s not the ideal approach to directory hygiene.
Automating the process of deleting expired groups is an easy way to achieve this goal. It is reasonable to assume that after a grace period, groups that were not validated through the attestation process and thereby became expired, should be deleted.
Using expiring groups is a much safer and more secure way of identifying and deleting groups that cannot be attested to. (If needed, an expired group can be renewed quickly.) GroupID puts this approach into practice through its Group Life Cycle policy.
Putting Best Practices into Practice
7 Best Practices for Managing Active Directory & Azure AD Groups.
As you implement these best practices, it will become evident that group life cycle management requires some form of automation. PowerShell can help temporarily, but it can become too complicated. The simple truth is that the best practices outlined in this white paper are best accomplished by using GroupID as your automated solution.
GroupID is a powerful IAM tool for group and user management for Active Directory and Azure AD. GroupID enables IT to automate, delegate, and attest to groups and users, besides managing life cycles and workflows.