On Day 5 of Cybersecurity awareness month, learn how to implement least privilege access using Azure AD administrative units and enhance security within Microsoft 365. Stay tuned for more blog posts in our M365 Cybersecurity blog series.
In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, protecting sensitive data and systems has become a top priority. One crucial aspect of this protection is the principle of least privilege (POLP). Microsoft 365 offers several tools and features to help organizations implement the least privilege access. Administrative units in Microsoft Entra ID (Azure AD) is a powerful feature that enables organizations to refine and manage access rights effectively, thereby strengthening security and reducing unnecessary permissions.
As the world is increasingly interconnected, everyone shares the responsibility of securing cyber space.
As the quote goes, everyone shares the responsibility of securing cyber space. By implementing the principle of least privilege access using Entra ID administrative units, organizations can help to protect their sensitive data and systems from cyber threats. Let’s first dive into the principle of least privilege access in Azure AD.
What is the Principle of Least Privilege Access and Why Do You Need It?
The principle of least privilege access states that “Users and applications should be granted access only to the data and operations they require to perform their jobs”. As stated, it restricts users’ access rights to the minimum levels required to complete their tasks. By adhering to this principle, organizations can significantly reduce the attack surface, mitigate the risk of unauthorized access, and limit the potential damage caused by security breaches. In a Microsoft 365 environment, ensuring the least privileged access is essential to maintain data confidentiality and system integrity, making it a critical component of any organization’s security strategy.
One of the best practices of leveraging least privilege access to users is by configuring Privileged Identity Management (PIM) in Microsoft Entra ID and granting Just-in-Time (JIT) access. It provides users with time-limited permissions to carry out privileged actions, thereby ensuring that unauthorized or malicious users cannot gain access.
What are Administrative Units in Microsoft Entra ID?
Administrative units (AU) in Azure AD allow organizations to logically group and manage users & resources based on specific criteria. It’s like giving keys to different rooms in a big building – each group gets access only to their own rooms, not the whole building. AUs provide a granular level of control over access and enable administrators to delegate authority more effectively within their Microsoft 365 environment.
By organizing users and resources into administrative units, organizations can ensure that users have access only to the resources necessary for their roles, aligning with the principle of least privilege. To further shield important accounts in your organization, you can use the restricted management administrative units.
- Global administrators and privileged role admins create administrative units with a Microsoft Entra ID Free license.
- Every member of an administrative unit needs a Microsoft Entra ID Free license.
- Each administrator managing an administrative unit (like a team or department) needs a Microsoft Entra ID P1 license.
Security Benefits of Using Administrative Units
We recommend using administrative units to improve security for the following reasons:
Granular Access Control: Administrative units enable organizations to define and enforce precise access policies for different groups of users and resources, reducing the risk of over-privileged accounts.
Delegation of Administrative Tasks: AUs facilitate the delegation of administrative tasks, allowing organizations to assign specific responsibilities to designated administrators while maintaining overall control.
Simplified Compliance: With AUs, organizations can easily meet compliance requirements by ensuring that users only have access to the data and applications they need to perform their job functions.
Points to Remember:
- An administrative unit can contain only users, groups, or devices.
- When you add a group to an administrative unit, admins can manage the properties of the group alone, not the members of the group.
- Users can be members of multiple administrative units.
- Administrative units cannot be nested.
- Dynamic groups cannot be added to an administrative unit.
How Administrative Units Help to Implement Least Privilege Access?
Entra ID administrative units help organizations implement least privilege access by allowing them to restrict the scope of role assignments to specific groups of users. Let’s see some of the use cases where we can use administrative units to implement the least privileged access in Entra ID for enhanced security.
Case 1: Departmental access control
An organization can create an administrative unit for its engineering team in Entra ID (Azure AD). By assigning the Group Administrator role to users within that unit, the engineers gain the ability to manage users and groups in Azure AD, specifically within their department, without having access to other departments’ users and groups.
Case 2: Just-in-time admin access
Azure AD administrative units can also be used to implement just-in-time administrative access. For example, an organization can grant Global Administrator role to users only when they need to perform a specific task, such as creating a new Azure AD tenant. Once the task is complete, the user’s elevated privilege roles get revoked.
Case 3: Project management
When multiple projects are running concurrently, each project can have its own administrative unit with project-specific administrators. This approach provides isolation and control over user & group management within each project, improving security and project management.
Case 4: Geographic Segmentation
If your organization operates in multiple geographic regions, create administrative units for each region. Assign regional administrators to manage users and groups within their specific locations. This approach ensures that access to Azure AD resources is limited to the geographic area, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.
Case 5: Role-Based Privileges
Utilize Entra ID roles in combination with administrative units. Assign any specific roles to users within their administrative units based on their job responsibilities. For example, give a Help Desk role to support staff within their department’s administrative unit, granting them enough access to perform user support tasks without broader privileges.
Case 6: Resource-Specific Access
Use administrative units to group resources (e.g., Azure resources, applications, or SharePoint sites) based on their function or project. Assign administrators with access only to the administrative units containing the specific resources they need to manage, thereby preventing unnecessary access to resources.
Therefore, Entra ID administrative units are valuable for organizations seeking to enhance security by implementing the principle of least privilege. By segmenting administrative access into different units, organizations can better manage and restrict user & group access within their Azure AD environment. Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach us in the comment section for any assistance.