In the second blog of this series, we discussed how Access Reviews in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) provides a guided review of a group of Microsoft 365 users to help determine if their continued access to tenant resources is required. The third and final tool designed to control and audit access to company resources is Privileged Identity Management (PIM). PIM works synergistically with the other tools to help keep a watchful eye on the collaboration space without impeding productivity.
In Part 3, we’ll discuss PIM in detail. This tool is designed to provide just-in-time escalation of permissions to ensure higher permission levels are only available when needed and can be applied with governance in mind.
Privileged Identity Management
Setting up Privileged Identity Management
PIM is designed to support a “least privileged” model by making granular roles available to users requiring elevated functionality. In addition, users with continuous excessive access are vulnerable in the event their account is compromised, so when not-needed users’ accounts have no extraneous permissions. When needed, a user simply requests elevation into a specific role that has been made available to them. Depending on configuration, the assignment is either automatic or requires approval and/or justification.
The first step in configuring PIM is selecting which roles should be available under which circumstances. This configuration is found under Identity Governance, in the Manage section, by selecting Roles. The Roles screen presents a large list of Roles along with a Description of the Role’s intended usage. The screen will also display how many users are currently Active in a Role and how many users are eligible to be activated in the role.
For example, suppose you want to allow an Administrative Assistant to occasionally reset passwords without involving a tenant Global Administrator. To set this up, click on the Helpdesk Administrator Role in the list, or use the search to filter the list. Selecting this Role will list all current assignments for that Role, including Eligible, Active, and Expired. Pressing the “Add assignments” button will begin the process.
The first screen will show you the Role you have selected, with a link to select member(s) to assign to the role. Pressing the hyperlink under the Select member(s) will bring you to a search for all users within your tenant.
Select the user and press the Select button to add them to the list of members eligible for the Role. Selecting Next navigates to the Settings section, where you determine the Assignment type and durations. Leaving the type Eligible will require the user to request elevation when needed, which is the intention in this case. If you want the assignment to be limited in duration, such as covering an employee who is on leave or vacation, you can set dates for the start and end of the assignment by un-checking Permanently eligible and select dates. Selecting Assign will move that assignment into the Eligible list.
Additional settings can be applied to the Role by selecting the Settings button at the top of the Assignments screen for the Role.
From this screen, there are many configuration options to allow for more granular control of how the escalation process is executed, including approval and notification options.
The first section covers the Activation process itself. Here you can set a maximum duration for the escalation, require Azure MFA, justification, ticket information, or even approval. If requiring approval, you can select who provides the approval from this screen as well.
The next section covers Assignment, where you can decide if permanent Eligible assignments are allowed, permanent Active assignments, and whether justification and/or MFA is required for Active assignments.
The final section provides rich configuration for Notifications to be sent regarding this process. Notifications can be enabled for when members are assigned eligible to the role, when they are assigned as Active to the role, and when eligible members activate the role. This last alert would trigger when escalation has occurred. Each section of notification includes three options: Role activation, Notification to requestor, and request for approval. All of these options are enabled by default, with default recipients being Admin, Requestor/assignee, and Approver. Additional recipients can be added for most notifications.
Once a role is configured to be available, a user can request escalation by going to Azure AD, navigating to the Identity Governance screen, and selecting “Activate Just In Time”. There, they will see all Roles for which they are eligible, and have the opportunity to request being assigned to that role. Pressing Activate will start the process to be added to the role.
Depending on configuration there may be approval and / or justification needed for the assignment to be completed. They can also set a Duration, up to the configured maximum, for how long the assignment should be in effect.
Once completed, they will be in the Active roles section until the duration has been met, or they manually Deactivate the assignment.
Privileged Identity Management in Azure AD Identity Governance provides just-in-time elevation to targeted roles, helping to protect users’ accounts during normal usage, but providing an easy, governed method of escalating privileges when needed. As with the other facets of Identity Governance, PIM provides a healthy balance of productivity and security within the Microsoft 365 platform.
Need a refresher?
In our first blog of this series, we discussed how entitlement management in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Identity Governance creates Access Packages to control the scope and duration of access to groups, applications, and SharePoint sites. The two additional primary tools designed to control and audit access to company resources include Access Reviews and Privileged Identity Management. These three functions work synergistically to help keep a watchful eye on the collaboration space without impeding productivity.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss Access Reviews in detail. These are about auditing access to ensure previously-granted permissions are still appropriate and necessary.
Setting up an Access Review
An Access Review is a scheduled, guided review of a group of Microsoft 365 users to help determine if their continued access to tenant resources is required. The review can be performed by multiple users and can be set to report on dispositions and, in some cases, automatically take action based on the dispositions set.
The first step of creating an Access Review is naming and describing its purpose. You will also set a start date and frequency if the intention is to perform the review periodically. Frequencies include weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually. Occurrences can run indefinitely or can end by a specified date or after a number of occurrences. The review will also have an end date, after which the review will close and the “upon completion settings” will be applied.
Next, you determine who will be reviewed and who will be performing the review. The users to review can be Members of a Group or users Assigned to an Application on the tenant. Additionally, you can scope the review to include Guest users only or include all users. For Reviewers, you can select the Group’s owners, specific tenant users, or allow for self-review by the users. You can also associate the review with a Program (similar in concept to a Catalog for Access Packages) or choose the Default Program.
Next, we’ll set the “Upon completion settings,” which determine the action to take when the end date of the review is reached. The first choice is whether or not you’d like to auto-apply the results. With this setting enabled, any user whose disposition is to Deny access will automatically have their access removed upon the completion of the review. The second option is to determine what actions to take if reviewers don’t respond. These options include “No change,” “Remove access,” “Approve access,” or “Take recommendations.” The last option is based on Azure AD’s auto-set recommendations, which are primarily based on the last time the reviewed user utilized the system.
The final settings, under Advanced, include options to Show recommendations, Require a reason on approval, Mail notifications, and send Reminders to reviewers. All are currently enabled by default.
At this point, we are ready to start the review process. After pressing the Start button, the new Access Review will be added to the Access Reviews section within the Identity Governance module. The listing will include the name, the resource being reviewed, the status, and when it was created.
Clicking on the review will show an overview of the settings as well as a chart showing the status of the resources being reviewed. There are also pages to view the Results and the Reviewers. You can even send automated reminders for individual reviewers with the press of a button.
Performing a User Access Review
If the Mail Notifications option was set to Enabled, reviewers should receive an email with a link to begin their review. The email will have a hyperlinked button to take the user directly to the review page.
The Review page will show all relevant information, including who requested the review, when it is due by, the names of any other reviewers, and the progress made so far. It will also list each Resource being reviewed with their name, email address, Access Info (statement about whether they have recently logged in), and a recommended Action.
This list of users can be filtered based on Status (Reviewed, Not Yet Reviewed, All), Recommendation (Approve, Deny, All), or Action (Approved, Denied, Don’t Know, All). The reviewer can click on a single source to review or multi-select resources using the checkboxes, then press the “Review n user(s)” button. Reviewing resources opens a dialog with options for the disposition and comments. Actions can be Approve, Deny, or Don’t Know. The recommended action will be highlighted already. Don’t Know is useful if there are other reviewers who may have more insight or knowledge of the resource being reviewed.
Although all Resources may have been reviewed, the Access Review will stay open until its end date has been reached to allow for changes or other reviewers to provide input. If desired, a review can be manually stopped so action can be taken. This can be done by the user who originally set up the review using the Access Review overview screen. At that time, the actions will be automatically applied if the “Upon completion” setting’s “auto apply results to resource” is enabled, or the Apply Results button can be pressed if not.
The results of the review can be reviewed in the Results section of the Access Review.
Access Reviews in Azure AD Identity Governance provide a simple, consistent, and governed method of reviewing and controlling access to company tenant resources. By combining Access Reviews with Access Packages, administrators can tightly control who has access to which resources and ensure they retain the appropriate access only as long as required, all while maintaining agility and simplicity for users.
Next up: Privileged Identity Management. Configure just-in-time role escalation to implement a least-privileged security model for day-to-day operations while providing a rapid but governed path to escalated roles as required. Stay tuned!