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!
For those using Zoom, hopefully you are carefully reconsidering your use based on the recent security concerns exposed. In this blog, I’ll review the features of Zoom relative to Teams to make sure users are aware of what they get and are giving up with each platform in the event they could take advantage of features that allow them to communicate and work better.
Unlike a simple “review site,” I’ll address this from the view of a remote worker trying to get their job done and highlight the differences in functionality. This comparison is not intended to target the “social distancing cocktail party” crowd, though they may benefit from it as well.
Zoom should essentially be treated like an “open conversation” until they get their security issues fixed. The platform is easy to hack and Zoom has previously admitted to collecting and sharing users’ personal data. If security is a real concern, I would not recommend Zoom for anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with any random person hearing.
Microsoft Teams does not use users’ data for anything other than to provide better services. The Microsoft 365 platform, in general, is designed around data loss prevention and information protection. However, it has more to protect as it is designed for persistent storage and collaboration on sensitive information, not just a simple video conferencing platform.
Zoom is simple — which is part of what made it vulnerable. It’s really just an audio/video conferencing tool. Zoom makes it easy to set up a virtual meeting, meet, chat, discuss, and be done. It also doesn’t require any advanced authentication or account management besides your name.
Teams has similar functionality, but may take a moment longer to set up a conference due to the intent of the platform. For example, Teams was built for integration with Microsoft 365, not as just a standalone product. Its scheduled meetings can be done from within its own calendar interface, which pulls directly from your Outlook/Microsoft calendar. You can also create meetings for Teams directly within Outlook and never open Teams.
Video Calls & Chat
When it comes to one-on-one or multi-person calls and chatting, Zoom is heavily built around the ID of a meeting or user, which is sent out for attendees to “join.” This system is designed to help users schedule meetings or start ad hoc video conferring meetings quickly, but it gets a lot less user-friendly when you want chat with someone, view their availability, jump on a video call, and add/remove people from that context.
Teams is designed around the individual, not the meeting. Chatting with someone, adding another person to a chat stream, sharing documents and notes, and collaborating on files are Teams’ main goal. It’s called “Teams” for a reason — it’s meant to let smaller groups of people work together.
It’s important to know that when sharing documents or data with people in ad hoc chats or video calls, that data is stored in OneDrive and available indefinitely if you want to continue working on it.
Since Teams is part of the overall Microsoft 365 ecosystem, all the data is searchable and discussion/chats can be sent out via email.
One of the biggest differences between Teams and Zoom is telephony. Zoom allows you to use a web link or a dial-in number for those joining from phones, but that’s pretty much where it leaves off. Teams has advanced integration with true calling capabilities because it was designed to replace telephone systems as well.
For example, with the proper licensing, I can call a telephone or join someone else’s conference via a traditional dial-in number with Teams, treating it like it was a telephone. In a voice meeting or chat, when I want to add a user, I can choose to call their telephone to dial them in. If Teams knows the user, it allows you to choose to invite them via telephone or their traditional online user account.
If you want the ability to add legitimate telephone capabilities (including receiving calls and voicemail), Teams is a much better choice.
Complete Internal Communication
Teams was created to be a complete internal communication hub — a context-based front-end to a lot of the work we perform on a daily basis. Its capabilities include: emailing, chatting, meeting, co-authoring documents, setting up calendar items, working on projects, and collaborating with both internal and external users on various secured topics and data.
Teams allows users to work with documents in secure channels, synchronize data to desktops, and co-author documents, adding workflow and automation to them as well. It also allows users to notify others when certain changes are made or reduce notifications on items they don’t need to hear about.
Teams provides for persistent notes integrated into meetings or work “locations” and @ mentions and hashtags to message people and groups specifically or allow them to search for tagged data and conversations.
One of the most important aspects of Teams is the ability to create multiple teams to work on specific content or projects and make sure those locations are private, secure, and audited, only accessible by the intended groups or users you define.
Both applications are available on all typical platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. There isn’t a big distinction here in terms of availability, and both tools can be browser–based.
Teams has a free version and the paid access starts with a $5 minimum licensing. However, most organizations already have Microsoft 365 Business Premium ($12.50) or E3 ($20) licensing, which includes a fully–functioning version of Teams at no additional cost. Prices increase if you want to use Teams as your office phone.
Zoom has a free version with some meeting time limitations, and their standard pricing is approximately $15-20 per month.
The bottom line is that, in many ways, Teams and Zoom aren’t even comparable.
Security aside, if all you want to do is create a video/audio conference calls from a computer, Zoom is certainly easier to set up and use. Because the functionality is very specific and limited, there isn’t much else to do with it.
Teams, however, is designed to be an enterprise collaboration and productivity tool for business that do a lot more than calling and conferencing. The integration of documents, data, workstreams, permissions, and sharing all lend themselves to a deeper overall product. This product does come with some complexity and governance challenges that need to be addressed unless you simply want to use it for video conference calls.
If you want to do more with the tools you have and prefer software you can manage internally via settings, provisioning, and auditing, Teams is the clear choice for you.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting almost everyone these days, many organizations, groups, and people in general are trying to find ways to maintain business continuity very quickly. Almost everything is more difficult when you have less time to make it happen. Since more than half of our team permanently works remotely and much of our business and customer efforts are completed remotely, we have been doing this for a while and thought the timing was right to share some of our tips and tricks with everyone out there.
Select a Technology / Tool
If you can standardize one tool for your company to use, it makes the effort a lot easier. Trying to use various different technologies to maintain continuity can be difficult. We are a Microsoft shop, so we use Microsoft Teams. Recently, Microsoft offered to give this tool away for free to help companies struggling with recent events.
In short, Microsoft Teams provides a platform for calling, video chatting, conferencing and recording, written and verbal discussion areas, file storage, document co-authoring, tagging, notifications, and more. Teams even allows for the compartmentalization of workstreams and security so you have context when collaborating in a certain location. Instead of one giant, open phone line, Teams helps streamline what you are working on and notifies when you people are working/discussing other topics.
This one is tough, but we recommend you think twice before emailing people within your organization. Email inboxes can be difficult to search properly, tedious to keep organized, and can make it hard for users to keep track of timelines and files.
In Microsoft Teams and other similar technologies, users can post documents, allow for collaboration on those documents, and determine who can and cannot edit those documents. If your team is working on a document without you, you can still hop in whenever you want to see the progress, add comments, or review updates. When you aren’t viewing the channel the document was added in, you won’t get bombarded or distracted as you might with email.
Reducing internal emails reduces clutter and distractions, and lets you choose the topics and virtual work locations that are important to you.
Talk to People
Schedule time to actively reach out and talk to your team throughout the day. We strongly suggest video chats (most laptops are equipped with a camera) so you can see their faces, look at their inflection, and remember there are human beings on the other side of these conversations. The biggest risk in remote work is the human isolation component. Now more than ever, with the recommendation to physically isolate, it is imperative for our mental health to stay connected, involved, and actively engaged in not just social activities, but also productive/work social activities.
Create Multi-Person Chats
A great way to encourage a positive online culture is to create and participate in chats between more than just two people. Go out of your way to respond, and others will follow suit. It’s inspiring to see people responding, helping, and moving the ball forward together in a way you can see (rather than just hoping it’s happening).
Consider an even wider audience chat instead of emails for major communication and news. Company-wide channels allow for responses and interaction from all the folks on the team — not just those in one department. Staying connected and cross-pollinating are the names of the game here.
Go one step further! Modern tools can securely invite people from outside your organization to participate with almost all the available activities for collaboration. Your contractors, vendors, support personnel, and partners will all be able to continue working with you — possibly better and more efficiently than they have up to until now.
Since email, chat, and just about anything except a phone call or video chat are asynchronous, it’s important your technology notifies you of activities and changing information. In the old world, we called this “toast” because a small window in the lower right would pop up like a piece of toast, with just enough information on it so we knew what was going on, but not so much that had to interact or do anything about immediately unless we wanted to.
By using these notifications, you can continue working on your current efforts and glance quickly at notifications coming in. Emails and phone calls do not give you this level of anti-distraction capabilities.
Don’t Keep Documents Locally
Use the modern workplace tools to work on documents in a specific location where others can join in. When you get to the “can you take a look at this?” moment, you can easily ask and notify the group that you need some feedback. All work on the document(s) can be tracked, saved, and available for everyone at any time — without using ANY email.
Keep a History
One of our biggest issues with email is when we need to go back and look at a series of communications or activities and try to piece it back together. It feels like we must be a detective. Choose a technology that keeps a running tab of contextual communications and documents so all you have to do is go look, maybe scroll a bit, and can view any version of the document at any time. Then, when you add someone else to the workstream, you don’t have to try to find all the correct emails to forward to them in order to get them up to speed on the project — they can simply go look in the channel for themselves.
Logically Segment the Work
Don’t use an advanced tool and treat it just like email. A singular Teams setup with one big channel where all your work, chats, meetings, and interaction occur is essentially the same single steam firehose that email gives you, and is not valuable.
Break up your work into logical areas, departments, projects, teams, and efforts. Don’t choose so many that you must jump around for absolutely everything, find the balance that best suits your company’s needs. If you need assistance making this determination, our specialized consultants are here to help. We are willing to help at no cost to you during this pandemic, so don’t suffer because you didn’t budget for an emergency. We are happy to have a quick call with your team to pass along best practices and get your remote work started off on the right foot.
We hope this helps trigger some thoughts, ideas, and actions to make you and your organization more effective as you find you may have no choice but to work from home.
CEO, Timlin Enterprises