Active Directory & Office 365 Reporting Tool

Active Directory Nested Groups – (Best Practices). Azure Active Directory groups are useful tools for Azure users when it comes to controlling the active directory access of various users. Often, you may need to enforce similar permissions and management practices across several groups in Azure. This can be tiresome and time consuming and here is where Azure’s nested groups come in handy.

Azure Nesting enables you to manage and administer your active directory environment more effectively based on business roles, functions, and management standards. As with anything else in Azure Active Directory, there are best practices that administrators need to follow to avoid costly mistakes and make sure that everything is in order. 

This article is a detailed analysis of these practices. But first, let’s start by defining what Azure nested groups are.

Image source: Imanami

What are Azure Nested Groups?

Well, in Azure Active Directory, nested groups are groups that have incorporated other groups within them. Simply put, a nested group is a group within a group.

Hence, Active Directory groups in Azure are collections of other Active Directory objects. These groups often include active directory objects such as users, computers, groups, e.t.c. All in all, the administrator is in charge of managing the group as a single object.

In Azure, the practice of incorporating one group into another is called nesting. Therefore, Active Directory nested groups simplify access management and permission assignment inside a domain. Using Active Directory nested groups is the most effective method for controlling access to resources and enforcing the principle of least privilege. Moreover, it also simplifies the enumeration of permissions for any resource. Be it a Windows file server or a SQL database.

Scopes in Azure Nested Groups

Image source: Imanami

Local groups

Azure local groups are just that: local. They are created, defined, and available exclusively on the machine on which they were formed. When creating new local groups, it is always recommended not to create them on workstations.

Domain local groups

Domain local groups are the best option for controlling resource permissions. Because they are applied anywhere in the domain. A domain local group have members from domains of any type as well as members from trustworthy domains. For example, a domain local group is your choice when you need to create a group to manage access to a collection of folders on one or more servers that contain information for administrators.

Universal groups

Next are Active Directory’s universal groups.  These groups are very useful in managing multi domain forests. They make it possible to specify roles and manage resources across multiple domains. Each universal group is stored in the domain where it was created.  Its membership is stored in the global catalogue and copied across the forest.

Global groups

In most cases, global groups are used as role groups to define collections of domain objects according to business roles. Hence, users are organized into worldwide groups based on their roles (for example, “HR” or “Sales”). Where computers are organized into global groups based on their roles (for example, “Sales Workstations”).

9 Active Directory Nested Groups Best Practices

1. Create logical hierarchies for your groups

Basically, organizing groups into hierarchies is advantageous because it enables more user access control. Administrators apply permissions to the parent group and have those permissions applied to all child groups. How? By constructing a hierarchy of nested groups. This simplifies the management of user access, as any modifications made to the parent group are automatically adopted by its children.

Creating a hierarchical structure in Active Directory also helps to decrease clutter. Rather than having numerous individual groups with similar rights, managers construct a single parent group that contains all of the essential users. Then nest other relevant groups beneath it. This minimizes the number of objects in Active Directory and allows you to find what you’re looking for more easily.

Identifying the various users who require access to resources is the first step in structuring groups into logical hierarchies. Then, for each type of user, create a parent group and add the appropriate members to it. Create extra child groups as needed and nest them beneath the matching parent group once the parent groups have been formed. By doing this, you ensure that any changes that you make to the parent group is adopted by its children.

2. Use group nesting to make managing permissions easier

Nesting enables administrators to provide permissions to the top level group. Subsequently, these are inherited by all members of that group, as well as any subgroups or users that are contained within it. In turn, this makes managing user permissions considerably simpler, as there is no longer any need to grant access to specific users. 

More importantly, modifications are made centrally rather than individually for each user, saving time and effort. Because all permissions are assigned to the top level group, group nesting makes it easy to audit user access rights.

Improve your Active Directory Security & Azure AD with Nested Group rules

Try us out for Free, Access to all features. – 200+ AD Report templates Available. Easily customise your own AD reports.

3. Establish distinct global security and distribution groups per domain

In Azure, access control for users in several domains is centrally managed by creating global security and distribution groups for each domain. These two groups serve different purposes. The global security group is used to control access to resources across all domains, while the distribution group communicates with users in a given domain.

Consequently, to create these groups Azure AD requires a new organizational unit to be created for each domain before these groups are made. The organizational unit are used to build the appropriate global security and distribution groups. The global security groups have access to resources within their own domains, whereas the distribution groups should be given permission for communication to users within their domains.

The administrator then “nests” the groups by adding the global security group to the distribution group. This ensures that all global security group members have access to the resources in their domain, as well as the capacity to receive emails or other messages from the distribution group.

4. Avoid conflicting permissions in nested groups

Image source: Imanami

In Azure AD, the most restrictive permission set is used when a person is a part of multiple groups. As a result, if the user belongs to a group that does not have authorization to use a given resource, then the user is unable to utilize that resource. This is even when the user is part of a group that allows access to the resource. To avoid this issue, it is necessary to ensure that all nested groups inside an Active Directory structure have identical permissions

Moreover, administrators should exercise caution when creating new groups to avoid layering groups with conflicting rights. This is accomplished by thoroughly evaluating the membership of each group and verifying that no two groups contain people who have distinct sets of permissions.

5. Make sure that every user belongs to at least one group

It is easier for administrators to apply security policies and settings to groups of users at once if all users are members of at least one group. In addition, if a user quits the organization or changes their role, their access permissions is swiftly withdrawn by removing them from the appropriate group. 

To do this administrators should build an organizational unit for each department and add the relevant users to the appropriate unit to ensure that all users are members of at least one group. Then, for each unit, they should define a global security group and add the appropriate users to it. This makes it easy to provide and revoke access of users to various resources whenever it’s necessary.

6. Review group membership on a regular basis

While group nesting is a valuable tool for controlling user access to resources, it can also be complex and difficult to manage. Group membership should be reviewed frequently to ensure that users have appropriate access to resources and that no unauthorized individuals are given access. Furthermore, regularly reviewing group membership also aids in the identification of any potential security threats or weaknesses in the system.

To accomplish this, group managers should first have an inventory of all the groups and have the details of their memberships. This is very helpful in identifying which modifications are required.

Next, they should compare this list to Active Directory group membership. Then the reasons for any discrepancies can be identified and addressed. Additionally, administrators should do regular inventory audits of group membership to check that only authorized individuals are included in the groups.

7. Adopt a naming convention for Active Directory objects

A naming convention makes sure that you have a logical and consistent naming strategy for objects in active directory.  This simplifies the identification, location, and management of Active Directory objects for administrators. Additionally, it also lowers the possibility of error in object creation and modification

When putting in place a naming convention, make sure that you:

  • Take into consideration the intended use and the information conveyed by the names. For example make sure that object types are identified by specific prefixes or suffixes.
  • Establish guidelines for capitalization, abbreviations, and special characters. Make sure that these guidelines are communicated to admins who need to create or manage AD objects.

Using a standard naming policy for Active Directory objects streamlines Group Nesting by allowing administrators to quickly determine which objects belong to which groups and assign permissions and delegate tasks easily.

8. Keep track of Active Directory changes

Evidently, by keeping a record of all of your revisions, you are assured that any unwanted alterations are easily rolled back, if need be. Administrators can immediately see which groups have been modified, when, and by whom. In addition, documenting modifications preserves the original configuration for future restoration or comparison.

To do this administrators should keep a log of any changes made to groups, including the date, the person who made the change, the type of change (e.g., adding/removing members from a group), and any notes about the rationale behind the change. This assists admins in keeping track of all modifications and ensuring that no vital details are missed.

9. Use the "Deny" permission when necessary

Lastly, in Active Directory, the “Deny” permission is another useful tool that is used to override other permissions that have been assigned to a user or a group. The advantage of the “Deny” permission is that the administrator still uses it to deny access of a resource to a user even when the user has already been granted access.

However, it is good to point out that this permission should be used only when it is absolutely necessary, as it has unforeseen consequences, if it is misused.

To use the “Deny” permission effectively, administrators should make sure that they have separate groups for each type of permission.

For instance, to restrict access to a certain resource, an administrator creates a “Deny Access” group and adds all users who do not need to be given access to it. The administrator then restricts access to the feature by assigning the “Deny” permission to this group rather than individual users. This guarantees that the “Deny” permission is applied similarly to all group members.

Thank you for reading Active Directory Nested Groups – (Best Practices). We shall conclude this article. 

Active Directory Nested Groups - (Best Practices) Conclusion

Image source: Imanami

Microsoft is constantly improving Azure Active Directory to ensure a seamless experience for Azure users. When it comes to managing Active Directory, Azure nested groups are one of the most helpful tools at your disposal. They simplify resource permissioning, access granting and denying, and overall Active Directory management for administrators.

Therefore, to avoid making missteps, save precious time, and guarantee efficient management of Azure groups, it is essential for group administrators and even users to be aware of the best Azure nested group practices.


Try InfraSOS for FREE

Invite your team and explore InfraSOS features for free

Josiah Mutuma

Josiah Mutuma

Josiah is a tech security expert and has been a writer for over 5 years. Follow this blog to learn more on Microsoft and Cyber security.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *