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Self-Service AD Group Management

Hitachi ID Group Manager is a self-service group membership request portal. It allows users to request access to resources such as shares and folders, rather than initially specifying groups. Group Manager automatically maps requests to the appropriate security groups and invites group owners to approve or deny the proposed change.

Group Manager is available both as a stand-alone solution and as a no-cost module included with Hitachi ID Identity Manager.

Challenges in Large-Scale Active Directory Group Management

Many organizations have deployed Windows servers and Active Directory, and leveraged the powerful access control infrastructure in this platform to manage user access to data. This infrastructure uses security groups to control user access to resources:

  • Groups are defined in Active Directory to reflect business functions or organizational structure.

  • Groups are assigned rights to network resources, such as shares, folders and printers.

  • Users are attached to groups based on their job requirements -- be it their permanent role or temporary requirements (e.g., project work).

  • Groups may be nested, to simplify management.

Over time, the number of groups grows and in some organizations may surpass the number of users. Moreover, in dynamic organizations users frequently change responsibilities and are assigned new projects. This churn creates complexity:

  • User requirements must be reflected by changes to user membership in groups.

  • A user support group must be created to respond to user access problems by attaching users to appropriate groups.

  • Users are frequently unaware of the security infrastructure, so their calls to the help desk typically begin with: "I got an `access denied' error..."

  • Problem resolution is time consuming: first map the user's problem description to a network UNC, then find the groups with rights to that resource, then find owners for the groups, then call them to get permission to attach the user and finally attach the user to the group.

Complexity in managing large numbers of changes in security group membership leads to real business problems:

  • Staffing cost in the user access management group, due to high call volumes.

  • Long turnaround and lost productivity when users wait hours or days to get required access rights.

  • Users with inappropriate access rights, as a result of failures in the change authorization process.

Addressing Complexity Using Self-Service

Group membership management can be complex and costly when performed manually:

  1. Users don't know what to ask for -- they may not understand that there are groups or which one they require.
  2. Manual service is expensive -- a security administration team spends its time receiving, clarifying, getting approvals for and completing trivial security requests.
  3. Users may have to wait a long time for required access, both because the security administration team is busy and because finding the right approval and waiting for them to respond take time.
  4. The approvals process may not be reliable. The security administration team may make changes with either the wrong approval or with none at all.
  5. Change history may not be captured and may not be complete or reliable. This may lead to audit findings.

The cost and complexity of group membership management is greatly reduced using self-service:

  1. Users do not need to understand the linkage between resources and groups, or group structure. They simply ask for access to the object they require.
  2. Approvals are routed to appropriate stake-holders automatically, without IT security team involvement.
  3. Approved requests are automatically fulfilled, again requiring no manual intervention.
  4. The security team can focus on policies and process rather than the execution of individual requests.
  5. Users get faster service -- they don't have to wait for busy security administrators to disambiguate their requests, find appropriate authorizers, elicit approvals, etc.
  6. All change requests are appropriately authorized -- approvals are automated and policy-driven, rather than manual and ad-hoc.
  7. There is a clear audit trail - who requested what, when, why and who approved it.

Introducing Group Manager

Group Manager is a self-service group membership request portal. It allows users to request access to resources such as shares and folders, rather than initially specifying groups. Group Manager automatically maps requests to the appropriate security groups and invites group owners to approve or deny the proposed change.

Group Manager is available both as a stand-alone solution and as a no-cost module included with Identity Manager.

Group Manager is a component of the Hitachi ID Identity and Access Management Suite designed to streamline user requests to network resources.

Using Group Manager, users sign into a secure web application and request new access to a network resource, such as a share, folder, printer or mail distribution list. From the Group Manager web form, users first select a resource container (examples: share; directory OU) and then use a tree view to browse for a specific resource (examples: folder, mail DL). Once they have selected a resource, users simply submit the request.

Once the user has selected a resource, Group Manager:

  • Dynamically maps the user resource selection to a specific managed target system and to a security group on that system.

  • Determines whether the security group is already under Group Manager access control and if not automatically adds the group to its workflow system.

  • Checks whether at least one authorizer is already available for the group and if not automatically extracts a new authorizer list from the target system itself (e.g., identifies the group's owners).

  • Initiates a workflow request, asking the appropriate authorizer(s) whether the user should be allowed to join the group in question.

The Group Manager workflow system automatically tracks change authorization and adds the user to the requested group if and when the proposed change is approved.

Group Manager produces real, concrete business value:

Group Manager improves security by ensuring that changes to membership in security groups are properly authorized before being implemented.

Group Manager reduces the cost of IT support by moving requests and authorization for changes to group membership out of IT, to the community of business users.

Group Manager streamlines service delivery regarding the management of membership in security groups by making it easier for users to submit clear and appropriate change requests and automatically routing those requests to the right authorizers. This makes the request process painless and the approvals process fast.

Group Manager Technology

Group Manager is currently designed to target a single platform -- Active Directory. Its user interface exposes resources that are typically made accessible by user membership in AD groups:

  • Shares on file servers.
  • Folders on shares, including the full depth of folder hierarchy.
  • Printers and print server queues published in AD.
  • Mail distribution lists, for example as used by MS Exchange.

Group Manager uses plugins to connect to target platforms. The Windows/AD resource discovery plugin is able to drill down into Windows-based network resources, find out which groups have rights to which resources, and lookup group owners on Active Directory. The Hitachi ID Identity and Access Management Suite Active Directory connector, included with Group Manager, can enumerate AD users and groups, authenticate AD passwords and update AD group memberships.

User Interface Workflow

Group Manager can be used to manage many different types of resources. A plug-in program binds Group Manager to a specific type of resource, such as Windows shares, whose access is mediated by membership in an Active Directory group. Other resources include network printers and mail distribution lists.

The description is best clarified with a concrete example:

User Group Manager Resource-Type Plug-in Target System
1 Sign in using a network login ID and password. Validate credentials    
2 Initiate a new resource-access request.      
3   Display a list of descriptive names for configured Windows file servers and shares.    
4 Select a share.      
5   Display a tree view of folders in the selected shares    
6 Browse for and select a folder where access is desired. Interactive tree view display Iteratively provide a list of sub-directories from the selected share.  
7 Select a set of privileges and an authorizer to request. ..Display and user input.. Provide a list of groups that have privileges on the share and the security privileges each one has been assigned. (read-only? read-write? etc.) One or more owners (authorizers) are provided for each group.  
8   Workflow to track change authorization    
9   (Change approved) Run agent to update the user's group membership. Send a confirmation e-mail to the user and to all owner/authorizers.   Updated privileges. User can now access the folder.


Windows Shell and SharePoint integrations

A shell extension is included with Group Manager which can be deployed on Windows XP, Windows Vista/7/8 PCs. If installed, this component can intercept Windows "access denied" error messages and present an expanded message which allows users to open a web browser to the Group Manager application, where they can request membership in the appropriate AD group.


    Windows Shell Extension: Replacing the Native Access Denied Dialog

An analogous integration with SharePoint is provided, which works by extending the "access denied" error page on each SharePoint server.

Robust approvals workflow

The built-in workflow engine is designed to get quick and reliable feedback from groups of business users, who may be individually unreliable. It supports:

  • Concurrent invitations to multiple users to review a request.
  • Approval by N of M authorizers (N is fewer than M).
  • Automatic reminders to non-responsive authorizers.
  • Escalation from non-responsive authorizers to their alternates.
  • Scheduled delegation of approval responsibility from unavailable to alternate approvers.

Installing, Configuring and Managing Group Manager

Group Manager is very simple to configure and manage. For example, to configure it to manage group membership in Active Directory, to enable users to gain access to group-controlled file folders, one need only:

  • Set up Active Directory as a Group Manager target system.
  • Enter the base UNC for each share in which Group Manager will manage access.
  • Ensure that the owner field is correctly populated on each AD user group.

Group Manager deployment is typically very quick:

  • Install the product.
  • Configure the primary target system -- a Windows / Active Directory domain.
  • Install the resource location plugin (currently a Windows resource plugin is available, supporting shares, folders, printers and Exchange mail distribution lists).
  • Configure root nodes for resource browsing, such as share UNCs.
  • Verify that group owners are correctly defined in AD, as these people will be used as authorizers.
  • Test and debug the installation as appropriate.

The entire process typically requires just 2-3 days of technical configuration work.

Logging and Reporting

Group Manager logs all attempted and completed requests for group membership. Group Manager workflow-related reports include:

Report Description
Authorizer activity

Approvals, denials and failure to respond by authorizers
Request status by authorizer

Lists request-status information for each authorizer to whom a request is assigned. It also includes the actions taken by each authorizer for each request item
Request status by implementer

Lists request-status information for each implementer to whom a request is assigned.
Pre-defined requests

Shows the configuration of pre-defined requests
Request event log

Details and change history of matching requests
Search requests

Advanced search of and statistics about current and archived requests.
Request volume trend

Trend analysis of request volume per time interval.
Participant response time

Analysis of the responsiveness of participants in workflow processes.
Inactive requests

Analysis of requests which have had no activity in N days.
Stuck requests

Analysis of requests which cannot be completed.
Escalated / delegated requests

Analysis of escalation and delegation of requests.
Request popularity

Analysis of the popularity of pre-defined request types, managed resources, operations and workflow participants.


All workflow requests are retained in the Group Manager database indefinitely, for reporting at any future date.

Network Architecture

The Group Manager network architecture is illustrated in Figure [link].


    Group Manager Network Architecture Diagram

In the diagram:

  1. A requester signs into Group Manager and locates a network resource of interest, using some combination of searching and browsing.
  2. The requester asks for access to the resource.
  3. Group Manager looks up the ACLs on the resource, and determines which group membership would be appropriate.
  4. Group Manager looks up the group's owners, and sends them an e-mail on behalf of the requester, asking that the requester be attached to their group, in order to enable the requester to access the resource of interest.
  5. At some later time, the group owners receive the e-mail, sign into Group Manager, and either approve or deny the request.
  6. If the request is received, Group Manager updates the user and group objects in AD, to create a new group membership.

Access by the requester and authorizer to Group Manager is typically HTML over HTTPS.

Access by both the requester and Group Manager to the network resources in question may be SMB, DFS or LDAP.

Platform Support

Group Manager currently supports Active Directory group membership management, where AD runs on Windows 2000, 2003, 2008 or 2012 servers.

It also supports management of:

  1. SMB and DFS based filesystems.
  2. Nested groups. Users and/or policy plugins choose the group for which membership will be requested.
  3. Access to shares (i.e., share-level ACLs).
  4. Access to folders (i.e., NTFS folder-level ACLs).
  5. Access to printers (i.e., ACLs on AD-published print queues).
  6. Access to mail distribution lists (i.e., membership in AD mail DLs).

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