On August 13th 2020, Alex Simons (Microsoft Identity PM) announced that assigning groups to Azure AD roles in now in public preview. This feature is one of the most requested features to be found in the Azure AD feedback forum.

I have been following this feature request for a while now, and up until recently Microsoft stated that implementing Azure AD role assignment for Azure AD groups wasn’t the issue, the issue was more related to who is able to manage those groups. For example, if enabled how can we circumvent that someone with the “User Administrator” role (capable of adding users to groups) is capable of adding someone to the group used to assign Global Administrator rights. When implemented incorrectly, this new “feature” could then introduce a new security risk in your environment.

Assigning groups to Azure AD roles requires an Azure AD Premium P1 license at minimum, for the Privileged Identity Functionality an Azure AD Premium P2 license is needed.

Disclaimer: This post reflects the status of assigning groups to Azure AD roles as of August 20, 2020. Functionality may change, even right after this post has been published.

So, let’s walk through on what was announced and see..

So, up until now when you wanted to assign a user an Azure AD role, you had to include the user account directly in the role. Verifying which account has what privileges is therefore hard, especially if you don’t have Azure AD Privileged Identity Management (PIM) licensed.

For a more in depth overview of what Azure AD Privileged Identity Management (PIM) is, please see another blogpost I wrote on this subject here: Lessons learned while implementing Azure AD Privileged Identity Management (PIM)

Changed behaviour while adding members to Azure AD Roles

On the topic of PIM, I also noticed some changed functionality when adding users when you have PIM enabled in your environment. If you don’t have PIM enabled you can assign a user to a role, but if you have PIM enabled there is another experience where when you want to assign an Azure AD role you are actually redirected to the Privileged Identity Management blade, where you can directly create an Eligible (must be activated) or Active (always active) assignment.

Adding users to Azure AD roles via Group membership

In order to add users to Azure AD roles via Group membership you first have to create a new group, so it’s not possible to repurpose an existing group for this.

New groups have the option to set the “Azure AD roles can be assigned to the group (Preview)” option which can be set to either “No” or “Yes”. When you switch this setting to ‘Yes’ the group’s eligibility for role assignment is permanent. Besides that you can only have a membership type of Assigned, so using Dynamic Groups is not supported, and within the wizard you can only add users as member and not groups (group nesting). Interestingly, you can assign multiple Azure AD roles to the group.

Assigning Azure AD role(s) to a newly created Azure AD Group

If you want to create the Group with the “Azure AD roles can be assigned to the group (Preview)” option enabled you will get an extra confirmation screen:

Confirmation screen before creating the group.

The option “Azure AD roles can be assigned to the group (Preview)” is only visible if you are member of either the Global Administrator or Privileged Role Administrator role.

Create group experience for non Global Administrator/Privileged Role Administrator members

Privileged access groups

Once a group with the option to enable Azure AD role assignments is created and you have PIM enabled, a new option becomes available called “Privileged access (Preview)”.

Enabling this option gives us the following options:

Define Eligible or Active assignments to the group

On the group you can assign members or owners using the capabilities provided by PIM. So for example, while adding our user as a member of the group permanently earlier in this article, I now have the option to make the membership Eligible. Also notice that this assignment type is time bound, with a maximum of 1 year.

Update assignment options

It’s also interesting to notice that if you want to update an Active Assignment you will not be allowed to Permanently assign an Active role by default. And that assigning an Active role has a maximum allowed assignment duration of 6 months. Once the group is enabled for Privileged Access and you want to add a member, then you don’t have the option “Permanently assigned” available. Also notice that providing a justification is mandatory.

Justification is mandatory and permanent assignment is not allowed

The default options described above are configurable though, trough the settings, so you are able to configure these depending on your requirements.

Settings for PIM behaviour on the group.

Activating your Azure AD role while using Privileged access groups

It’s interesting to see that once a user is set to Eligible for the privileged access group, that the Azure AD role doesn’t show up under Eligible Assignments when the user browses to My Roles in PIM. In order to active the Azure AD role in this scenario, the user must go to Privileged access groups (Preview) and active the role from there.

Once the role is activated via the group, it will show up under Active assignments, and what’s interesting to see is that at this time it’s still displayed as being permanent. But I expect that to be fixed while the functionality is still in preview.

Approval

Within the PIM settings of the group you can also specify that any Activation request for the group must be approved. This works similar to approval in PIM as we already know it. You define that approval is mandatory and specify who can approve. This can either be a user or a group.

Define Approval for Group

If the user now requests to activate the privileged access group, he will receive the message that the request is pending for approval

Notification that request is pending

The approver doesn’t see the request under Privileged Identity Management | Approve requests but has to go to Privileged Identity Management | Privileged access groups (Preview) and select the group, from there the Approve Requests functionality is providing the ability to approve the request.

Approve Request via Privileged access groups

Conclusion

I hope this walkthrough gave you an idea on the new possibilities as announced in the public preview. And there is much more to cover actually when it comes to PIM, like more in depth information about auditing and access reviews.

Microsoft has addressed its own concerns by only allowing Global Administrators and Privileged Role Administrators to create the groups enabled for Azure AD role assignment. And having this functionality combined with Privileged Identity Management (PIM) makes the solution even better. Another reason to buy an Azure AD Premium P2 license for your administrative accounts at least.

A winning feature is that by using Privileged access with Azure AD Groups is that you can enable multiple Azure AD roles at once, this could save you creation of a custom role in some cases when using PIM.

While there are still some little fixes which must be applied, for now this looks like a welcome addition for any Azure AD tenant using Premium functionality.

Resources

Assigning groups to Azure AD roles is now in public preview!

Use cloud groups to manage role assignments in Azure Active Directory (preview)

Management capabilities for privileged access Azure AD groups (preview)