June 16, 2024

step-by-step guide for designing role-based access control (RBAC) in Active Directory

Nikolai Fomm
COO and co-founder

Step 0: Considerations for Introducing an RBAC Model

Before implementing a Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) model in Active Directory, it is crucial to evaluate several factors to determine if RBAC is the right solution to run the Identity Access Management for your organization. This preliminary step involves assessing your current access control needs, understanding the complexity of your organizational structure, evaluating compliance requirements, and identifying potential benefits and challenges.

Define Roles and Permissions for your IAM Active Directory

The first step in implementing a Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) model in Active Directory is to define the roles and permissions for your users. A role is a set of permissions that enable a user to perform specific tasks or access certain resources. For instance, you might create a role for sales managers, who need to view and edit customer information, generate reports, and approve orders. Permissions are specific rights that allow a user to perform an action or access a resource, such as reading, writing, or deleting a file, or running a program. You can utilize the Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) tool or the Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC) to establish and manage these roles and permissions.

Example: Establish a "Sales Manager" role with permissions for reading and writing customer data, generating sales reports, and approving orders. This role is crucial for the operational efficiency of the sales team.

Create Groups and Assign Roles

The second step in the RBAC implementation process in Active Directory involves creating groups and assigning roles to them. A group is a collection of users with similar access needs or responsibilities. For example, you could create a group for sales managers and assign the previously defined role to this group. This approach simplifies access rights management, as roles are assigned to groups instead of individual users. The ADUC or ADAC tools can be used to create and manage these groups and role assignments.

Example: Form a group called "Sales Managers" and assign the "Sales Manager" role to it. All members of this group will automatically inherit the permissions defined for the role, ensuring uniform access rights for all sales managers.

Configure Access Control Policies for your IAM

The third step in setting up a RBAC model in Active Directory is to configure access control policies that enforce the roles and permissions you have defined. An access control policy specifies who can access which resources and under what conditions. For instance, you can create a policy that allows only sales managers to access the sales database, and only during business hours. The Active Directory Security Editor (ADSE) tool or the ADAC tool can be used to create and manage these access control policies.

Example: Set up an access control policy that restricts access to the sales database to members of the "Sales Managers" group, and only permits access during business hours (8 AM to 6 PM), thereby safeguarding data and maintaining operational effectiveness.

Test and Monitor the RBAC Model

The fourth step in the implementation of a RBAC model in Active Directory is to test and monitor the system you have established. Testing and monitoring are critical to ensure the RBAC model functions as intended, meets the security and compliance requirements of your organization, and does not cause any performance or functionality issues. The Active Directory Rights Management Services (ADRMS) tool or the Active Directory Audit Policy (ADAP) tool can be used to test and monitor the RBAC model. The better you stress test the model, the lower the chance of a breach will be.

Example: Conduct a series of tests where users in the "Sales Managers" group attempt to access the sales database both during and outside business hours to verify the correct enforcement of access control policies. Set up monitoring tools to detect any unauthorized access attempts and alert the administrative team.

Review and Update the RBAC Model

The fifth step in implementing a RBAC model in Active Directory is to periodically review and update the RBAC model to keep your Identity Access Management up to date. Regular reviews and updates are necessary to ensure the RBAC model remains aligned with the evolving needs and objectives of your organization, as well as with the changing threat landscape. You can use the ADUC tool, ADAC tool, ADSE tool, or ADRMS tool to review and update the RBAC model as needed.

Example: After a reorganization within the company, review and update the RBAC model to reflect the new structure and roles. If you for exapmple set up a new team or a new office at a new location, you might need to review the roles you have defined before. This ensures all users have the appropriate access rights according to their new responsibilities.

Corma's mission is to make identity access management smart and simple. We want to leverage the benefits of the Active Directory while reducing the complexities of setting it up and running a Role-Based Access Control. If you would like what this looks like in real life, do not hesitate to reach:

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