Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Removing Users From The Local Administrators Group

When embarking on a project to remove administrator rights from users, it is important to understand all of the options available for modifying local group membership on your clients.  If you have hundreds or even thousands of desktops, it is not feasible to do this manually.  Fortunately, Microsoft provides two mechanisms in Group Policy to manage local group membership.  The first is a Group Policy extension called Restricted Groups.  Restricted Groups allows you to overwrite the existing local group with what you have configured in the Group Policy setting.  The other option is withinGroup Policy Preferences.  The Local Users and Groups extension allows you to modify the local group membership, without overwriting the existing groups.

Restricted Groups
Restricted Groups can be configured by opening a GPO and navigating to the following location:
Computer Configuration\Policies\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Restricted Groups
GP needs least privilege

If you create a Restricted Group for the Local
Administrators group, the GPO will overwrite the existing local group membership and set the membership to whatever has been configured in the GPO.  If a user adds himself to the local administrators group, the next time the policy refreshes, the local group membership will be reset back to what is defined in the Restricted Group.

Another option to manage local group membership is to use Group Policy Preferences in Windows Server 2008.  Group Policy Preferences was introduced in Windows Server 2008 after Microsoft acquired DesktopStandard Corp in 2006 (BeyondTrust was spun out of that transaction).

To configure Group Policy Preferences, simply open a GPO and maximize the Preferences, then maximize the Control Panel Settings.

local admins need least privilege
When you right-click and create a new policy, you will have the option to add, remove or even modify local group membership.  This method of managing local group membership provides more flexibility over Restricted Groups.  In the example below, the policy will remove all members of the local administrators group and add the Domain Admins group back in.

gp needs least privilege

Once you have decided on your strategy on how to technically remove admin rights, it is time to consider the things that will break when you actually take the administrator privileges away from users.  Typically, there will be several applications that your business relies on that will require administrator privileges to run.  There will also be system tasks that users will no longer be able to run because they require administrator privileges.  Finally, users will no longer be able to install most applications since they also require administrator privileges.  These are challenges all organizations will face when removing administrator privileges from end users, even in Windows 7 deployments.  This is where PowerBroker Desktops, Windows Edition comes to the rescue.  PowerBroker Desktops can elevate these apps, tasks and installs, dynamically without any impact to the end users.  You can even measure your progress with robust reporting capabilities that include automatic discovery of applications that require administrator privileges in your enterprise, but it also will show you how many user accounts have local administrator privileges, as shown below. 

 auditors need least privilege on desktops