Enterprises today are investing heavily in IT infrastructure to keep up with the digital transformation wave. Network and system administrators must keep their digital environments efficient, secure and organized.
The ultimate goal of network professionals is to provide a unified IT experience, prevent data breaches and further overall objectives. The same can be accomplished by reducing organizational complexity and aligning end-user behavior with business goals.
Group Policy Management (GPM) is a perfect solution for network administrators to ensure organizational security.
In this blog, let us understand why GPM is a basic necessity for every organization.
What is Group Policy?
Group policy is a Windows feature that allows network or system administrators to manage multiple users or system configurations in an active directory environment with the help of advanced settings.
It is the most efficient way to configure all enterprise verticals, sites, or domains from a central platform.
IT teams can save substantial operational time because they do not have to go through every system to set new configurations.
What is a Group Policy Object?
Group Policy Object (GPO) is a group of settings created in Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Group Policy Editor that determines system configurations and behavior for a defined group of users. The GPOs are linked with one or multiple active directory containers from sites, domains, and Organizational Units (OU). The MMC allows users to design GPOs that sets registry-based policies, security options, software or app installation, etc. The following are the three types of GPOs that can be implemented by enterprises:
- Local Group Policy Objects:
Local Group Policy Objects are inbuilt with every Windows system. It is a group policy setting that system admins can apply to local systems and users who log on to that system. It is best suited for enterprises who want to apply policy settings to a single Windows system or user.
- Non-local Group Policy Objects:
Non-local GPOs help network admins to apply policy settings to one or multiple windows computers of users. Once you link your system or user to the Active Directory objects like sites, domains, and organizational units, you can implement non-local group policy objects.
- Starter Group Policy Objects:
Starter GPOs help the network or system admins to design and set a pre-configured group of settings that act as a baseline for any future policies that need to be set.
The working of Group Policy Management!
The order of the GPOs affects the settings that are applied to the computer or the user. Most likely, the GPOs are enforced simultaneously. The administrator needs to understand which GPO is given priority to others and which GPOs are mandatory or which can be customized. LSDOU (Local, Site, Domain, Organizational unit) is the order in which GPOs are executed.
The GPOs follow the following hierarchy:
- First, the local Group Policy Objects are applied – these are unique settings governing a particular system.
- Second, the active directory group policy is implemented, which is fastened with a unique site. An Active Directory Site is a logical collection of systems based on their physical proximity within an enterprise. The administrator can set an order to execute if they have more than one site policy.
- Third, Windows group policies are set for a particular domain in which the computer operates. The administrator can set a policy execution order if the domain has more than one group policy.
- Finally, the last GPOs that ought to be applied will be set up for the Active Directory organizational unit on which the computer or user operates. Organizational units refer to the logical groupings that simplify the process of setting policies and managing groups of network objects. The administrator needs to decide the execution order if they have multiple policies.
If there is a conflicting policy in the given hierarchy, the last applied group policy wins out.
Do Enterprises Need Group Policy Management?
Yes, group policy management is one of the primary requirements for every enterprise as it helps them ensure their IT infrastructure and database are secure.
The off-the-shelf windows computers are not secure; GPOs can address numerous security loopholes. If enterprises do not identify and have an effective plan in place, they may be exposed to many threats.
GPMs allow network administrators to set the least privileged policies. Users will have access only to those tools, applications, or the internet they need to accomplish their job. A simple way to do this is by disabling local administrator rights globally in the network and granting access to users or groups according to their job descriptions.
Administrators can implement group policies to strengthen enterprise security. For instance, network administrators can disable obsolete protocols, restrict users from making changes, etc.
What are the Benefits of Group Policy Management for Data Security?
The advantages of group policy management are more than just securing your enterprise digitally. The following are the few best benefits for your enterprise.
- Efficient Password Policy Reinforcement:
Enterprises can implement GPOs to streamline workflows and simplify mundane and time-consuming tasks. Passwords that are not updated or those that are easy are at a greater risk of being hacked by cybercriminals. Implementing Group Policy Objects can help ensure the users set long and complex passwords that qualify all the password parameters.
- Efficient System Management:
Enterprises can implement GPOs to streamline workflows; to simplify tasks that are mundane and time-consuming. The GPOs implement a standard and universal environment for all new users or systems that join the enterprise domain. Enterprises can, thus, save a substantial amount of time configuring the environment of new users or systems linked to your domain.
- Security Audits:
The system administrator can use GPOs to install software updates and system patches to keep the IT infrastructure secure from the latest security threats.
- Seamless Folder Redirection:
GLPOs ensure that users store and manage their database from a central and monitored server. For example, the GPO can help enterprises redirect users’ document files stored on a local server to a network location.
What are the limitations of Group Policy Management?
- They Execute Consequently:
The GPOs execute actions one after the other. The users may take much time to log on if there are multiple GPOs are to be configured.
- Restricted Flexibility:
The network administrator can implement GPOs to users and systems only. Therefore, it is limited when it comes to implementing settings based on context.
- Fewer Triggers:
The Group Policy Objects can be implemented only during the start of the system when users login or set intervals. If there is a change in the system environment, such as network fluctuations, the GPOs do not respond.
- Tedious Maintenance:
There’s no integrated search or filter option to look for anything specific. Hence, it becomes challenging for network or system administrators to identify and rectify issues with existing settings.
- No version control:
The changes made to the Group Policy Object settings are not audited. As a result, if any incorrect change is made, enterprises will not be able to track which user made changes and what changes were made.
What are the Best Practices for Group Policy Management?
We have compiled the top practices to manage GPOs:
- Design a well-structured organizational unit in the active directory to streamline the implementation and troubleshooting of group policies.
- The name of the GPO should be descriptive, which allows administrators to identify the whereabouts of the GPOs quickly.
- Adding comments to the GPOs is beneficial to understanding their creation reason, aim, and settings.
- It is recommended not to set GPOs at the domain level because they will be implemented to the entire user and system objects. It might unnecessarily apply some settings to particular objects.
- The root computers or users’ folders are not organizational units, and they cannot have GPOs linked to them. Hence, it is advisable not to use them in the active directory. If a new user or system appears in these folders, the administrator should immediately assign them to the appropriate organizational unit.
- The administrator should not disable the Group Policy Object. Rather, they can delete the link from the organizational unit if they do not want to implement that GPO. Because if you disable the GPO, it won’t be applicable to the entire domain.
Enterprises who have embraced group policy management are making the most out of it. Group policy objects play a crucial role in keeping enterprises secure from a wide range of potential threats.