According to Nasdaq, so far in 2021 "nearly 281.5 million people have been affected by some sort of data breach". At Datalink Networks we have repeatedly advised our clients to enhance their group policies to increase the amount of security within their organization. When used correctly group policies can enable you to increase the security of users' computers and help defend against both insider threats and external attacks. In this blog, we will walk you through group policies and how your organization can benefit by implementing them.
What is a Group Policy Object (GPO)?
In simple terms, a Group Policy Object, or GPO, is a group of settings that are created using the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Group Policy Editor. The MCC enables IT admins to create GPO's that set registry-based policies, security options, software installations, and more.
Group Policy settings are held in a GPO that represents policy settings in the file system and in the Active Directory. GPOs can be associated with either a single or numerous Active Directory containers, including domains, sites, or organizational units (OUs).
When learning about GPOs, there are three main types that you should be aware of:
Local Group Policy Objects
Local group policy objects exist by default on all Windows computers and are utilized when IT admins need to apply policy settings to a single Windows computer or user. These types of GPO's only apply to local computers and to the users that log on to that computer on-site.
Non-local Group Policy Objects
Unlike local GPO's, non-local group policy objects require your Windows computers and users to be linked to Active Directory objects, sites, domains, or organizational units. This means that non-local GPO's can apply to one or more Windows computers and users.
Starter Group Policy Objects
Starter GPO's are templates for group policy settings. These templates enable IT, administrators, to pre-configure a group of settings that represent a baseline for any future policy to be created.
Examples of a Group Policy Object (GPO)
GPO's can be used in numerous ways to enhance security within your organization. Below we have outlined some examples of how your organization can use GPO's:
IT Admins can use GPO's to define which network-connected printers or devices appear available on a user settings if that used if log into a specific Active Directory OU logs onto the domain
IT Admins can use GPO's to determine the home screen a user will see once that user logs on to their device or internet browser.
IT Admins can use GPO's to improve security within your organization by enforcing CTRL+ALT+ DELETE to be executed every time a user logs in. This is to prevent hackers from logging into the domain remotely.
Group Policy vs. Azure Policy
The main difference between group policy and Azure policy is the architecture that it is based on.
Traditional Group Policy is based on an architecture that is for users and computers within an Active Directory, however, within the cloud and Azure policy user accounts are managed under the Azure Active Directory.
Device-based conditional access policies to be applied based on whether the device is known to Azure AD
Supporting single sign-on and access to Microsoft Cloud resources by logging in to Azure AD
Some other notable key differences between group policy and Azure policy is that the latter includes settings for Azure subscriptions, settings for Azure resources, and settings for "in-guest configuration".
How do Group Policy Objects (GPOs) work?
The order that a GPO is processed is referred to as LSDOU, or Local Site Domain Organizational Unit. The processing order of group policies affects what settings are applied to an end-user of a computer.
The first item processed is the computer policy, followed by Active Directory policies from site to domain, then organization units. As a general rule, if there are any conflicts, the last applied policy will take effect.
What are the benefits of Group Policy Objects (GPOs)?
Implementing Group Policy Objects (GPO) within your organization can come with several benefits including:
Provides centralized management of computer and user settings
Enables IT administrators to enforce strict security policies like password policies, to regularly rotate passwords that are simple and at risk of being compromised.
Enable users to access files, even when network connectivity is poor by using folder redirection and offline files
Enable users to work with a consistent computing environment regardless of which workstation location they use to log on
User files redirected to a server location can be backed up regularly, saving users from data loss due to workstation failure.
Applications that require updates can be maintained automatically or reinstalled easily.
What are the limitations of Group Policy Objects (GPOs)?
Although the benefits of group policies far outweigh the limitations. Outlined below are some of the cons regarding GPOs:
There are limited triggers and flexibility with GPOs. Since GPO's can only be applied to users or computers they are limited when it comes to applying settings. GPO's also lack the ability to react to environmental changes such as a network disconnection.
GPO's can be incredibly beneficial for your organization, they are difficult to maintain. Since there is no built-in filter option to find a specific setting, it is difficult to find or fix issues with existing settings.
As explained in a previous section, GPOs run sequentially which can be an issue for users to log on to their computers if the configurations take too long.
Through GPO's are great for setting security policies for end-users, there is, unfortunately, no audit system in place to let IT admins know when a change was made or who made it.
If your in-house team requires assistance, Datalink Networks is always available to help guide your team on how to implement GPO's into your MCC and how to better secure your organization. Get connected to our team today by submitting the form below.