Introduction- What is Group Policy?
Group Policy is a security tool built into Microsoft Active Directory that gives network administrators access to a variety of advanced settings. Administrators can set up and manage user settings, operating systems, and applications from a single platform. Group Policies help strengthen the security of users and computers and guard against both insider and external threats. In a nutshell, a Group Policy is the easiest way to configure computer and user settings on a network.
What is a Group Policy Object (GPO):
A GPO is a collection of Group Policy settings. When a user logs into a domain computer, it connects to the domain controller and downloads any recent Group Policy changes. This is because it is downloading the most recent GPO from the server.
Types of Group Policies:
Administrators can use Group Policies to enforce configuration settings to both the computer and the user. Through Group Policies, administrators can control a myriad of configurations like Software Installation, Security Settings, scripts, Internet Explorer maintenance, desktop settings, and many more. There are two types of Group Policies.
- Local Group Policy
- Non-local Group Policy
Local Group Policy
Each computer running the Windows line of the operating system has exactly one local group policy. It is available only to the particular computer on which it resides and to users who log on to that computer. The local group policy objects reside in the %systemroot%\System32\Group Policy folder. It has only a subset of settings that are available in the non-local group policy. Windows uses a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in called the Local Group Policy Editor to let administrators interact, control, navigate and edit the local Group Policy Object (GPO) settings. Learn about Local Group Policy Editor from this article.
Non-local Group Policy
Each domain controller has one or more non-local group policies. They are available to all the machines and users in the Active Directory environment. A non-local group policy can be applied to all users and computers in a domain or to a particular OU depending on where the group policy is linked.
How does Group Policy work?
Group Policy operates within Active Directory and allows you to apply Group Policy settings to your users and computers. You can define a collection of settings known as Group Policy Objects (GPOs) and link them to an organizational unit (OU), site, or domain within the Active Directory. The GPOs are automatically applied when a computer powers up or a user logs in to the linked domain, site, or OU.
Consider the following scenario: System administrators create a Group Policy in Active Directory. They begin by configuring the settings for users and computers. The Group Policy will be downloaded and applied after it has been configured. Updates to group policy settings stored in Active Directory will be downloaded and applied to users and computers automatically. So, this is how Windows’ group policy feature works to provide administrators with control over users.
Benefits of Group Policy
As organizations seek to increase productivity and revenues through technology, they are also trying to minimize the complexity of managing a huge IT infrastructure. The following are some of the reasons that illustrate why group policies are a necessity:
Organization wide policies
Most organizations use wallpapers, screensavers, interactive logon messages, etc., to establish a standard among all their employees. Organizations also have policies such as internet usage policy, email policy, and social media policies that all users in the organization should adhere to.
Even with all the authentication protocols and authorization techniques involved in AD, a malicious user can still gain access to network resources, if the attacker comes to know about a user’s password. So, it is critical to implement password policies to ensure that a strong password is set for all users in an organization. It is also important to record certain events like user logon, access to a particular file and folder, etc., for auditing purposes.Also, they help apply system and software patches, keeping your environment secure and protected against the most recent security risks.
Cost and time
Tasks like software installation consume a lot of time. Installing and updating software on all computers, for all users, will not only take time but also affect productivity, as employees lack access to their computers when the installation is taking place. Group Policies play a crucial role in ensuring that the employees of an organization can have a hassle-free experience when it comes to using the IT resources to accomplish their tasks, by automating monotonous and time-consuming operations. They also help in the application of a consistent environment to all new users and computers joining an organization’s domain, reducing setup time.
Group Policy allows users to log in to any computer within the organization and to easily access the applications they require to do their tasks.
Group Policies facilitate organizations in ensuring that users store critical files on a centralized and monitored storage system by redirecting a file from a local drive to a network location.
Uniform user experience
Users are no longer confined to a single computer in their workplace. They use different computers for different tasks. So, all their files and folders along with their personalized settings such as taskbar location, wallpaper settings, desktop icons, etc., have to be made available in all the machines the user logs on to.
- Efficient systems management: GPOs make network administration easier by automating monotonous and time-consuming operations. GPOs help in the application of a consistent environment to all new users and computers joining an organization’s domain, reducing setup time.
- Password policy: Many organizations are vulnerable to brute force attacks because they have weak password policies. GPOs improve an organization’s network security by setting password length, password expiry policy, and other criteria for strong passwords, which prevent unidentified users from accessing the network.
- Folder redirection: GPOs allow organizations to redirect a file, which is typically kept on a local drive to a network location, ensuring that users keep critical files on a centralized and monitored storage system.
- Secure environment: GPOs help apply system and software patches, keeping your environment secure and protected against the most recent security risks.
- Roaming Profiles: Group Policy allows users to log into any computer within the organization and to easily access the applications they require to do their tasks.
Limitations of Group Policy:
- PowerShell expertise: System administrators may find it difficult to use the GPO console editor and will need PowerShell expertise to perform GPO updates.
- Cyberattacks: GPOs are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Attackers can modify local GPOs on a computer to move laterally across the network. If Group Policy auditing and monitoring are not enabled, this type of attack can be extremely difficult to detect.
- Network traffic: GPO updates are performed at random, approximately every 90 to 120 minutes, or if the computer is restarted. Administrators can set the update interval to anything from 0 minutes to 45 days. If administrators set 0 minutes, the GPOs have a default option that attempts to conduct an update every 7 seconds. This can be inconvenient and will probably overload your network with traffic.
Is Group Policy essential?
Yes, Group Policy is important because it benefits from better password policy,, more effective management, allows for easy administration, and has the ability to set up folder redirection. When used correctly, Group Policies can help to increase the security of the users’ computers and protect them against both cyber threats and cyberattacks.
System administrators can use Group Policy to control all aspects of Windows across a domain’s computers from a single location. Therefore, Group Policy should be implemented in an organization’s systems to help optimize and protect the organization’s information through centralized management of settings.
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