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Managing Groups in Windows XP Professional

By Jason Zandri

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In Microsoft Windows XP Professional, you will find a number of default local groups on your system, which can perform the following default functions as outlined;

Administrators Members of the Administrators group have complete and unrestricted access to the computer and can perform all administrative tasks. The built-in Administrator account is a member of this group by default and should the Windows XP Professional system be joined to a domain, (or domains) the Domain Admins group of the domain(s) joined will be added to the local Administrators group as well.
Backup Operators Members of the Backup Operators group can use Windows Backup (NTBACKUP) to back up and restore data to the local computer. Being in this group allows them to override security restrictions for the sole purpose of backing up or restoring files.
Guests Members of the built in Guests group are limited to only having access to specific resources for which they have been assigned explicit permissions for and can only perform specific tasks for which they have been assigned explicit rights.

This is nearly the same access level as members of the Users group except for some additional restrictions.

By default, the built-in Guest account is a member of the Guests group. When the Windows XP Professional system is joined to a domain, (or domains) the Domain Guests group of the domain(s) joined will be added to the local Guests group as well.

Power Users Members of the Power Users group can create and modify local user accounts on the computer and share resources. Effectively, they are one group lower in authority on a local system from the Administrators group in that they possess most administrative powers with certain restrictions.
Users Members of the Users Group are prevented from making accidental or intentional system-wide changes and they are only slightly higher in the permission scheme than the Guests Group.

Members of the Users group are limited to only having access to specific resources for which they have been assigned explicit permissions for and can only perform specific tasks for which they have been assigned explicit rights.

When a new user is created on a Windows XP Professional system it is added to the Users group by default.

When the Windows XP Professional system is joined to a domain, (or domains) the Domain Users group of the domain(s) joined will be added to the local Users group as well.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - The built-in Administrator account is enabled by default and cannot be deleted from the system. The name of the account as well as the password can be changed, however, and this is a recommended best practice. It is also recommended that the default Administrator account never be used or used as infrequently as possible and only when tasks need to be performed at an Administrative level. If there is ever more than one Administrator on a workstation, each one should have an account created for their use. In the event that you need to log administrative events, this would be easier if there were a number of different administrator accounts created rather than a single one.

The Guest account also cannot be deleted from the system, however it is DISABLED by default and unless there is some required operational need it should stay disabled. The only "need" for the Guest account would be a kiosk type terminal in a lobby of an office building or hotel and in that event it could be used. If there is ever a short time need to grant access to a temporary user to a system it's is always worth the "aggravation" to create an account.

Also, it is not recommended to change any of the default permissions and other settings to the built in groups. If you need to elevate or lower permissions for all users in a built in group it is almost always better to create a new group, place all of the intended users into that group and make adjustments there accordingly.

Using the Local Users and Groups Snap-in

Groups are used in Windows XP Professional (and other Microsoft operating systems) as collection point for user accounts to aid in simplifying system administration by allowing you to assign permissions and rights to the group of users rather than to each user account individually.

Local groups are used on individual systems to assign permissions to resources on that specific computer. Local groups are created and administered in the local security database on Windows XP Professional systems.

You would normally need to be a local administrator to perform most system configuration functions (even just taking a look at the current configuration settings in some instances) on a Windows XP Professional system, and in some cases, there may be a local policy set by some other administrator or if your system is in a Domain, a Domain policy setting, which may prevent you from performing some actions.

To manage local users and groups you can use the Local Users and Groups MMC and you can access this tool a number of different ways.

One way is to select Start, right-click My Computer, and then click Manage, which will open the Computer Management MMC. Under the System tools icon, click Local Users and Groups to open the Local Users and Groups MMC.

You can also type compmgmt.msc in the RUN box or from a command line to launch the Computer Management MMC.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - What your Start Menu options look like all depend on how you have the menu set. If you are using the Classic Start Menu, you would not see My Computer as a selection to right click on. Your options would be to click Start, select Administrative Tools and then select Computer Management. Not a whole lot different, but perhaps just enough to confuse you.

I seem to continually repeat this from article to article, but it is important to stress, the Windows XP Professional exam rarely tests you on Classic anything. You need to know how to get from Windows XP Professional settings to Classic and back, but in 90% of the cases you're going to find instructions laid out in the Windows XP Professional vein. I will do my best to point out alternatives in the [NOTES FROM THE FIELD] section as I have done here.

If you want to directly open the Local Users and Groups MMC you can type lusrmgr.msc from the RUN box or from a command line. This will run the tool independently from the Computer Management MMC.

Adding GROUPS with the Local Users and Groups MMC

Some quick points to remember for local groups on Windows XP Professional systems that are not domain members are that Local groups can contain only local user accounts from the local security database and local groups cannot belong to any other group. (Local groups cannot be nested one inside of the other.) For example, user accounts can be members of both the WORKERS group and the COFFEE group and even though every single user of one group is a member of the other, you would not be able to add all the users to the WORKERS group and then take the WORKERS group and put it in to the COFFEE group.

Adding a new group is as simple as selecting Groups from the left pane, right clicking it and choosing New Group. You can also highlight Groups by left clicking it and going up to ACTION on the menu bar and selecting New Group.

Depending on your current settings, all you need to supply in order to create a new group is the name. In most cases the description and adding users at the time is not required by default.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - There are certain characters that cannot be used in the name of any group on a Windows XP Professional system. These are;

\  /  "  [  ]  :  |  <  >  +  =  ;  ,  ?  *  @

Click here to view the image.

Using USER ACCOUNTS in the Control Panel to add users to EXISTING groups.

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - You cannot create a new group using this tool. You need to use Computer Management to create new groups. You can add users to existing groups in a limited fashion via this method.

How USER ACCOUNTS in the Control Panel functions all depends on whether your Windows XP Professional system is in a domain or not. Also, how it looks depends on whether you are using the default Windows XP view or the Classic interface. This is the default Windows XP view.

Click here to view the image.

Below is the Classic view.

When you are in a domain and you open the USER ACCOUNTS icon in the Control Panel you are presented with the User Accounts view as shown below on the USER tab.

NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - The "domain" BUCKAROO in this example is the local system and not a domain. NORTHAMERICA is a domain. The icons for a local account have a computer/user icon. In the above image in the Password for backup section you can see this. A DOMAIN icon in the Users for this computer section would have a planet/user icon combination as shown below.

In order to see the properties of an account, you would select it and click on the properties button to see the following window.

On the Group Membership tab of the USER property sheet you would see three selections to choose from regarding group memberships.

The OTHER drop down window lists all of the LOCAL groups that the user could belong to.

The OTHER drop down window lists only the local groups, regardless of whether you have chosen a user account in the local accounts database or a domain account that is in the domain.

From the ADVANCED tab you can perform functions such as managing passwords that are in the local database or using the .NET PASSPORT WIZARD to add a .NET passport to one or more Windows XP Professional user accounts..

Selecting ADVANCED from the Advanced User Management section simply launches the Local Users and Groups MMC as if you typed lusrmgr.msc from the RUN box or from a command line.

The secure logon section is where you would require local users to press CTRL+ALT+DEL to begin a session.

When you are not in a domain and you open the USER ACCOUNTS icon in the Control Panel you are presented with the User Accounts view as shown below.

To change any of the listed accounts you would select CHANGE AN ACCOUNT and select the account you wish to change. It's here that you can change the password, change the icon (picture) that is associated with the account or to set up the account to use a .NET passport.

The CREATE A NEW ACCOUNT option allows you to do just that.

The CHANGE THE WAY USERS LOG ON OR OFF option allows you to select either FAST USER SWITCHING, (which is not allowed when the workstation is a member of a domain) or using the standard USE THE WELCOME SCREEN option.

NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - Fast User Switching cannot be used if the Offline Files option is enabled. Also, once your system is added to a domain you can no longer use Fast User Switching, even if you log on to the workstation by using the local user account database.

As you can also see there is no place here to create a new group. As I mentioned earlier, that would need to be handled through Computer Management.

You would need to use the Computer Management snap-in to delete local groups from the system. Windows XP Professional uses a unique identifier value to identify groups and their assigned permissions, so if you should delete a group from the local system and then decide it was in error, creating the group "again" with the same name will not automatically allow for all of the same permissions and access levels for it's members.

When performing a group deletion, you only delete the group and its associated permissions and rights, not the user accounts in it's membership.

To delete a group you would right-click the group name in the Computer Management snap-in and then click Delete. The users would still be on the system. If their deletion was also required as part of removing a group of summer users or interns for example, the individual users would still need to be deleted.

Built-In System Groups

Built-in system groups exist on Windows XP Professional systems and while they do have specific memberships that you can modify, you cannot administer the groups directly, they are available for modification when you assign user rights and permissions to resources. Built-in system group membership is based on how the computer is accessed, not on who uses the computer. The list below shows the primary built-in system groups and their default properties and characteristics.

Built-in System group Description
Everyone The Everyone group contains all of the users who access the computer. The Full Control permission is assigned to the Everyone group (and thus all the users in it) whenever there are volumes on the local system formatted with NTFS.
Authenticated Users All users with valid user accounts on the local system are included in the Authenticated Users group. When your Windows XP systems is a member of a domain, (or multiple domains) it includes all users in the Active Directory database for that given domain. Using the Authenticated Users group for resource and system access instead of the Everyone group is a suggested best practice.
Creator Owner The Creator Owner designation comes into play when a member of the Administrators group creates a resource, (or takes ownership of a resource) because even though an individual member may have performed the action, the Administrators group owns the resource.
Network The Network Built-in System group contains any user with a current connection from a remote system on the network to a shared resource on the local system.
Interactive Members of the Interactive Built-in System group are "added" as they log on locally to the system.
Anonymous Logon An Anonymous Logon user account that Windows XP Professional cannot authenticate is put into this Built-in System group. 
Dialup Users are "added" to the Dialup Built-in System group once they establish a dial-up connection to the system..

You can set or revoke permissions to these Built-in System groups at the resource. (e.g. share, NTFS folder, printer, etc.)

[NOTES FROM THE FIELD] - The Dialup Built-in System group does not appear on systems that do not have modems installed and dial up configurations in place.

That's a wrap for this week. In the meantime, best of luck in your studies and please feel free to contact me with any questions on my column and remember,

“Never tell me the odds”

Jason Zandri

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