Use Azure AD Access Reviews to Check for Inactive Guests

Remove Inactive Guests from Microsoft 365 Groups

Azure AD access reviews are a premium Identity Governance feature that helps organizations conduct periodic reviews of user and guest access to resources, including the membership of Microsoft 365 groups. Automation of this kind is most valuable in large enterprises where administrators can find it difficult to keep track of groups, guests, permissions, and role assignments. Further automation and reporting of access reviews are possible using a Graph API.

Tenants can enable a 30-day free trial of Azure AD Premium P2, which you’ll need if you want to test access reviews before deciding to make a long-term commitment. Licensing for guest accounts in the groups within the scope of the review is covered by Azure AD’s Monthly Active User (MAU) billing model, which requires an Azure subscription.

Finding Inactive Guests

Soon after Microsoft introduced Azure AD guest support for Office 365 Groups in late 2016, it became clear that not much administrative support was available to manage guest accounts. Since then, the number of guest accounts in tenants has exploded, largely due to the success of Teams, but also because SharePoint Online creates guest accounts for document sharing. However, the toolset available to manage the burgeoning guest accounts is still sparse.

Recently, Microsoft introduced a new preview feature for Azure AD access reviews to allow organizations to conduct an access review for inactive guest accounts, defined as “those who have not signed in either interactively or non-interactively to the tenant.”

Creating an access review to look for inactive guests is simple. The review covers:

  • All Microsoft 365 Groups with guest members, checking only guest users.
  • The period to determine inactivity can be anything from 1 to 730 days.

Other tabs have settings to cover whether the review is a one-off event or happens on a schedule, what to do if reviewers don’t respond, and what happens when the review period completes.

Figure 1 shows the access review I created to locate guests inactive for the last 365 days.

Creating an Azure AD access review for inactive guest accounts
Figure 1: Creating an Azure AD access review for inactive guest accounts

Reviewing Inactive Guests

After creating the review, Azure AD background processing locates Microsoft 365 groups in the tenant that have guest members. Azure AD uses sign-in records for the review period to determine if any guests in a group are deemed inactive, Azure AD sends email to the group owner (Figure 2) to ask them to review the inactive groups and decide if the membership in the group should continue for the inactive guests.

Email notification for a group owner to review inactive guests
Figure 2: Email notification for a group owner to review inactive guests

Clicking the Start review link in the message brings the group owner to a page in to allow them to see the inactive guests and make a decision for each (Figure 3). In this case, Azure AD was unable to find any sign-in data for the guest account.

Performing an Azure AD access review for an inactive guest
Figure 3: Performing an Azure AD access review for an inactive guest

A group owner can decide to ignore the review, in which case the settings for the access review determines what happens. This might be to do nothing; it could also be to remove access for the inactive guest. It’s best if group owners perform the review, even if administrators might have to cajole them to do the work.

After the review period finishes, Azure AD implements the review decisions and removes the inactive guests or leaves them in place.

Sounds Good but What About Outlook Groups

Running an access review to remove inactive guests from group membership sounds like a great idea and the implementation works. However, there’s one big flaw in the scheme and that’s the dependency on sign-in data. This is understandable because it’s an Azure AD review and the best data available to Azure AD to figure out if a guest account is in use is their sign-in history.

The problem is that some guest accounts can be active without ever signing into a tenant. Guest members of Outlook groups (the original implementation of Office 365 groups) use email to communicate and don’t need to ever sign in to the tenant hosting the group unless they want to access other group resources, like its SharePoint Online site or Planner.

I have multiple Outlook groups in this category. The access review highlighted most of the guests in these groups. The only guests that the access review did not tag were those that sign into the tenant to use Teams or another application. Perhaps Microsoft will introduce additional checks to help detect truly inactive guest accounts when this feature moves from preview to generally available status.

The bulk of Microsoft 365 group activity now focuses on Teams, which is an application that signs in every hour during a session. There’s no danger that Azure AD won’t know when guest accounts used with Teams are inactive.

Do-It-Yourself Inactive Guest Reviews

You don’t need to pay for Azure AD access reviews to find potentially inactive guest accounts. Over the years, I’ve written about this topic, most recently to describe my approach to detecting, reporting, and managing inactive guest accounts using PowerShell. An even simpler approach is to create a report for all guest accounts over a certain age together with their group membership.

Insight like this doesn’t come easily. You’ve got to know the technology and understand how to look behind the scenes. Benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Office 365 for IT Pros team by subscribing to the best eBook covering Office 365 and the wider Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

2 Replies to “Use Azure AD Access Reviews to Check for Inactive Guests”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.