Power BI Data Security – Sharing

Power BI Security LogoMicrosoft recently added more sharing capabilities that may change my view on sharing within the enterprise. As with all things Power BI, change is inevitable.

Up to this point, I recommended that customers did not use sharing as an enterprise solution due to the inability to manage it and the potential to share data within the organization that violates compliance or internal rules.

Sharing Within Your Organization

When you share a dashboard or a report within your organization, you share the data with it. Here is the issue from my perspective. If you allow users to share content, they are responsible to share responsibly. That is correct. The content creators are now responsible to manage security as well. So, let’s walk through the basics of using sharing effectively and securely within your organization.

Why Share?

The primary reason to use share is to distribute content outside the context of a Power BI App. Power BI Apps should be your first mechanism for sharing content within your organization. It requires more thought and planning which is typically a good idea with your companies data. However, there are times when sharing makes sense. With the ability to share reports, you can limit sharing to specific areas. Also, you may want to create a “one-off” report for use in decision making but not something to be deployed in the long term.

Sharing is very different from deploying Apps. App deployment is not that difficult to do, but prevents sharing and is much easier to manage access.

The Process of Sharing

Sharing capabilities are readily available on any content that you create.

At this point, there is no way to prevent sharing within your organization. Content can be shared from My Workspace as well.

The first step to sharing is to click the Share button on the report or dashboard you want to share.

PBI Share Button

This will launch a dialog for sharing the report or dashboard as shown here:

PBI Share Dialog

I have highlighted a couple of key parts to the dialog. The first is that you can share with individuals, distribution lists, and security groups. This is similar to the permissions you can apply to an App during deployment. As a content creator, I can distribute in this fashion. Typically power users who create content will use individual names or distribution lists as they are the most common methods of working with teams.

The next part to understand is the Allow recipients to share your report option. I have a couple of issues with this option. First, it is on by default. This means if someone shares with a peer in their department that individual can then share outside their department. The original content creator no longer has control of who this is shared to when this option is turned on which is my second issue. While the content creator will be able to see everyone they share with in the Access panel of the dialog when they review it later, they have potentially released data “into the wild” without controls if they do not set this up properly.

Click Share. You have successfully shared your report. Next, let’s have a look at the Access panel after the share is done. This panel is used view and manage sharing within the workspace.

PBI Share - Access Dialog

When in this dialog you can see who has what level of access to the report or dashboard you are currently in. You will see all reshares here as well. This will allow the content creator to remove access if needed.

The Manage permissions link opens up a dialog that lets you view and manage permissions for the entire workspace.

PBI Share - Manage Access

As you can see, sharing is managed by content creators. It will be important for them to understand the process.

Monitoring Sharing

Your Power BI environment should have auditing turned on. This will allow you to run reports to understand who has shared reports and dashboards across the tenant. This will be required to manage auditing and compliance within your organization.

Sharing and Security Thoughts

As I worked through this capability, there are a couple of closing thoughts on security to keep in mind.

  1. You cannot prevent sharing. You must monitor it, so be sure you have auditing turned on in your subscription.
  2. This has a place when sharing on a smaller scale. I would not recommend it as the standard process, but it allows you to share content in smaller chunks.
  3. You must have a process and policy for sharing. This has to be understood by content creators.
  4. If you implement row-level security in Power BI or SSAS, it is honored in sharing. This will prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. Use this when you have particularly sensitive data in use.

One other thought. If this is a significant concern, you should evaluate Power BI Premium as it will allow to manage which users have the capability to create and share content. Free users are effectively read only within the organization. This will be cost-prohibitive for smaller organizations unless security is the primary concern.

Properly planned for you will be able to share effectively with Apps as a deployment model.


Power BI and Data Security – App Workspaces and Power BI Apps

Power BI Security LogoShortly after I published the Power BI Security Sharing Data post in April, Power BI Premium, Power BI Apps, and Power BI App Workspaces were released. These changes impacted that post in many ways. As part of the follow up, I also did an updated webcast with Pragmatic Works. This is a follow up post with some of the changes called out.

We are in the process of restructuring our organization around Apps and App Workspaces. Here are some of the highlights and changes related to sharing data using these new features.

Information Architecture and the Importance of Planning

My company, Pragmatic Works, uses a number of collaborative features in Office 365 including Planner, Teams, SharePoint, and Power BI. With this level of usage, a number of Office 365 groups get created. As we begin the process of updating our reporting structure, we will be using the App Workspace model to manage content creation and the Power App model to deploy content to users.

Before we began, we had to understand who the content creators are and who the consumers would be. App Workspaces are currently managed as Office 365 groups. We have a lot groups that match to our consumers, however, they really don’t work for content creators. Why? As we began the research, consumers exist in the current groups and are excellent targets. App Workspaces already exist for these users and groups due to our use with Teams and SharePoint. But due to the current limitations within Power BI and Office 365 with regards to group management, we need to create new App Workspaces, which also create new Office 365 groups to manage content creators. Typically these groups will be small and easy to manage. By limiting the users in these workspaces, we are also able to keep the additional clutter that is required.

In our process, we treated the end result as the guidance for the required workspaces. Each workspace creates and app that we want to target a specific set of consumers. By starting there, we created the list of workspaces we need to create. Because the apps and workspaces have a 1:1 relationship with each other, the apps (collection of Power BI content with the same permissions) are the determining factor for whether a workspace will be required. Our goal was to have the appropriate level of security while still minimizing management of the additional workspaces.

App Workspaces

We created the App Workspaces based on our Information Architecture Plan. The workspaces were created with two admins and set with members who would be content creators. Part of our exercise was to understand the impact of changing roles in Office 365 and related products such as Teams. What we learned is that Admin and Owner roles are shared throughout and managed by the Office 365 group. If you make a user an Owner in Teams they become an Admin in the matching Power BI Workspace. THIS IS IMPORTANT! While creating additional workspaces for report creation adds complexity by creating Office 365 groups, we have different security and content management rules for Power BI groups.

The Admins have the ability to add users to the group. Members do not. Also a Team, for instance, may have 100s of members who are essentially consumers. We are using the same role, Member, to assign to content creators. Consumers will use the Power BI Apps to view and consume the data made available. Because of this distinction, we created new Power BI App Workspaces.

When creating Members in Power BI Workspaces, you have the option to make those members View Only. However, doing so means all content creators will need to be Workspace Admins. This may work well for your organization, but remember Admins have elevated permissions as they are also Owners in Office 365 groups.

Preventing App Workspace Creation

Currently the only way to prevent App Workspace creation in a Power BI subscription is to disable the ability to create Office 365 groups or limit that capability to a small group of people. (NOTE: This affects all Office 365 applications which use Groups to segment the app such as Teams.) This is done using PowerShell. You can find details here including what applications are affected by this change.

Power BI Apps

In order to use Power BI Apps, all users need to have a Power BI Pro license or the apps need to be deployed to Power BI Premium. Whether you choose to use Pro or Premium should be evaluated for your organization. With current retail pricing, around 500 consumers is the “break even point” when only considering licensing. I will be discussing non-license related reasons to choose Premium in a later post.

When publishing or updating an app as noted in the images below. You have the ability to assign permissions to the app. Unlike Workspaces, you are able to assign distribution lists, individuals, and security groups to an App. This allows you to manage consumers using Active Directory (AAS). PBI Workspace and App

PBI App Permissions

Once Apps are deployed, a link can be sent to the users or they can find it in their available apps from Microsoft Appsource and their organizations deployed apps. They should only see apps they have been given permissions to. Once they get the app and open it, they have read only access but full Power BI interactive capabilities.

Power BI Apps will honor Role Level Security (RLS). However, unlike content packs, users cannot modify or change any content in the app including dashboards. When using apps, you are essentially creating the entire experience for the user and it cannot be “personalized” with their own dashboard or other updates. For enterprise reporting scenarios, this makes sense. For self-service or configurable solutions, you should still consider Content Packs.

To finish our story, we will be deploying Apps based on reporting groups within our Active Directory structure. This will allow us to control access to reporting through standard processes. At the moment, a group of us will manage the Workspace groups to prevent unwanted exposure to data and to manage report “creep”. In some ways, this is contrary to the original purpose of Power BI as a self service product. We are not limiting our teams capability to do their own report creation, app deployment, or self service analytics. We are making a point that the Enterprise Reporting will be managed which most organizations need on some level. If you have a great report you want to include, the Power BI Desktop allows us portability. The only not portable portion is the Dashboard itself. Hopefully we will be able to transfer that between workspaces in the future.

Power BI and Data Security – Free User’s Cannot Share, Read Only in Premium

Power BI Security LogoAs part of the Power BI Premium release, Microsoft changed how the “free users” in Power BI work within the platform. There are two key changes that affect the data security within your organization.

Power BI Free Users Cannot Share

One of the key areas of concern around the free user accounts was the fact that a corporate user can deploy content to the Power BI service (online). This would allow users to unintentionally (or intentionally) share data with others who would normally not have access to that data. When Microsoft released Power BI Premium, this capability was removed. While Power BI Free Users have access to all of the core capabilities of the product, they are not permitted to share or participate in the collaboration in workspaces. Essentially they only have access to My Workspace.

Power BI Free User Workspace 1

If they try to create an App Workspace, they get prompted to upgrade.

Power BI Free User Workspace 2 - Dialog

Free Users Are Read Only in Power BI Premium

When a customer chooses to use Power BI Premium, they can take advantage of “unlimited”, free, read only users. I called out the fact that Power BI did not support free users in a previous post about sharing content. Now with Power BI Apps and Premium, free users are turned into Read Only users. This is a huge win for the Power BI user community. This currently only works with Premium, so if security and managing content creation are key to success within your organization, you should be reviewing Power BI Premium.

I will have a follow up post on how Power BI Apps and App Workspaces impact data security in Power BI soon. If you want to have a look at creating and using Apps and App Workspaces check out this post on the Power BI site.



Thoughts about the Microsoft Data Amp Announcements

Microsoft conducted a live event called Microsoft Data Amp to announce a number of key features and releases for SQL Server on premises and data platforms in Azure (such as Azure SQL DB and Azure Data Lake). Some of these include features that I have been waiting to see. Here are some of announcements that I am excited about.

Microsoft Data Platforms 
Intelligent – Trusted – Flexible
On-premises & Cloud

SQL Server 2017

Yes. Microsoft has officially announced that SQL Server vNext is SQL Server 2017. The marquee feature being released in SQL Server running on Linux. But this also shows Microsoft is increasing its innovation efforts with SQL Server with an even shorter time between releases.

CTP 2 of SQL Server 2017 has been released today and includes an number of analytics features such as support for graph processing and graph queries. It will be the first commercial database with built in support for AI and deep learning database applications using R and Python scripts. Check out all the database engine improvements.

Azure SQL Database

Microsoft is bringing even more symmetry between the on-premises product and the PaaS product. The goal is to support upgrades or migrations to Azure SQL DB with minimal effort and no changes. Here are some of the features that are coming to Azure SQL DB soon:

  • Support for SQL Agent
  • 3-part names
  • DBMail
  • CDC
  • Service Broker
  • Cross-Database and Cross-Instance querying
  • CLR & R Services
  • SQL Profiler
  • Native backup-restore
  • Log shipping
  • Transactional Replication

These features will definitely bring more parity to the platforms. A number of these features are key for some of my clients to move to Azure SQL DB.

Migration Project for Azure SQL DB

Whether you have SQL Server, Oracle, or MySQL, you should be able to migrate your database to Azure SQL DB in “five simple steps”. While a great tool, I am interested in exploring this more with Oracle in particular. You can create a project in Azure that let’s you choose the source database and platform and target a Azure SQL DB then move the schema and load the database. While I am skeptical on the full capability of this solution, I look forward to exploring it more.

Azure Analysis Services is GA

The last topic I am going to bring up is Azure Analysis Services. This service is now GA which brings a great service to the PaaS space in Azure. Check out the capabilities here.

Final Thoughts

Microsoft announced much more than I highlight here including tighter AI integration into the data engine, R Server 9.1, and planet scale Document DB. Check out the Microsoft Data Amp site for more videos on what’s coming to Microsoft’s data platforms.



Power BI and Data Security – Row Level Security (RLS)

Power BI Security LogoAs Power BI becomes more prevalent in data analytics and visualization within the enterprise, data security becomes a significant concern. Power BI at its best is deployed to the Power BI service hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform. Every enterprise should understand the level of security available with their data. Companies who have made the leap to cloud technologies such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Salesforce, and Microsoft Office 365 should have an understanding of the data compliance and security capabilities of those solutions. However, companies who want to take advantage of Power BI but have just started their cloud journey or are cloud adverse need to know the nuances of Power BI and security.

I have been involved with data and cloud security questions a lot of the past few years. With Power BI’s rise in significance, I have had to answer more specific questions about the service. In order to provide proper guidance and not have a reference for myself, I am putting together a short series of posts on various data security items in Power BI. The topics included enterprise gateway, privacy levels, data classification, and compliance. The focus of these articles are related to using the Power BI service as this is the cloud implementation of Power BI. The desktop has setting which impact deployment of assets, but is not the focus of this series.

The Power BI service is updated frequently. These articles were created based on the Power BI implementation in early April 2017. You may find improvements and changes that impact your experience that are based on newer releases. Feel free to add comments to highlight changes.

Row Level Security in Power BI

Row level security is the ability to filter content based on a users role. There are two primary ways to implement row level security in Power BI – through Power BI or using SSAS. Power BI has the ability in the desktop to create roles based on DAX filters which affect what users see in the various assets in Power BI.

In order for this to work, you will need to deploy to a Workspace where users only have read permissions. If the members of the group associated to the Workspace have edit permissions, row level security in Power BI will be ignored.

Power BI Manage Roles.png

Both DirectQuery and data loaded into the model support RLS is the manner described above.


SQL Server Analysis Services implements RLS on its own. SSAS requires the enterprise gateway to implement LiveConnection and RLS. RLS is supported by using EffectiveUserName on the connection from Power BI to the on-premises SSAS instance. (Refer to documentation on setting up live connections to SSAS.) This method works for both multidimensional and tabular models.


BI SSAS Connector Deep Dive (older content but good information)

Power BI SSAS Tabular Data

Power BI Admin for RLS

Power BI Row Level Security

Row-Level Security for Cloud models and DirectQuery

Tabular Model Row Level Security White Paper




Thoughts on data, business analytics, and the SQL Server community

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