Power BI Analysis Services Connector Security

The Power BI Analysis Services Connector can be used to connect from the Power BI service to your on premises tabular Analysis Services models.

In this blogpost I will look into the security and authentication possibilities that the SSAS Connector offers. Dynamic row-level security based on the Power BI user name to an on premises SSAS Tabular model is possible, I will show how you can set this up and how it works in the background.

If you want to know how to install and configure the SSAS Connector follow this excellent support guide.

The SSAS Connector has some similarities with the BI Semantic Model Connection that’s available for SharePoint. This connection can connect either with Kerberos or by using the EffectiveUserName property, which matches the SSAS Connector:
– A connection to a tabular model is made with stored credentials that require administrator permissions on the SSAS server.
– The EffectiveUserName parameter is send to SSAS to impersonate the current user. Only SSAS administrators have permission to connect using EffectiveUserName.

To investigate exactly how the connector works I have created a tabular model with a very simple underlying database model. The Sales table will be secured based on dynamic row-level security on the content of the EffectiveUserName column in the Department table.

DataModelSQL


The tabular model contains the dataset shown in the Excel pivot below. In an on premises situation my EffectiveUserName would be MACAW\jorgk, but because I login to Power BI with
jorgk[at]macaw.nl I have created entries for both. Let’s see which one will be used later on.

DataModel 

I have created a SSAS Security Role with read permissions on my Active Directory account:

image

Role1

Row-level security has been set on the EffectiveUserName column of the Department table:
Role2

The SSAS Connector was installed on the server by my colleague Dave, who has administrator permissions on the SSAS Server (inherited from the local Administrators group). For purpose of the demo we made sure my domain account was not in the local admin group and not in the SSAS Server admin group. Dave’s credentials will be the stored credentials that are used to connect to the tabular model from the SSAS Connector, passing the EffectiveUserName property just like a BISM connection is able to do as I explained before.

Now I logged in to Power BI, created a report and the security is working, my report is filtered and shows only my data:

14_securedPowerBi

During the creation of my report Dave ran a Profiler trace to see what’s happening in the background. As we expected my connection came in under the account of Dave (blue) but with my account as EffectiveUserName (red):

Profiler

It’s interesting to see my EffectiveUserName is JorgK[at]macaw.nl but the Power BI report I’ve created shows the data of MACAW\jorgk! Why didn’t it show the data of the row that equals exactly to my EffectiveUsername JorgK[at]macaw.nl? Well that’s because SSAS does not authorize the user based on the textual value of the EffectiveUserName property. Instead it calls to AD to check if the Power BI username (based on the mail address) exists in AD, if this is the case the AD Account is returned and the user will be authorized with it.

To wrap up this entire process I’ve created the following diagram:

SSAS Connector Overview 

  1. From the Power BI tenant I connect to the SSAS Connector using my Power BI Account.
  2. The SSAS Connector connects to the tabular model using the stored credentials, in this case of my colleague Dave who has administrator permissions on the model and therefore the permissions to pass on my Power BI account as EffectiveUserName.
  3. The EffectiveUserName is checked in Active Directory. This will only be possible if DirSync has been set up, otherwise my Power BI account that comes from Windows Azure Active Directory will not be mapped to the on premises Active Directory.
  4. After Active Directory authorizes me, my on premises AD Account is sent to the tabular model.
  5. Row-level security is applied as configured in the SSAS Role.

Next thing to do was of course to share the Power BI report in a dashboard to another colleague. As a test I shared it with my colleague Martijn (blue) who did not have any permissions on the tabular model at al. Unfortunately it seems the credentials of the user who shares the dashboard are stored in that dashboard/report and will be used to make the connection to the underlying SSAS data source. Martijn’s report was identical to mine and the SQL Profiler showed us that indeed the connection was again made with the admin account of Dave, and my account passed in the EffectiveUserName (red).

MartijnAsJorgAfterSharing


Conclusion

It’s great to see we can finally connect to on premises models from Power BI using row-level security, which was not possible with the Data Management Gateway. This makes a hybrid Cloud/On Premises architecture a feasible option to implement. Unfortunately we are not there yet because it isn’t possible to impersonate a user after sharing a dashboard which is clearly not the functionality that’s desired. Let’s hope Microsoft will fix this in the coming months! Until then, be sure to advice your customers about this sharing security issue.

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