Power BI Row Level Security: What is it? How to set it up?

            Row-level security (RLS) in Power BI is used to restrict access of data for given users. This is done by filtering the restricted data at the row level where you define the filter for the role. Roles are also defined in Power BI. Members of a workspace in the Power BI service will have access to datasets in that workspace. RLS will not restrict data access at that level since it pertains to the row inside the Power BI file. RLS can be configured for data models imported to Power BI via Power BI Desktop, and data sets using DirectQuery, like SQL Server. If you have a live connection to a dataset that row level security will need to be set up in the model and not through Power BI Desktop.

            Somethings to be aware of when using RLS when you use the Power BI Service roles will not transfer to the Power BI Desktop as they need to be created on every level to ensure row security. When creating roles for Analysis Services data sources you can import the data into Power BI Desktop. If you are using a live connection, you will not be able to configure RLS within the Power BI service. This is defined by the on-premise Analysis Services model. RLS can not be used to limit the columns seen if they can see the row they will be able to see all subsequent columns. Also you only secure individual rows of data in RLS users can still see the summarized data. When using a data source that already has security roles defined (for example SQL Server roles or SAP BW roles) will depends on whether you're importing data or using DirectQuery. If you're importing data into your Power BI dataset, the security roles in your data source aren't used. In this case, you should define RLS to enforce security rules for users who connect in Power BI. If you're using DirectQuery, the security roles in your data source are used. When a user opens a report Power BI sends a query to the underlying data source, which applies security rules to the data based on the user's credentials.

Now lets take a look at how to set up RLS.

Define roles and rules in Power BI Desktop

You can define roles and rules within Power BI Desktop. When you publish to Power BI, it also publishes the role definitions.

To define security roles, follow these steps.

  1. Import data into your Power BI Desktop report, or configure a DirectQuery connection.
  2. From the Modeling tab, select Manage Roles.
  3. From the Manage roles window, select Create.
  4. Under Roles, provide a name for the role.
  5. Under Tables, select the table to which you want to apply a DAX rule.
  6. In the Table filter DAX expression box, enter the DAX expressions. This expression returns a value of true or false. For example: [Entity ID] = “Value”.

Note: You can use username() within this expression. Be aware that username() has the format of DOMAIN\username within Power BI Desktop. Within the Power BI service and Power BI Report Server, it's in the format of the user's User Principal Name (UPN). Alternatively, you can use userprincipalname(), which always returns the user in the format of their user principal name, username@contoso.com.

  1. After you've created the DAX expression, select the checkmark above the expression box to validate the expression.

Note: In this expression box, you use commas to separate DAX function arguments even if you're using a locale that normally uses semicolon separators (e.g. French or German).

  1. Select Save.

You can't assign users to a role within Power BI Desktop. You assign them in the Power BI service. You can enable dynamic security within Power BI Desktop by making use of the username() or userprincipalname() DAX functions and having the proper relationships configured.

By default, row-level security filtering uses single-directional filters, whether the relationships are set to single direction or bi-directional. You can manually enable bi-directional cross-filtering with row-level security by selecting the relationship and checking the Apply security filter in both directions checkbox. Note that if a table takes part in multiple bi-directional relationships you can only select this option for one of those relationships. Select this option when you've also implemented dynamic row-level security at the server level, where row-level security is based on username or login ID.

For more information, see Bidirectional cross-filtering using DirectQuery in Power BI Desktop and the Securing the Tabular BI Semantic Model technical article.

Validate the roles within Power BI Desktop

After you've created your roles, test the results of the roles within Power BI Desktop.

  1. From the Modeling tab, select View as.

The View as roles window appears, where you see the roles you've created.

  1. Select a role you created, and then select OK to apply that role.

The report renders the data relevant for that role.

  1. You can also select Other user and supply a given user.

It's best to supply the User Principal Name (UPN) as that's what the Power BI service and Power BI Report Server use.

Within Power BI Desktop, Other user displays different results only if you're using dynamic security based on your DAX expressions.

  1. Select OK.

The report renders based on what that user can see.

Note: The View as role feature doesn't work for DirectQuery models with Single Sign-On (SSO) enabled.

Now that you're done validating the roles in Power BI Desktop, go ahead and publish your report to the Power BI service.

Manage security on your model

To manage security on your data model, open the workspace where you saved your report in the Power BI service and do the following steps:

  1. In the Power BI service, select the More options menu for a dataset. This menu appears when you hover on a dataset name, whether you select it from the navigation menu or the workspace page.
  2. Select Security.

Security will take you to the Role-Level Security page where you add members to a role you created in Power BI Desktop. Contributor (and higher workspace roles) will see Security and can assign users to a role.

You can only create or modify roles within Power BI Desktop.

Working with members

Add members

In the Power BI service, you can add a member to the role by typing in the email address or name of the user or security group. You can't add Groups created in Power BI. You can add members external to your organization.

You can use the following groups to set up row level security.

  • Distribution Group
  • Mail-enabled Group
  • Security Group

Note: However, that Office 365 groups are not supported and cannot be added to any roles.

You can also see how many members are part of the role by the number in parentheses next to the role name, or next to Members.

Remove members

You can remove members by selecting the X next to their name.

Validating the role within the Power BI service

You can validate that the role you defined is working correctly in the Power BI service by testing the role.

  1. Select More options (...) next to the role.
  2. Select Test data as role.

You'll be redirected to the report that was published from Power BI Desktop with this dataset, if it exists. Dashboards are not available for testing using the Test as role option.

In the page header, the role being applied is shown.

Test other roles, or a combination of roles, by selecting Now viewing as.

You can choose to view data as a specific person or you can select a combination of available roles to validate they're working.

To return to normal viewing, select Back to Row-Level Security.

Note: The Test as role feature doesn't work for DirectQuery models with Single Sign-On (SSO) enabled.

Using the username() or userprincipalname() DAX function

You can take advantage of the DAX functions username() or userprincipalname() within your dataset. You can use them within expressions in Power BI Desktop. When you publish your model, it will be used within the Power BI service.

Within Power BI Desktop, username() will return a user in the format of DOMAIN\User and userprincipalname() will return a user in the format of user@contoso.com.

Within the Power BI service, username() and userprincipalname() will both return the user's User Principal Name (UPN). This looks similar to an email address.

Using RLS with workspaces in Power BI

If you publish your Power BI Desktop report to a workspace in the Power BI service, the RLS roles are applied to members who are assigned to the Viewer role in the workspace. Even if Viewers are given Build permissions to the dataset, RLS still applies. For example, if Viewers with Build permissions use Analyze in Excel, their view of the data will be protected by RLS. Workspace members assigned Admin, Member, or Contributor have edit permission for the dataset and, therefore, RLS doesn’t apply to them. If you want RLS to apply to people in a workspace, you can only assign them the Viewer role. Read more about roles in workspaces.

Considerations and Limitations

The current limitations for row-level security on cloud models are as follows:

  • If you previously defined roles and rules in the Power BI service, you must re-create them in Power BI Desktop.
  • You can define RLS only on the datasets created with Power BI Desktop. If you want to enable RLS for datasets created with Excel, you must convert your files into Power BI Desktop (PBIX) files first. Learn more.
  • Service principals cannot be added to an RLS role. Accordingly, RLS won’t be applied for apps using a service principal as the final effective identity.
  • Only Import and DirectQuery connections are supported. Live connections to Analysis Services are handled in the on-premises model.
  • The Test as role/View as role feature doesn't work for DirectQuery models with Single Sign-On (SSO) enabled.





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