Adventures with Distribution Groups in Exchange 2010

Because no one should have to suffer alone.
Distribution Groups: Because no one should have to suffer alone.

I was involved in the process of migrating a company from Exchange 2007 to 2010. So far, it’s been smooth sailing with the exception of a small hiccup here and there. One of these hiccups, has to do with the new implementation of the RBAC security model in Exhcange 2010 and how that affects managers of distribution groups.

The distribution group manager just clicks the Modify Members button for instant user management joy.
The distribution group manager just clicks the Modify Members button for instant user management joy.

An organization may have hundreds of distribution groups set up in Exchange for various projects, management groups, initiatives, you name it. In a dynamic environment such as this, people are being added to and removed from distribution groups all the time. This is why Exchange admins appoint managers for distribution groups.

A distribution group manager is a regular user with the exception that they can add or remove people from the group that they manage. The manager usually makes changes to the group using the address book in Outlook. In previous versions of Exchange, when an administrator would appoint a user as a manager of a distribution group, all the administrator would have to do is open the Exchange Management Console, add the user as the manager, open Active Directory Users and Computers, open the distribution group properties and give the manager rights to modify the group.

I suppose that like most admins who had upgraded from earlier versions of Exchange, I was surprised when managers of various distribution groups started complaining that they were getting an error when they tried to add or remove people. Distribution group managers who were able to modify the group before the upgrade to Exchange 2010, were getting errors stating something to the effect of:

Changes to the distribution list membership cannot be saved. You do not have sufficient permission to perform this operation on the object.

Turns out there may be a couple of different things going on here. First, the default permissions for Exchange don’t allow users to manage groups and must be changed. The Default Role Assignment Policy for users needs to be changed if you want your managers to be able to administer their distribution groups. To do this, log into your OWA server’s Exchange Control Panel and take the following steps:


  1. Click on Roles and Auditing
  2. Click on User Roles
  3. Click on Default Role Assignment Policy
  4. Click on Details
  5. Put a check in the box next to MyDistributionGroups
  6. Marvel at how easy that was. A little too easy…

There is one caveat: enabling this setting allows users to create, delete, and modify distribution groups resulting in… DISTRIBUTION GROUP ANARCHY! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!

This is what distribution group anarchy looks like: users all hopped up on venti lattes and unlimited distribution group management.

I think that for most organizations, this setting isn’t sufficient for their needs. To further button down these access settings, a custom role can be created using The Exchange Management Shell. Luckily for us, the sharp folks over at the Exchange Team Blog created a PowerShell script that restores sanity to your distribution group settings by giving managers back the ability to manage their distribution groups while keeping them from being able to make new groups or delete them.

You can download the PowerShell script here:
You can read about using the script (which I highly recommend) here:

Second, you may find that you can use the Exchange Management Console (EMC) to modify distribution group memberships but managers who need to use Outlook to administer their groups can’t. To make editing distribution groups work in Outlook, you may need to change each distribution group to be Mail Universal Distribution Groups as well. You can do this in the EMC by right-clicking on the distribution group in question and selecting the “Convert to Universal Group” option.

Further reading:


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