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File system rights on mounted drives in Windows

As I repeatedly state, the same object oriented design that makes PowerShell potentially powerful in complex tasks, also makes it require ridiculous verbosity on our part to make it accomplish simple ones. Today’s post is a perfect example.

Consider a volume mounted to an NTFS mountpoint in a directory. Since this is an obvious afterthought in the file system design, setting access rights on the mountpoint directory won’t do you any good if you expect these rights to propagate down through the mounted file system. While the reason may be obvious once you think about the limitations in the design, it certainly breaks the principle of least astonishment. The correct way to set permissions on such a volume is to configure the proper ACL on the partition object itself.

In the legacy Computer Management MMC-based interface, this was simply a matter of right-clicking in the Disk Management module to change the drive properties, and then setting the correct values in the Security tab. In PowerShell, however, this isn’t a simple command, but a script with three main components:

  • Populate an ACL object with the partition object’s current security settings
  • Modify the properties of the ACL object
  • Commit the contents of the ACL object back into the partition object

Here’s how it’s done:

First we need to find the volume identifier. For this we can use get-partition | fl, optionally modified with a where, or ?, query, if we know additional details that can help narrow the search. What we’re looking for is something looking like the following example in our DiskPath property:

\\?\Volume{f0e7b028-8f53-42fa-952b-dc3e01c161d8}

Armed with that we can now fill an object with the ACL for our volume:

$acl = [io.directory]::GetAccessControl("\\?\Volume{f0e7b028-8f53-42fa-952b-dc3e01c161d8}\")

We then create a new access control entry (ACE):

$newace = New-Object -TypeName System.Security.AccessControl.FileSystemAccessRule -ArgumentList "DOMAIN\testuser", "ReadAndExecute, Traverse",
 "ContainerInherit, ObjectInherit", "None", "Allow"

The reason we must enter data in this order is because of the definition of the constructor for the access control entry object. There’s really no way of understanding this from within the interactive scripting environment; you just have to have a bunch of patience and read dry documentation, or learn from code snippets found through searching the web.

The next step is to load our new ACE into the ACL object:

$acl.SetAccessRule($newace)

What if we want to remove rights – for example the usually present Everyone entry? In that case we need to find every ACE referencing that user or group in our ACL, and remove it:

$acl.access | ?{$_.IdentityReference.Value -eq "Everyone"} | ForEach-Object { $acl.RemoveAccessRule($_)}

If we’ve done this job interactively, we can take a final look at our ACL to confirm it still looks sane by running $acl | fl.

Finally we’ll commit the ACL into the file system again:

[io.directory]::SetAccessControl("\\?\Volume{f0e7b028-8f53-42fa-952b-dc3e01c161d8}\",$acl)

And there we go: We’ve basically had to write an entire little program to make it, and the poor inventors of the KISS principle and of the principle of least astonishment are slowly rotating like rotisserie chickens in their graves, but we’ve managed to set permissions on a mounted NTFS volume through PowerShell.