Is Copy-n-Paste operations impacting your Identity & Governance solutions?

Microsoft Office Suite’s Autocorrect: How Character Replacements Impact Identity and Governance Solutions => Garbage-In-Garbage-Out (GIGO)

When thinking about identity and governance solutions, many of us consider factors such as password security, multi-factor authentication, or access control. Rarely do we contemplate the subtle implications of character replacements in our word processing software. However, Microsoft Office Suite’s Autocorrect feature, while intended to enhance the user experience, has introduced concerns around the copy-paste process, especially with characters like the dash and quotes. Let’s delve into the nuances of this issue and its potential impacts for two (2) of the most common replacements that have impact.

A Common Scenario:

Automated emails from Ticket Systems are forwarded to administrators or users, then these admin/users may copy-n-paste these strings from the email (or MS word document) to an identity / governance solution, as they wish to be efficient and ensure no mistyped characters happen from one solution to another. These fields could be used for provisioning access by a business role name or kicking off a governance campaign search.

Dash vs. Emdash: What’s the Big Deal?

Microsoft Word (and other programs within the Office Suite) has a habit of automatically converting the standard dash (-) to an emdash (—) when it assumes the user is attempting to create a longer break in the sentence. On the surface, this appears to be a simple formatting choice. Yet, when you copy content containing these characters and paste them into identity or governance platforms, unexpected issues may arise. This “emdash” decision appears to be following British style formatting per this reference.

Identity systems often depend on exact character matching for elements like usernames, role names, domain names, or system strings. For instance, if a user is instructed to input “” but inadvertently pastes “domain—” (with an emdash), the system will not recognize the latter as a valid entry. This leads to failed authentication attempts, locked accounts, and potential security concerns as users and admins scramble to correct the discrepancies. Worst case, the identity/governance solution is using UTF-8 or newer character sets to accept the special characters, but the underlying IG/IM database is still using older ASCII format, that do not recognize the newer character sets. If this occurs, then a data clean up operation is typically needed by the IM/IG/DBA teams.

The Smart Quotes Dilemma

Similarly, Microsoft’s Autocorrect feature replaces standard double quotes (“) with smart quotes (“ ”) for a more visually appealing look in documents. While they may enhance the aesthetic feel of a document, smart quotes can wreak havoc in systems expecting the simpler ASCII version.

A code or script that depends on specific string matching will fail if smart quotes are used instead of standard quotes. This can lead to malfunctioning applications, scripts, or integrations when developers or administrators copy and paste content from Office documents directly into configuration files or codebases.

Governance Solutions and Data Integrity

In governance solutions, consistency and data integrity are of the utmost importance. Consider a scenario where policy documents or terms of use agreements are drafted in Word. Any auto-replaced characters might be unintentionally added to official records or database entries. When such documents are parsed or processed by automated systems, unexpected behaviors might occur due to these seemingly innocuous character changes.

Recommendations and Best Practices:

  1. Awareness: Ensure that your team is aware of these auto-corrections. Training sessions or instructional guides can be used to inform users about these pitfalls.
  2. Disable Autocorrect: If you frequently copy and paste between Office Suite and other platforms, consider disabling these specific autocorrect features for these two (2) common ones (dash/quotes). See the below screen shots how to disable these two (2) features in MS Outlook, MS Word, and MS Powerpoint. Fortunately, we do not have to modify MS Excel. From a global updates, companies may wish to visit their patch process, to update the MS registry for these auto correction behavior for all users.
  3. Post-Copy Verification: After pasting content, always double-check critical characters to ensure they have not been auto-replaced. It may be necessary to incorporate policy verification rules to prevent entry of these two (2) common replacement characters, e.g. PX Policy UI data verification rules.
  4. Use Plain Text Editors: When dealing with sensitive or system-related information, use plain text editors like Notepad, Notepad++ or VSCode to avoid any auto-formatting.

Location of auto-correction of dash (-) to emdash (–) & quotes in MS Outlook

Location of auto-correction of dash (-) to emdash (–) & quotes in MS Word

Location of auto-correction of dash (-) to emdash (–) & quotes in MS Powerpoint

Fortunately, we do NOT have this issue in MS Excel for the two (2) characters we are reviewing in this blog.

An impact of copy-n-paste:

For example, if you are using an Oracle database, and you may see upside down question mark characters ¿ in your data sets, this is a strong indicator that the database is doing an auto-replacement for the special characters that it does not recognize. The below example showcases when users/administrators would use copy-n-paste operations to create new IM/IG objects, that would not be returned when searching later upon these objects, as the names would no longer match what was entered the 1st time.

If the database has a default character map, this effort will not be simple, as the DBAs must make a major change and will require an outage window. The DBAs may also need to be involved in the data clean up or replacement exercise to adjust the malformed entries.


The Microsoft Office Suite’s Autocorrect feature demonstrates how even well-intentioned, user-friendly functionalities can introduce unforeseen challenges. For those operating in the realm of identity and governance, an awareness of these issues is essential. It’s a testament to the intricate nature of modern software environments, where even the simplest character can have significant implications. Confirm your identity access / governance solutions have a matching character set between the solution stack and the underlying database.

Be kind to your auditors – Streamline Adhoc Reports

One of the challenges that IAM/IAG teams may have every few months is delivery or access for internal/external auditors to validate access within the IAM/IAG system and their managed endpoints.

Usually, auditors may directly access the 100’s system/endpoints/applications and randomly select a few or export the entire directory structure to review access. This effort takes time and possible 100’s of entitlements to grant temporary/expiry access to view. Auditors also prefer Excel or CSV files to review rather than fixed documents (PDF) to allow them to filter and isolate what interests them.

One process that may have value for your team is various tools with export functionality to CSV/XLS and the ability to query the 100’s-1000’s of systems from a single entry point.

A tool that we have found valuable over the years is SoftTerra LDAP Browser.

The multiple benefits from this tool for IAM/IAG are:

  1. It is a read-only tool, so no mistakes can be made by granting too much access.
  2. It has the ability to save queries that are popular and can be copied from other tools.
  3. It has the ability to export the queries to CSV/XLS formats (plus others)
  4. It can be used to pull reports from an IAM/IAG solution via their directory ports.
  5. It can be used to pull reports from the managed applications (on-prem or SaaS) via the IAM provisioning directory ports.
  6. The tool is free from SoftTerra, it is a limited version of their Administration tool
Example of the SoftTerra LDAP Browser tool used to query Active Directory, LDAP user stores, and Provisioning User Store & managed endpoints/applications.

A view to export Service Now (SNOW) accounts via the CA/Symantec Identity Manager Provisioning Server/Service (TCP 20390) via the LDAP/S protocol.

Why? The provisioning server may be viewed as a virtual directory/pass-through directory to the managed endpoints via its connector tier.

The below image shows SoftTerra LDAPBrowser used to connect to the Provisioning Server (TCP 20390). Then navigate to a Service Now (SNOW) managed endpoint, to query on all accounts and their respective profiles & entitlements. This same report/extract process may be done for mainframe/AS400 and client-server applications, e.g Active Directory, Unix, Databases, etc.

Enhance this process with defense-in-depth

We will not use the primary default administration account of the provisioning tier, “etaadmin”. Since this account has full access to change data.

Within the IAM/IAG solution, create an auditor account.

In the example below we create a new Global User, with the name “auditor”, a description, password, and a local “read-only admin profile” with an expiration date. This will allow the auditors to use the account as they wish (or you may grant this “read-only admin profile directly to their existing Global User ID). The account may still follow the same password reset expiration processes. If the account is marked as “restricted” in the CA/Symantec IM solution, then this account is limited how it may be changed to avoid any unexpected sync challenges to managed endpoints (if it was correlated to other accounts).

After the new Global User is created (or existing ID is added to the Admin Profile “ReadAdministrator”), update SoftTerra Credentials for the Provisioning Service. Below the new DN with “auditor” is shown in the credentials for login ID, e.g. “eTGlobalUserName=auditor,eTGlobalUserContainerName=Global Users,eTNamespaceName=CommonObjects,dc=im,dc=eta”

Now, the auditors may run as many reports as they would like, and export to spreadsheets or PDF files using a read-only account with a read-only tool.

Honorable mentions for other query tools.

Jxplorer is a useful & free java-based tool for reports, but this is a full edit tool & only exports out to LDIF format.

Apache Directory Studio is another very useful & free java-based tool for reports. This is a full edit tool. It does have the ability to export to many different formats. Since this tool does NOT need an MS Windows installer, and if the Desktop prevent installation, this is typically our 2nd choice to use. Extract and use the current java on the MS Windows OS or download AdoptOpenJDK and extract it to use with Apache Directory Studio. &

SoftTerra LDAP Administrator is a paid and full edit tool. It has the same look-n-feel of the SoftTerra LDAP Browser tool. It is typically used by administrators of various LDAP solutions. We recommend this tool for your larger sites or if you would like a fast responsive tool on MS Windows OS.

If you have other recommendations, please leave a response.

Bonus Feature – SoftTerra AD Authentication

Both the SoftTerra tools allow binding using your existing authentication (on your desktop/laptop) into Active Directory. No need to create additional user ID for the auditors or yourself.

Perhaps the O365 or Outlook contacts process is not robust or too slow or perhaps you wish you had a more detail view of your internal active directory to view a manager’s direct reports. You can use this feature to view the the non-privacy attributes of your domain of all accounts with a read-only tool.

Step 01: Open a command-line prompt on your desktop/workstation after you have authenticated to your Active Directory domain & type set | findstr LOGONSERVER

Step 02: Install SoftTerra LDAP Browser Tool & Create a new profile

Step 03: Type the name of the Active Directory LOGONSERVER (aka Domain Controller) into the following fields & ensure “Use Secure Connection (SSL)” is selected (to avoid query issues).

Step 04: Click Next until you see “User Authentication Information” then select the radio button for “Currently logged on user (Active Directory)”, then click Finish button.

Step 05: After the profile is built, now click on the profile and watch it expand into a tree display of Active Directory. Select the branch that you believe has the list of users you would like to view, then select an individual user account, to see the values populated.

Step 06: If you wish to export this data to a spreadsheet (CSV/XLS), right click on the left object and select export option.

Step 07: You will have a series of options to export to & the file name it will write to.

Step 08: Advance search and export process. Select the branch that holds all the users you wish to view and export. Note: If the branch has 10,000 objects, this process may take minutes to complete depending on the query.

Step 09: The follow search windows will appear to help you create, save, and export your queries. Note that if you start to type in the field name, the list of the fields will start to appear.

Step 10: Ensure the FILTER is properly formed (use google to assist), and which attribute you wish to view or export is defined, then click search. If you are satisfied with your search, use the “Save Results” to export to a spreadsheet (CSV/XLS) or other format.