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Making use of the /etc/authorization file in Lion / 10.7.x

This post will look at putting the authorization file to use in a partially managed Mac environment.  Yes some of this can be done via OD & MCX but as we’re a small environment we don’t use it nor really need it.  All testing was done with 10.7.2 and I’ve been using it with all our Mac’s up to 10.8.2 at the moment.

Q:  What’s the problem we want to solve?
: I want my users to be somewhere in between what Apple defines as a “Standard User” and a “Admin User”.  Stealing from Windows terminology,  I want them to be a “Power User”.

I want the System Preference panes marked below with red X’s to no longer require an Admin password to unlock them.  Your environment will be different to mine, so pick, choose & extend these ideas to what fits your environment.

Desired Sys Prefs

Energy Saver:  I want users to be able to set their own Sleep schedules.  I don’t want support requests from users about changing their sleep from 10 to 15minutes. Cons:   The potential downside of this is that I really don’t want them to be able to turn off  “Wake for Ethernet network access” (ARD use) but I’m hoping most won’t mess with this setting.

Print & Scan: I want laptop users to be able to add a home inkjet / laser printer. Cons:  I don’t really want them deleting or adding other printers at work so I’m not actually going to unlock this preference pane in this example.  But you may want to in your environment.  I will do it by adding the user to the lpadmin group instead.  Adding a user to the lpadmin group allows them to install or remove printers it doesn’t however unlock the Print & Scan System Preference pane but it does allow them to use the less obvious + and – buttons in that pane to make changes.  They can also use the File > Print > Printer > Add New Printer… option to add a home printer.

Network: I want laptop users to be able to adjust network settings as they travel.  Often at conferences, home or other sites, custom network settings or proxy settings are required.  Opening this up lets them adjust them as needed. Cons: Users can break their network settings which may yield a support request.

Date & Time: I want laptop users to be able to change the time zone if the ‘automatic’ feature fails.  Also if the PRAM battery fails I want users to be able to set the correct date and time. Cons:  Users can be on the wrong time zone / time which will effect things like AD based login’s.

Time Machine: I want laptop users to be able to setup a USB drive or Time Capsule at home as they’re backup device.

Not mentioned above: Software Update:  I plan to enable Software Update once I get my own Software Update Server running using Reposado.  This way I can enable standard users to update their own Mac’s via the built-in Apple system but control what updates are available via reposado.  You can also do this via Munki or this app at instead.

In my environment I’ve decided for now that I only want to open the above extra Preference Panes up for laptop users.  Desktop users I can help over the phone easily, change things remotely via ARD or go visit them.  Laptop users who are overseas or not on-site are the main concern as I can’t help them easily nor allowed to give them admin credentials.

In my environment for 10.7.x we are currently using the Apple Active Directory plug-in and Mobile User Accounts with local homes.  We add laptop users to the lpadmin group so they can install printers at home.  I do this via Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) using the Send Unix Command option:  dseditgroup -o edit -a USERNAME -t user _lpadmin if doing it locally via the command line as an admin use sudo dseditgroup -o edit -a USERNAME -t user _lpadmin  To verify the user has been added use dscl . -read /Groups/lpadmin at the command line.  Looking at the “Group Membership” field.

I am going to leverage this as it distinguishes between desktop and laptop users in our environment to achieve the outcome above. You could also create a new group and use that or use another built-in group.  Be aware that creating your own group means that you’d also need to add admin accounts to that group or the admin group itself.  By default all local admin accounts are members of the lpadmin group.  You could also use the staff or everyone group to open it wider.

So from the info in my earlier post we’re going to change the following keys in the /etc/authorization file from group admin to lpadmin using TextWrangler:


changing the bottom part of each entry above from



Note: TextWrangler will change the files owner and group, you can easily set it back via chown & chmod or just run Disk Utility – Repair Permissions which will set it back to root and wheel.

To make this even easier and ARD compatible I’ve adjusted a script from here which can be sent out via ARD to a Machine to change it immediately.  If a future apple update changes the file back to it’s original state it’s easily changed back.

#Copy the authorization file to a temporary location & make it a plist
/bin/cp -pr /etc/authorization /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Unlock System Preferences for lpadmin group members.
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c ‘Set :rights:system.preferences:group lpadmin’ /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Unlock the Network Settings preference pane
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c ‘Set lpadmin’ /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Unlock the Time Machine preference pane
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c ‘Set :rights:system.preferences.timemachine:group lpadmin’ /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Unlock the Energy saver preference pane
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c ‘Set :rights:system.preferences.energysaver:group lpadmin’ /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Unlock the Date and Time preference pane
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c ‘Set :rights:system.preferences.datetime:group lpadmin’ /private/tmp/authorization.plist
# Move file back to original location
/bin/mv /private/tmp/authorization.plist /etc/authorization

You can just copy and paste the text above into the “Send Unix Command” text area in ARD and send it as a local admin or root.  Alternatively copy the text into TextWrangler, do a save as i.e. then go to the command line and make it executable via chmod +x then run it with sudo ./ or sudo sh

This is what you’ll see when trying to unlock a pane as a standard user that you haven’t added to the lpadmin group.
Print Admin Prompt

And this is what you’ll see once you’ve added a standard user to the lpadmin group (or when logged in as an admin)

There’s other ways to achieve the same result.  You can change the key’s above from class “user” to “rule” keys and make your own rule at the bottom of the authorization file or use a built-in one but it’s much more complex & not well documented by Apple.


Mac OS X 10.7 / Lion – First look at /etc/authorization usage

The /etc/authorization file in Mac OS X / 10.x can be used to control access to the various panes of the System Preferences amongst other things. It’s used by some of us Mac Sys Admin’s to give Standard Users access to System Prefs panes that only admins could otherwise unlock.  It can also be used in the reverse to lock down panes you don’t want users messing with. An example by Apple was Allowing non-admin users to change the time zone setting – (Note this still works under Lion, tested on 10.7.4). Often the panes can’t be controlled to the exact level you may want via MCX (Local or Managed) or defaults write / plists.  Nor do you want to give users admin rights in a large business / university.

With 10.6 and now 10.7 the following Preference Panes are locked by default.  Meaning you need an admin username and password to unlock them: Security & Privacy, Energy Saver, Print & Scan, Network, Sharing, Users & Groups, Parental Controls, Date & Time, Software Update, Time Machine and Startup Disk.  As a ‘Standard User’ you can’t unlock these panes.


In 10.6 we could do the following to the /etc/authorization file, to give a standard user semi-admin access to the Preference Panes.

 <string>Checked by the Admin framework when making changes to certain System Preferences.</string>
   <string>everyone</string>  * Changing this from 'admin', to another local group. i.e. staff, everyone, or a custom group you created yourself.

This unlocks the majority of the preference panes above, the downside being you probably don’t want them all unlocked. (i.e Startup Disk) For some this was acceptable and used.  Some of us however just wanted a few unlocked, i.e. Date & Time for laptop users who travel a lot. Time Machine, so staff could connect to a Time Capsule or USB Hard Drive at home.  Energy Saver so they could adjust the settings to their liking. etc…

With 10.7 / Lion the /etc/authorization has undergone some changes and has much more granular control available in it. Making locking or unlocking individual Preference Panes possible!  (Yes TimeMachine)

Before you start make a copy of the authorization file.  If you make a wrong edit your machine will get stuck and the spinning cog on boot.  You can restore from your backup by booting into Single User mode (Command + S on boot) & trashing the messed file and renaming your backup. You can also edit the file from this mode, use ‘sudo mount -auw’ then, cd etc, ‘sudo pico authorization’ at the command line.  Find the bit you messed up fix it and save and reboot.

So open up the /etc/authorization file (Finder, Go to Folder, /etc), I’d recommend using TextWrangler to edit it.  In general you are going to be searching for a <key> key-name </key> and then editing the very end section of the key / dict entry. From this, to this:

	<string>__APPNAME__ 正在嘗試解鎖“安全性與隱私”偏好設定。</string>
<string>admin</string>  ** Change admin to another local group that your user is in.
i.e. staff, everyone etc...

* Standard Users when created are automatically put into the “staff” group. “Admin” users are in the “staff” and “admin” groups

Save the file.   Update: You don’t actually need to reboot your Mac.  Sys Prefs re-reads from the file at the time of credential checking.


To unlock the Systems Preferences in General so all changes below will actually work you first need to edit this top level key.  <key>system.preferences</key>   adjust it as above changing it to a local group, i.e. staff or everyone.  Save & Close.


I certainly don’t recommend unlocking all the Prefs panes, as it may give users more access than you want or have unintended side effects.  But I will document them all incase needed.

To Unlock the Security & Privacy Pane – search for the following key  <key></key> & adjust it as above,  save & reboot.  This alone will unlock the pane, but you still won’t be able to get into it. Try logging in as a Standard user & unlocking it, it will work the first time but you’ll be prompted again at which point it won’t accept your password.  This is because it’s actually trying to unlock the FileVault tab, if you cancel out of the 2nd credential prompt and go back in you’ll get this slightly different prompt 2nd time round.

First time round it was ‘is trying to unlock Sharing preferences’, 2nd time its ‘modify an encrypted disk’.  So go back to the etc/authorization file and search for this <key></key> 

		<string>__APPNAME__ is trying to modify an encrypted disk.</string>
	<string>admin</string> *Change this to another local group: staff, everyone

save and reboot.  Login as your standard user, you can now get into the Security & Privacy pane.

Energy Saver – Unlockable by editing – <key>system.preferences.energysaver</key> (as above)
Print & Scan – Unlockable by editing – <key>system.preferences.printing</key> note this unlocks the pane but you need to be in the lpadmin group to add a printer.
Network – Unlockable by editing – <key></key>
Sharing – Unlockable by editing – <key>system.preferences.sharing</key> this alone won’t unlock sharing as the “File Sharing” component is still blocking your access You need to adjust <key>system.sharepoints.</key> as well.

Users & Groups – Unlockable by editing -> <key>system.preferences.accounts</key> again this alone won’t unlock the Pane, you will be prompted for credentials twice, it will fail on attempt two. you need to adjust <key></key> as well.  This key is slightly different and uses a rule key, rather than a group key. edit it as follows to allow the current ‘session user’ access.

        *Change it to authenticate-session-owner-or-admin

Parental Controls – Unlockable by editing <key>system.preferences.parental-controls</key>
Date & Time – Unlockable by editing <key>system.preferences.datetime</key> &  you can manually add in <key>system.preferences.dateandtime.changetimezone</key>  as per this old article – (Tested it under 10.7.4)
Software Update – Unlockable by editing <key>system.preferences.softwareupdate</key>
Time Machine – Unlockable by editing <key>system.preferences.timemachine</key>
Startup Disk – Unlockable by editing <key>system.preferences.startupdisk</key> 

and then there’s some new Keys of interest in Lion


That’s my wrap up of the authorization file in Lion.  Happy to try and answer any queries.