Microsoft is bringing multifactor authentication (MFA) to organizations that manage Azure Active Directory tenancies.
The idea is to make MFA a “baseline policy” for all organizations with Azure AD account administrators. MFA is a secondary identity verification scheme beyond using a password. It typically might entail answering an automated cell phone call or responding to a text message before granting access.
On Friday, Microsoft announced that it is previewing MFA for protecting “privileged Azure AD accounts.” By privileged accounts, Microsoft is referring to the IT pro administrator user accounts that an organization uses to manage Microsoft’s identity and access management service.
The preview currently can be accessed within the Azure Portal by going to the Conditional Access blade. There’s an option in there to turn on the baseline policy and “Require MFA for administrators.” The interface lets organizations specify which Azure AD administrators will be subject to using MFA. The options include:
- Global administrator
- SharePoint administrator
- Exchange administrator
- Conditional access administrator
- Security administrator
While this feature is currently at the preview stage and it’s optional to try it, Microsoft is planning to make it a default setting for organizations when it’s deemed to be at the “general availability” (or production-ready) stage. Here’s how Microsoft described that coming change for Azure AD tenancies:
Presumably, MFA will be a default feature only for organizations that have the proper use rights. According to Microsoft’s Azure AD pricing page, MFA is only offered with Premium P1 and P2 Azure AD plans. Update 6/26: However, a reader pointed out that Microsoft doesn’t charge for global administrators to use MFA.
“Users assigned the Global Administrator role in Azure AD tenants can enable two-step verification for their Azure AD Global Admin accounts at no additional cost,” Microsoft explained in this Azure document.
Microsoft isn’t just an advocate for using MFA with the Azure AD service. It’s also recommending its use when administering other services, such as Exchange Online. In a Friday Microsoft Tech Community post, Jeff Sun of Microsoft argued that MFA and encryption were seen as the two biggest obstacles for attackers, and he urged Office 365 tenancies to activate MFA when administering Exchange Online.
Organizations can enable MFA for Exchange Online through the Office 365 Admin Center, Security and Compliance Center and Exchange Admin Center. It’s more complicated to enable MFA when organizations have automated their Exchange Online administration using PowerShell, he noted.
Sun advocated using additional Microsoft security solutions to administer Exchange Online beyond MFA, namely:
- Just-in-time administrative access — Privileged Identity Management
- Alt Admin Accounts — Use separate accounts for service administration that do not have access to communications where there is a risk of phishing
- Conditional Access — Control access to resources based on the conditions of the access (article)
- Audit Account Activity — Enable unified audit log and mailbox auditing
- Create detections/alert — Create activity alerts in the Security & Compliance Center or Microsoft Cloud App Security
- Remediation Automation — In the case of a breach, have procedures in place to remediate and secure the account
The use of those features, of course, requires having the licensing in place beyond an Office 365 subscription.