It can be challenging for financial institutions to manage security, identity, and compliance within Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and Microsoft 365 (also known as M365 and formerly branded as O365). Understanding the services and settings of the Azure AD and M365 ecosystem can make the process easier for IT administrators.
Some of the basic security settings that apply to most organizations fall under the free license level for Azure AD. These are also some of the low-hanging fruit that institutions can easily implement to make a dramatic difference in their security.
One of the settings that can have the biggest impact is security defaults, which can be enabled to enforce a set of non-configurable conditional access policies. The policy set in Azure includes the ability to require multifactor authentication (MFA) and MFA registration for all users. It also offers the capability to block legacy authentication, which should be a high-priority goal for any organization.
Hackers can exploit basic authentication to effectively bypass MFA, which is a fundamental security service we recommend that every institution implement. If your institution has gone through the effort of enforcing MFA for users—but you’re not blocking basic authentication explicitly—there’s a major security gap. That gap should be addressed immediately, especially given Microsoft’s plans to decommission basic authentication protocols in Exchange Online in October 2022.
It’s also crucial to review the identity architecture for your financial institution. Any user, device, or app connecting to Azure should have an identity, whether it’s a guest user, mobile device, Mac OS device, or a Windows computer, so it can be assigned data access rights or even take on administrative capabilities. Every identity outside of Active Directory—which is the primary identity for users in many institutions—is another attack vector in a different system. An effective way to manage different identities is to consolidate them by sourcing them at the AD level and then synchronizing users and their password hashes to Azure AD. You should also review the level of access for all administrators as well as partners as they represent a huge risk downstream. Reviewing the level of access for partners goes beyond security; it’s also a matter of regulatory compliance.
Depending on your institution’s license level, there are additional Azure and M365 settings you can adjust in the areas of protection, compliance, and administration. For example, global auditing is an essential setting that should be enabled to augment security and facilitate troubleshooting after attacks. You should also block settings allowing for open collaboration and outbound email forwarding to avoid data loss and minimize cyberattacks.
If your institution is at the M365 level, it also needs the mobile device management (MDM) platform that offers sufficient protection. Exchange Online has built-in MDM capabilities but these capabilities do not extend to all M365/O365 apps.
Conditional access policies govern sign-ins and attempts. They can enable the enforcement of MFA and are the highest control layer for determining who has access to the data within Azure’s security ecosystem.
Since data lives outside of Exchange Online in the M365 world, if your institution has specific compliance requirements for retention, your retention policies will generally need to extend to all data.
M365 Security Basics
Adjusting all the security settings of Azure AD and M365 can be a daunting task, especially since Microsoft is constantly updating the features of its technology services. Our CloudInsight M365 Security Basics solution provides insights into security settings for Azure AD and M365 tenants. It helps IT administrators navigate the complexities of customizing their institution’s security settings through three services: reporting, alerting, and quarterly reviews.
The reporting service provides ongoing Microsoft data and packages it into a readable format that shows security settings at a glance, allowing institutions to easily see irregularities, such as when users sign in from Outside of the USA. Alerting sends a notification when an activity indicates that a potential compromise has occurred. With the quarterly reviews, trained experts analyze the settings, reports, and alerts and review them with administrators so they can speak with confidence to their board, steering committees, and auditors about their institution’s technology services and cloud security.
If you need help understanding how M365 Security Basics can support your financial institution’s risk mitigation or strategic planning efforts, contact us. You can learn more about this topic with our “How to Manage Security Identity and Compliance within the Microsoft Azure and M365 Ecosystem” webinar.
The security settings that are discussed in this paper can have a dramatic impact on end-users and/or service functionality and should only be employed if deemed appropriate and after careful consideration. There are a variety of security options available, but organizations should strive to implement these technology services strategically and, ideally, through planned phases of objectives over potentially several months or even years. The recommendations, statements, and other concepts contained within this paper are provided primarily for the consideration of IT Administrators of financial institutions.