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9 Best Practices for Azure AD Security

Danny Murphy | 10 min read| Updated On - February 12, 2024

Best Practices for Azure AD Security

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is Microsoft’s cloud-based identity and access management service. It allows employees to access data and applications, such as Office 365, Exchange Online, OneDrive, and more.

An increasing number of organizations are migrating data from their on-premises AD environment to Azure AD, to take advantage of the benefits that cloud platforms provide.

However, Azure AD and your on-premise implementation of Active Directory are quite different in how they work.

While they are both designed to achieve the same goal, there are different security concerns and best practices that need to be adhered to.

Azure AD Security Best Practices

Below are some of the most notable areas to focus on to ensure that your Azure AD environment is secure.

1. Use Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is a fundamental security practice that helps you manage and control access to Azure resources. By assigning appropriate roles to users, you can ensure that they have the necessary permissions to perform their tasks without granting unnecessary privileges.

RBAC provides fine-grained access control by allowing you to assign roles to users or groups at different scopes such as subscriptions, resource groups, or individual resources. It is recommended to follow the principle of least privilege, granting users only the permissions they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

2. Review Access and Application Permissions Regularly

Regularly reviewing access and application permissions is essential to maintain a secure Azure AD environment. Over time, user roles and responsibilities may change, and new applications may be added, leading to permission inconsistencies and potential security risks.

To address this, establish a periodic review process to validate user access rights and application permissions. Remove or update permissions for users who no longer require them and ensure that permissions are aligned with the principle of least privilege. Additionally, monitor and manage external applications that have been granted access to your Azure AD tenant, revoking access when necessary.

3. Microsoft Secure Score

Found in the Microsoft 365 security center, Microsoft Secure Score provides organizations with a way to measure their overall security posture, with a high score indicating that more work needs to be done.

Organizations can monitor their score and act according to Microsoft’s best practice recommendations, which you can find on the Improvement actions tab.

Recommendations are organized into three groups: Identity, Device and App, with each group having its own respective score.

In addition to a trend graph, which shows how your score has changed over time, you can also view a graph which shows how your score compares to other tenants of a similar size, in the same industry.

4. Adopt a “Zero Trust” Approach and Enforce “Least Privilege” Access

The zero-trust security model is particularly relevant when using cloud platforms for storing and processing sensitive data. This is because the traditional moat-castle approach is not compatible with remote, distributed environments.

With zero trust, all activity is malicious until proven otherwise. All users, devices and processes must prove their legitimacy when accessing critical systems and resources.

An important part of the zero-trust model is the “principal of least privilege” (PoLP), which stipulates that users are only granted access to the specific resources they need to perform their role.

To enforce least privilege access within Azure AD, you must ensure that only administrators can create and manage security groups, including Office 365 Groups.

Administrators must review all guest users and restrict their privileges accordingly, which includes ensuring that only administrators can invite guest users. Self-service group management should be disabled for non-administrator users, and the installation of third-party applications should also be restricted.

The implementation of PoLP can be done through role-based access control (Azure RBAC). Assigning users to roles with restricted access will help to avoid confusion that may result in a user being granted more access than what they need.

5. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

As with any MFA system, Azure AD MFA requires two or more of the following factors: something you know, something you have, and something you are.

With Azure AD, there’s a variety of verification methods to choose from, which include Microsoft Authenticator app, OATH Hardware token, SMS and Voice call.

To get started with Azure AD MFA, you will need to create a Conditional Access policy, which defines the conditions that MFA will follow. After which, you will need to assign users to these policies, and remember to disable legacy authentication.

Here are several methods of enabling MFA in Azure AD. Here are some of the most common methods:

  • Per-user MFA: This method requires all users to enable MFA before they can sign in. This is the most secure method, but it can be inconvenient for users who have to remember multiple MFA codes.
  • Group-based MFA: This method allows you to specify which groups of users must enable MFA. This is a good compromise between security and convenience.
  • App-based MFA: This method allows you to specify which applications or services require MFA. This is a good way to protect sensitive applications or services without requiring all users to enable MFA.
  • Device-based MFA: This method allows you to specify which devices are trusted and do not require MFA. This is a good way to protect devices that are considered to be more secure, such as corporate-owned devices.

In addition to these methods, you can also enable MFA for specific users or groups by using the Azure AD PowerShell or REST API.

Here are some of the authentication methods that can be used with Azure AD MFA:

  • Microsoft Authenticator app: This app generates push notifications or one-time passcodes that can be used to authenticate users.
  • FIDO2 security keys: These keys use biometrics or a PIN to authenticate users.
  • SMS: This method sends a one-time passcode to the user’s phone number.
  • Voice call: This method calls the user’s phone number and asks them to enter a code.
  • Security questions: This method asks the user to answer a set of security questions.

The best method for enabling MFA in Azure AD will depend on your specific needs and requirements. However, any of the methods listed above can help to improve the security of your Azure AD environment.

6. Discover and Classify Your Documents Using Azure AIP

Azure Information Protection (AIP) extends the labelling and classification functionality provided by Microsoft 365.

Data classification is an important part of data security as it enables administrators to keep track of what sensitive documents they have, and where they are located.

Additionally, the AIP on-premises scanner enables administrators to scan their on-premises file repositories for sensitive data and classify sensitive data accordingly.

7. Audit Your Azure AD Environment

Azure AD audit reports provide administrators with information about the state of their AD environment. This includes information about sign-in activity, application usage, and any changes that are made affecting sensitive resources.

It will provide a summary of changes relating to users, groups, roles, apps, and policies, as well as inform administrators of any users who have been flagged.

The reporting console will also provide additional information such as the date, time, category, name, initiator, and status of the event, as well as the service that logged the event.

8. Use Microsoft’s Attack Simulator to Identify Vulnerabilities

The Attack simulator, located under Threat management > Attack simulator in the Security & Compliance Center, allows administrators to launch spear phishing campaigns to identify any areas of weakness.

There are two types of spear phishing campaigns that can be initiated. The first is where users are asked to click on a URL in a message.

After clicking on the URL, they will be asked to hand over their credentials and then redirected to a default or custom page, which essentially warns them not to click on suspicious links.

The second comes in the form of a .docx or .pdf attachment, which contains a warning message and information about how to identify suspicious attachments.

In order to create a spear phishing campaign, you need to be a member of the Organization Management or Security Administrator role groups, and you will need multi-factor authentication (MFA) enabled for your account.

9. Secure Your On-Premises Active Directory

While Azure AD provides cloud-based identity and access management, many organizations still maintain on-premises Active Directory (AD) infrastructure. It is crucial to secure your on-premises AD to maintain a robust overall security posture.

Consider implementing the following security measures for your on-premises AD:

  • Regularly apply security updates and patches to address known vulnerabilities.
  • Implement strong password policies and enforce password complexity requirements.
  • Enable and configure account lockout policies to prevent brute-force attacks.
  • Implement a secure network architecture, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and network segmentation.
  • Regularly monitor and audit your on-premises AD for suspicious activities and implement appropriate logging and alerting mechanisms.
  • Consider implementing additional security measures such as Privileged Access Management (PAM) and monitoring solutions to enhance your on-premises AD security.

By securing your on-premises AD, you create a strong foundation for overall identity and access management security, complementing the security measures implemented in Azure AD.

How Lepide Helps Secure Azure AD

Lepide Data Security Platform offers comprehensive security solutions to help secure Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). It provides real-time monitoring, auditing, and alerting capabilities, allowing organizations to track and analyze user activities, changes, and access permissions in Azure AD. With its advanced threat detection and behavior analytics, it can identify suspicious activities and potential security threats, enabling timely response and mitigation.

Lepide Data Security Platform offers visibility of user access rights, helping to spot users with excessive permissions and ensure adherence to the principle of least privilege.

With its robust reporting and compliance features, it helps organizations maintain regulatory compliance and enhance the overall security of their Azure AD environment.

Conclusion

As they say, it is not a question of if, but when, a data breach will occur. This understanding should serve as the keystone for your security strategy.

A zero-trust approach will ensure that you always verify the authenticity of all users and endpoints before allowing them to access a critical resource. You must ensure that you know exactly what sensitive data you have, where it is located and who has (and should have) access to it.

Wherever possible, MFA should be enabled, and you must ensure that users are only allowed access to the resources they absolutely need to fulfil their role. You will need as much visibility as possible into “who, what, where and when”, changes affecting your sensitive data are made, and administrators should receive real-time alerts on all suspicious activity.

Finally, you should have a tried and tested incident response plan (IRP) in place, to ensure that you are able to identify, contain and eradicate data breaches in a fast and efficient manner.

If you’d like to see how Lepide helps organizations improve Azure Active Directory security, with the Lepide Data Security Platform, schedule a demo with one of our engineers or start your free trial today.

Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy

Danny brings over 10 years’ experience in the IT industry to our Leadership team. With award winning success in leading global Pre-Sales and Support teams, coupled with his knowledge and enthusiasm for IT Security solutions, he is here to ensure we deliver market leading products and support to our extensively growing customer base

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