Blogs, Microsoft

What the Microsoft MFA Changes Mean for Your Business

One of the cornerstone technologies in safeguarding business data and systems is multifactor authentication (MFA). Late last year, Microsoft announced changes to its MFA processes in the way of conditional access, which could have significant implications for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In today’s blog, we’ll explore what MFA is, how the new developments could impact your business, and why seeking outsourced IT support can help you leverage the updated features and enhance overall security. Let’s get into it.

MFA: What Is It and Why Does It Matter to My Business?

Multifactor authentication, or MFA, is a cyber security process that requires users to verify their identity through multiple forms of evidence before granting access to systems or data. You might be most familiar with MFA measures on your email accounts; when you log in on a new device for the first time, you’ll typically be prompted to enter a code (received via SMS or an app) after you’ve entered your password, and it’s only once you’ve done this that you’ll be able to view your inbox.

Though it might seem excessive, this multi-layered approach significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised account access by as much as 99.9%! For businesses, especially SMEs, MFA is crucial as it provides an additional shield that passwords alone cannot offer. Passwords can be compromised through phishing attacks, social engineering, or brute force attacks. However, with MFA, even if a password is stolen, the attacker would still need the second form of authentication, making unpermitted access and data breaches far more challenging.

 

The Changes to Microsoft’s Multifactor Authentication Processes

In line with an ever-changing threat landscape, Microsoft is continuously evolving its security measures to better protect users. One of the most notable changes involves the integration of conditional access policies with MFA. These new measures aim to enhance security by applying more granular and context-aware rules for authentication, instead of stringent, overly broad blanket restrictions. Businesses will be able to create specific criteria under which multifactor authentication is required. For example, access can be restricted based on a user’s location, device compliance, or the sensitivity of the data they’re trying to access.

 

Starting in late 2024 and rolling out through 2025, Microsoft will also implement several additional updates to its MFA processes:

  1. Risk-Based MFA: Microsoft is enhancing its risk-based authentication features. This means MFA prompts will be triggered based on real-time risk assessments, such as unusual login patterns or sign-ins from unfamiliar locations, instead of being automated to occur after certain lengths of time.
  2. Phasing Out Legacy Authentication: Legacy authentication protocols, which don’t support MFA and therefore are more vulnerable to attacks, will be gradually phased out. The push for more standardised high-level defences means businesses will need to ensure their software and tools are compatible with modern authentication methods.
  3. User-Friendly MFA: Improvements are being made to streamline the MFA experience, making it less intrusive for users while maintaining high security levels. This includes enhancements in mobile authenticator apps and biometric authentication options, which will hopefully minimise the current frustrations teams encounter with MFA.

For our current clients using MFA, these changes mean that the legacy scripts we’d implemented – prompting users to set up MFA and disabling accounts without it – no longer run. If your business is one of them, you’ll need to contact us about adding conditional access setup and licensing to your service plan to ensure that MFA continues to be enforced throughout your organisation.

 

Why the Emphasis on Conditional Access?

Microsoft’s focus on conditional access stems from the need to provide more flexible, adaptable security measures. These policies allow for a more nuanced approach to security, enabling businesses to apply different levels of protection based on the risk level of each access attempt. For example, accessing sensitive financial data might always require multifactor authentication, regardless of the user’s usual login behaviour. Accessing less sensitive information, on the other hand, might only prompt MFA if the login attempt is made from an unfamiliar location. This approach not only enhances security but also improves the user experience by reducing unnecessary authorisation prompts.

But conditional policies offer numerous benefits for SMEs beyond just enhanced MFA security:

  1. Customisable Security: SMEs gain the ability to tailor security policies to their specific needs. For instance, an outsourced IT support provider can help set up rules that enforce stricter controls for administrative accounts while allowing more flexibility for the rest of your team.
  2. Improved Compliance: Many industries have strict compliance requirements regarding data security. Improved access controls help SMEs meet these requirements by ensuring that only authorised users can access sensitive information and that access is granted under secure conditions – the principle of least privilege and privileged access management.
  3. Reduced Risk of Data Breaches: By implementing more nuanced access policies, SMEs can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches. Say an employee’s credentials were compromised, but the attacker uses them outside of normal business hours or from an atypical location. The conditional controls can prevent unauthorised access by detecting the unusual login behaviour and demanding additional authentication steps, which an outsider would obviously fail.

 

Conditional Access in Action

To illustrate how these alternative access controls can benefit SMEs, let’s consider a few scenarios:

  • Remote Work Security: With the rise of remote work, conditional controls can ensure that employees working from home or public places are authenticated securely. You could require MFA when your team is signing in from their home network, but never when they’re in the office, providing an additional layer of cyber security without hindering productivity.
  • Sensitive Data Protection: An SME dealing with sensitive customer data can use higher-level access controls to enforce stricter controls. Access to customer records might require multifactor authentication, and any attempt to access this data from a new device or location could trigger an additional security review.
  • Third-Party Access: If an SME works with third-party vendors (like an outsourced IT support team) who need access to their systems, conditional access can help manage and secure this relationship. Policies can be set to allow third-party access only during certain hours or from specific IP addresses, reducing the risk of unauthorised access.

Preparing Your Business for the Transition

As these changes roll out, SMEs seeking a smooth transition should start thinking about the adjustments they’ll need to make to their IT. Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. Review Current Policies and Licenses: Firstly, assess your current authentication and access policies. Identify areas where more modulated access controls could enhance security, or get the experts to advise you on this. It’s also worth checking your existing software licenses to make sure it meets your requirements. An IT team can assist with this, too, advising you of any additional licenses you may require.
  2. Update Systems: Ensure that your IT infrastructure is compatible with modern authentication methods. Phasing out legacy systems may require assistance from an outsourced IT support provider, but it’s important to keep your equipment compatible with the latest, most secure protections.
  3. Train Staff: Educate your employees about the upcoming changes and the importance of multifactor authentication and access controls. Proper training will help them adapt to new security measures smoothly, preventing frustrations and disruptions to their workflows.
  4. Engage with Experts: If you haven’t already implemented MFA, consider partnering with an outsourced IT support provider to do so. They offer valuable expertise in implementing and managing elevated access policies effectively. Their services will likely involve reviewing any licencing requirements pertinent to your business, meeting with you to discuss the implementation process and any other suggestions to optimise your access control policies, and then overseeing their introduction.

Master Microsoft’s MFA Changes

The changes to Microsoft’s multifactor authentication processes and the emphasis on conditional access mark a significant step forward in enhancing security for SMEs. By understanding these changes and preparing early, businesses across the UK can ensure they’re well-protected against evolving cyber threats. Embracing these advanced security measures with the support of outsourced IT experts will help SMEs maintain robust security while improving operational efficiency.

Prodigy IT: Empowering Operational Excellence, No Matter the Circumstances

We’re in the business of helping businesses overcome technological changes and challenges. Our team of experts offer effective outsourced IT support and cyber solutions that empower your team to work more efficiently and securely. Our approach revolves around reducing your business’s vulnerabilities and improving communication, collaboration, and productivity in your everyday processes. To discuss multifactor authentication or conditional access in more detail, get in touch with our friendly crew.