Microsoft Entra – The Future of Secure Identity Management and Network Access

Today, organizations are dealing with a growing number of challenges in managing identities and controlling access to their networks. Cybersecurity concerns are on the rise due to the increasing sophistication of malicious actors who target sensitive information. Issues like identity theft, phishing attacks, and credential compromise are significant risks, underscoring the importance of having strong authentication methods. The rise of remote work has expanded the potential points of attack, making it crucial to have secure and seamless access management solutions to prevent unauthorized access to networks.

To tackle these challenges, organizations must implement adaptive security measures to stay ahead of evolving threats. It’s not just about protecting individual identities; it’s also about ensuring the overall security of network access and communication. In today’s landscape, organizations need to focus not only on safeguarding identities but also on securing network access and communication effectively.

In this article we discuss some of the products under Microsoft Entra umbrella that helps organizations implement and govern secure identity and network access and mitigate all kinds of risks in the modern and interconnected world.

Microsoft Entra – beyond identity and access management

Today’s identity and access challenges demand a holistic solution. The interconnected nature of modern systems and the reliance on cloud-based services introduce additional complexities. Organizations face the task of ensuring secure access not only to on-premises resources but also to cloud-based applications and data. A holistic solution must seamlessly integrate with both on-premises and cloud environments, offering a unified approach to identity and access management and network security. Microsoft Entra is a complete solution that can help with all such challenges organizations may have. Let’s discover some of the products it offers.

Microsoft Entra ID (previously Azure Active Directory)

Microsoft Entra ID (previously called Azure Active Directory) assists organizations in securing access to resources and data by implementing strong authentication and real-time, risk-based adaptive access policies, all while ensuring a user-friendly experience. Organizations require a comprehensive Identity and Access (IAM) solution across hybrid and cloud environments that provides security, simplifies user authentication, and enables secure access to resources. This is exactly what Microsoft Entra ID offers. Below there are only some of the rich set of capabilities Microsoft Entra ID offers.

Identity Protection

Microsoft Entra ID Protection aids organizations in identifying, investigating, and addressing identity-based risks. These risks can be seamlessly integrated into tools like Conditional Access for access decisions or fed into a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tool like Microsoft Sentinel for in-depth analysis and correlation.

Microsoft Entra ID Protection provides rich dashboard with comprehensive information like number of attacks blocked, number of users protected, or number of high risk users. Microsoft analyzes trillions of signals per day to prevent customers from identity compromise.

Conditional Access

Conditional Access, a feature of Microsoft Entra ID, enhances security by adding an extra layer of protection before granting access to authenticated users for data or other assets. Policies governing Conditional Access are crafted and overseen within the Microsoft Entra ID platform. These policies analyze various signals, such as user, location, device, application, and risk, to automate decisions for authorizing access to resources like applications and data. At their core, Conditional Access policies can be understood as if-then statements. For instance, a Conditional Access policy may specify that if a user is a member of a particular group, then they must undergo multi-factor authentication when signing in to an application.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Microsoft Entra ID supports a broad range of multi-factor authentication options including phishing-resistant methods like FIDO2 and passkeys.

Multi-factor authentication prevents 99.9% of identity-based attacks. With Microsoft Entra ID it is possible to easily configure and enable MFA for all user accounts.

Microsoft Entra External ID

Managing customer identity is a critical aspect of any business. As customers interact with organizations through various touchpoints such as websites, mobile applications, and social media channels, managing their identities becomes increasingly complex. Ensuring the security of customer data and maintaining trust is essential for customer retention and brand reputation. In this regard, managing customer identity challenges is crucial for businesses to operate successfully. Microsoft Entra External ID is a complete customer identity and access management solution that allows personalizing and securing access to any application for customers and partners. CIAM (Customer Identity and Access Management) capabilities are built into Microsoft Entra ID so we can benefit from platform features like enhanced security, compliance, and scalability. Below there are only some of the rich set of capabilities Microsoft Entra ID offers.

Branded login and registration pages

Microsoft Entra External ID provides the ability to customize the look and feel of login, and registration pages which provides a deeper level of personalization for our customers. Here is an example of the branded login page for our Formula Healthcare demo solution:

It is worth mentioning that it is possible to adjust user attributes that we want to collect during the registration process.

Integration with social accounts

As previously mentioned, customers desire the flexibility to choose their preferred login options. Some may prefer using Facebook, while others may prefer a Google account. Enabling these options in our Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) solution is crucial. Microsoft Entra External ID simplifies this process by providing easy configuration for integrating with popular social identity providers such as Facebook and Google. Once set up, customers can conveniently select their preferred identity on the login page, enhancing their overall authentication experience.

Easy integration with external systems

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is not only about login and registration forms. It is more complex. When implementing a CIAM solution we have to stay compliant with many different kinds of regulations, like GDPR, CCPA, or HIPAA. This is where Microsoft Entra External ID can also help. We can integrate it with existing systems within an organization, like a CMS (Consent Management System). It is possible to call external system during user authentication to exchange some data and also include it in the token issued to the application.

Microsoft Entra Verified ID

In recent times, there has been a significant and widespread discussion surrounding the topics of Decentralized Identity and Verifiable Credentials. They offer a secure, privacy-conscious, and machine-verifiable way to express different types of credentials on the Internet, like driver’s licenses or university degrees. Microsoft Entra Verified ID is a managed service that offers verifiable credentials. Microsoft Entra Verified ID is based on open standards and automates the verification process for identity credentials and facilitates privacy-protected interactions between organizations and users.

With Microsoft Entra Admin Center, we can access the Verified ID service. From there we can configure the service and specify the credentials we want to issue. In the picture above we can see a Verified Employee‘s verifiable credential. It is used by Formula5 (our organization) to verify our employees. We can define custom Verifiable Credentials too and decide which data will be stored within them (like first name, last name, or driving license number).

Microsoft Authenticator is used as a digital wallet where all Verifiable Credentials are stored for a specific user. It is also the way a Verifiable Credential can be presented to a third-party verifier. Microsoft Entra Verified ID provides SDKs and APIs to make it easy to integrate existing solutions with it. We can for instance easily integrate our custom web application with Microsoft Entra Verified ID using APIs to make it possible to issue Verifiable Credentials directly from our application page.

Microsoft Entra ID Governance

Managing user identities, access rights, and entitlements across IT environments to ensure proper access controls, mitigate risk, and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements can be challenging. This is where Microsoft Entra ID Governance can help. It gives organizations the ability to govern the identity lifecycle, access lifecycle, and secure privileged access for administration across employees, business partners and vendors, and across services and applications both on-premises and in clouds.

Below there are only some of the rich set of capabilities Microsoft Entra ID offers.

Lifecycle Workflows

Lifecycle workflows, a new feature in identity governance, allow organizations to efficiently manage Microsoft Entra users by automating three key lifecycle processes:

  1. Joiner: This occurs when an individual first requires access, such as a new employee joining a company.
  2. Mover: This involves individuals moving within an organization, potentially requiring additional access or authorization. For instance, when a user transitions from a role in marketing to a role in the sales department.
  3. Leaver: This stage involves individuals leaving the organization, necessitating the removal of access. Examples include employees retiring or being terminated.

Entitlement Management

Entitlement management is a feature in Microsoft Entra ID Governance that helps organizations efficiently handle the identity and access lifecycle on a large scale. It achieves this by automating workflows for access requests, access assignments, reviews, and expirations. With entitle management in Microsoft Entra we can for instance control who can get access to applications, groups, Teams and SharePoint sites, with multi-stage approval, and ensure users don’t retain access indefinitely through time-limited assignments and recurring access reviews. We can also delegate to non-administrators the ability to create access packages. These access packages contain resources that users can request, and the delegated access package managers can define policies with rules for which users can request, who must approve their access, and when access expires.

Application Provisioning 

Microsoft Entra application provisioning involves the automatic creation of user identities and roles in applications, ensuring users have the necessary access. This process not only establishes user identities but also manages and removes them as roles or statuses change. Typical examples include automatically setting up a Microsoft Entra user in various SaaS applications like Dropbox, Salesforce, ServiceNow, and others.

Let’s look at one more exciting and helpful product – Microsoft Entra Secure Service Edge.

Microsoft Entra Secure Service Edge

The way organizations secure access has changed due to flexible work arrangements and the rapid pace of digital transformation. Traditional network security methods aren’t sufficient for today’s needs; they not only impact user experience but also grant users excessive access to the entire corporate network. A compromised account, infected device, or open port can give attackers access to critical assets. Even with modern access solutions, managing multiple identity and network tools is still necessary. Disconnected tools may miss critical integration points, allowing skilled attackers to exploit gaps between solutions. Organizations need a simpler, more agile approach to protect access to all applications and resources. This is where Microsoft Entra Security Service Edge (SSE) can help.

Microsoft Entra Internet Access and Microsoft Entra Private Access together form Microsoft’s Security Service Edge solution. They are collectively referred to as Global Secure Access. This term unifies both Microsoft Entra Internet Access and Microsoft Entra Private Access in the Microsoft Entra admin center. Global Secure Access follows the core principles of Zero Trust, emphasizing least privilege, explicit verification, and the assumption of a potential breach. Microsoft Entra Internet Access and Microsoft Entra Private Access, along with Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps form a unique solution that combines network, identity, and endpoint access controls. This allows you to secure access to any app or resource, from anywhere. The Global Secure Access products in Microsoft Entra ID streamline access policy management, facilitating access orchestration for employees, business partners, and digital workloads. Organizations have the ability to monitor and adjust user access in real-time, responding to changes in permissions or risk levels. Internet Access and Private Access share the same agent, which is compatible with various operating systems, ensuring consistent connectivity across devices and networks. Organizations can apply unified Conditional Access policies, taking into account identity, device, application, and network conditions, without the need to modify applications, regardless of the Identity Provider (IdP) used.

Microsoft Entra Internet Access

Microsoft Entra Internet Access is a Secure Web Gateway (SWG) that focuses on identity protection for SaaS apps and internet traffic. It safeguards against malicious internet traffic, unsafe or non-compliant content, and other threats from the open Internet. One of the examples can be blocking access to all external destinations for high-risk users or non-compliant devices except self-service password reset pages.

Microsoft Entra Private Access

Microsoft Entra Private Access ensures that organization’s users, whether they are in the office or working remotely, have secure access to your company’s private resources. It leverages the features of Microsoft Entra application proxy and expands access to any private resource, port, and protocol. Remote users can connect to private applications across different environments, including hybrid and multi-cloud setups, private networks, and data centers, using any device and network without the need for a VPN. The service provides per-app adaptive access, guided by Conditional Access policies, offering more detailed and granular security compared to a traditional VPN.

Summary

In summary, Microsoft Entra provides a comprehensive suite of products for the implementation and governance of secure identity and network access.

At Formula5, we firmly believe in the efficiency of Microsoft Entra to assist organizations in deploying modern and secure identity solutions. Our commitment includes substantial investments in both knowledge acquisition and team skill development to effectively support clients on their journey towards identity modernization. Please contact us using this form if you need our help.

Written By

Modern Identity Lead

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