Many experts argue that identity has become the new security perimeter. With the rise of BYOD devices and cloud applications, traditional network perimeters have lost effectiveness. Microsoft Entra ID serves as Microsoft’s solution for cloud-based identity and access management. It brings together directory services, application access management, and identity protection in a single platform. Thus, treating identity as the primary security perimeter is crucial.

Now, let’s explore why this approach is beneficial.

Benefits of making identity the primary security perimeter

1. It reduces the attack surface for organizations by focusing on identity. This is achieved by eliminating the need to secure physical and network perimeters.

2. Treating identity as the primary security perimeter increases visibility and control. It centralizes identity management, allowing organizations to gain insight into all user accounts and activities. This makes it easier to detect and respond to threats.

3. It improves compliance. By implementing robust identity and access management controls, organizations can demonstrate compliance with industry regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Now that you understand the benefits of treating identity as the primary secure perimeter, the next question is: How do you actually do it?

How to treat identity as the primary security perimeter

Centralize identity management: Integrate your on-premises and cloud directories so that you can manage all user accounts from a single location.

In a hybrid environment, streamlining identity management involves integrating your on-premises and cloud directories. This enables your IT team to centrally manage accounts, irrespective of their origin. A recommended approach is to designate a single Microsoft Entra ID instance as the authoritative source for corporate and organizational accounts, enhancing clarity and mitigating security risks.

Enable single sign-on: Allow users to access all of their applications with a single set of credentials.

Managing multiple identity solutions poses an administrative challenge, not only for IT but also for users who must remember multiple passwords.

Facilitate single sign-on (SSO) to devices, apps, and services from anywhere, enabling users to remain productive at any time and from any location. This streamlines access. With Microsoft Entra ID, users can utilize their primary work or school account to access both on-premises and cloud resources, eliminating the need to remember multiple sets of credentials. Application access can be automatically granted based on their organization’s group memberships.

Turn on Conditional Access: Implement policies that restrict access to applications based on factors such as user location, device type, and time of day.

Therefore, as users access resources remotely, merely verifying them is insufficient. Equally important is ensuring that the devices users utilize adhere to your security and compliance standards. Microsoft Entra ID Conditional Access enables you to make access control decisions based on conditions for accessing your cloud apps. A recommended approach is configuring standard policies to manage and control access to corporate resources and to block legacy authentication protocols.

Enforce multi-factor authentication: Require users to provide two or more factors of authentication before they can access applications.

Implementing multi-factor verification enhances the security of user accounts by adding an additional layer of protection. Microsoft provides several options for enabling two-step verification, such as Microsoft Entra ID Security Defaults, Microsoft Entra ID Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), and Risk-based Conditional Access policies. You can even utilize a combination of these solutions for increased safety. For instance, you might configure a Conditional Access policy to detect high-risk factors like a login attempt from an unfamiliar location, prompting a request in Microsoft Authenticator for MFA. Ultimately, it’s essential to select the option that aligns best with your organization’s requirements and licensing program.

Use role-based access control: Grant users only the permissions they need to perform their jobs.

Azure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) facilitates the management of access to Azure resources by assigning permissions to users, groups, and applications. Adhering to the principle of least privilege enables you to limit access according to specific roles and responsibilities. Provide security teams with the requisite permissions to effectively oversee and address risks. Users need appropriate access to fulfill their job responsibilities, with certain actions defined at particular scope levels.

Monitor and audit user activity: Track user activity to detect and respond to suspicious behavior.

By maintaining comprehensive logs, organizations can identify potential security threats, unauthorized access attempts, and unusual patterns of behavior. This proactive approach aids in maintaining compliance and safeguarding organizational systems and data.

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