The big themes from Microsoft Ignite, March 2021: Part 3, Security for all

This is part 3 of a series of articles on the key themes from Microsoft Ignite, March 2021:

This keynote kicked off with Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Security, Compliance and Identity, Vasu Jakkal.

Session Link

Microsoft want to make our digital world safe for everyone by providing security that reflects, empowers and includes everyone. When Microsoft says security for all it really means all:

  • All organisations, big and small
  • All your data
  • All clouds (Azure, AWS, GCP etc)
  • All your people (wherever they are)
  • All your devices and platforms
  • All the risks you face
  • All the opportunities ahead
Vasu describes Microsoft’s combined approach to Security, Compliance, Identity & Management

As always, there is an evolving threat landscape. Microsoft gather over 8 trillion security signals a day and have seen an increase in cybercrime, ransomware and nation state attacks. These have been led by attacks emanating from Russia, but also Iran, North Korea and China. Microsoft produced a Digital Defence Report in September 2020 that describes the current threat intelligence landscape and provides guidance and insights from experts, practitioners, and defenders at Microsoft.

Solorigate was an incredibly sophisticated nation state attack that targeted the SolarWinds Orion software. FireEye found it and asked Microsoft to help investigate. Using the 8 trillion signals they could find the traces/footprints and then could highlight it to customers. Microsoft don’t just sell security software or respond to threats, it is working to reduce digital crimes, disrupt botnets and nation state actors. You can read more about Microsoft’s analysis of Solorigate/NOBELIUM on its security blog.

Microsoft take a combined approach to Security, Compliance, Identity and Management. This combined approach reduces risk when compared to managing these elements in silos. The services they provide are designed not to slow people down or stifle business innovation and are designed around their zero trust principles:

  • Verify explicitly. Always authenticate and authorise based on the available data points, including user identity, location, device, service or workload, data classification, and anomalies.
  • Least privileged access. Limit user access with just-in-time and just-enough access (JIT/JEA), risk-based adaptive policies, and data protection to protect both data and productivity.
  • Assume breach. Segment access by network, user, devices, and application. Use encryption to protect data, and use analytics to get visibility, detect threats, and improve your security.

Microsoft have a great 30 minute module on its free Microsoft Learn platform that goes into zero trust and other fundamental security concepts: Describe the concepts of security, compliance, and identity.

Identity is the first line of defence. Passwords are still the weakest link in any application and Microsoft are encouraging organisations to “go passwordless”. 200 million customers are already signing in with work or Microsoft accounts without passwords, instead using Windows Hello, Microsoft Authenticator and FIDO2 keys. Microsoft announced a couple of new features for Azure Active Directory.

  • Conditional Access is getting even smarter by having authentication context (now in public preview). This allows even more granular policies at the application level, e.g. a Conditional Access policy for Outlook may allow users to log in and send an email but won’t let them download a file.
  • Passwordless Authentication has left the preview stage and is now generally available.
  • The new Temporary Access Pass feature is in public preview. This removes the need for passwords even in a lockout/reset scenario.
  • See even more identity announcements from Ignite on the Microsoft Security blog.

Complexity of apps and infrastructure causes risks like Solorigate. Fragmentation between different security tools introduces risk that a key signal could be dropped or misinterpreted between them. Azure Sentinel and Microsoft Defender aims to unify all security services from a consistent well integrated management plane.

Sentinel and Microsoft Defender work hand in hand

Sentinel is now a leader in the Forrester Wave for Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) and is the world’s only cloud-native SIEM. Organisations that have tried and failed to introduce SIEM tools in the past have often cited costs and alert fatigue as issues. Forrester found Sentinel is 47% lower cost than legacy SIEMs and reduces 78% more false positives. At this Ignite, Microsoft announced 30 new connectors for Sentinel including Salesforce, Cisco Umbrella and VMWare. A new integration milestone has also been reached between Defender and Sentinel, they now share incident views, schema and integrated UX w (note the highlighted product name in the screenshot). Clicking “investigate” jumps you into the Defender portal.

Increased integration between Defender & Sentinel

Microsoft also launched new Threat Analytics as part of M365 Defender. This service delivers curated threat intelligence reports from expert Microsoft security researchers – highlighting risks like the Solorigate attack, describes what they are, insight to whether they are threats in your environment, and how to mitigate against them.

Of course, information risks don’t always come from the outside-in but also from the inside-out. Microsoft is extending its compliance capabilities out to 3rd parties. They also announced some new functionality:

  • Microsoft Information Protection – you can now co-edit while a document stays encrypted, even across different operating systems like Word for Mac and Windows.
  • Data Loss Prevention – DLP policies can now be set for the new Microsoft Edge browser and they are extending this to also cover Google Chrome too
  • Purview – Scan and classify data in AWS S3 buckets and other Azure connected data sources. This allows you to scan and label data in the M365 Compliance Center and then use Purview to get a holistic view of that data
Using MIP sensitivity labels on Azure databases

The final announcement was on new Insider Risk Management Analytics. With one click you can scan tenant audit logs to discover potential risky activity. It will also provide insights to help you customise your info risk policies to better meet your needs.

Risky business

My key takeaway from this session is that improving an organisation’s security posture is a journey. As the risks keep evolving, so must your security practices. Microsoft takes security very seriously and I feel like I can trust them to do a fantastic job of keeping its services secure but it is a shared responsibility with each organisation to do their part in protecting their employees and information. Resiliency is often themed around backups, high availability and disaster recovery but I see increasing your layers of security as another key pillar to that.

Microsoft ended this session with a call to action:

  1. Protect your identities – use MFA
  2. Manage your device health – keep them current
  3. Assess your security posture – review and understand your secure score
  4. Strengthen your compliance posture – with Compliance Manager
  5. Get your security certification – 4 new exams for security

I can’t agree more, remember, progress is better than perfection and increasing security is all about adding those extra layers where you can.

To go some way towards my own personal journey for step 5 above, I recently completed the free Microsoft Learn course on Security, Compliance and Identity Fundamentals which helped me to pass exam SC-900 and get certified. The course itself (like most of the “fundamentals” series) is a fantastic way to get to grips with all the different services and features on offer, in a way I find easier to understand than just diving straight into the official documentation

I passed 🙂

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