Microsoft 365, formerly Office 365, is one of the most popular productivity suites used today, with SMBs and enterprises alike utilizing Outlook, OneDrive, and Teams as a central hub for users’ work. This increases accessibility and productivity, but it has also made Microsoft 365 a common target for cyberattacks. With everything being stored in one place, it only takes the compromise of one account for a cybercriminal to gain access to all of your business’ data. Therefore, it’s critical to implement effective security measures to ensure all users are legitimate and verified before they’re granted access to company data. One way to do that is with multi-factor authentication.
Microsoft is one of the most impersonated brands globally, with attackers spoofing the vendor’s identity in order to manipulate users into handing over their login credentials. Armed with a user’s Microsoft 365 username and password, a cybercriminal can access corporate data stored in OneDrive, SharePoint, Outlook, and Teams, install malware, and carry out further impersonation attacks within the company to gain access to higher-tier systems.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) for Microsoft 365 prevents this by requiring users to verify their identities via two or more methods before being granted access to their 365 accounts. This is usually via something they know (e.g., a password), something they have (e.g., a hardware token), or something they are (e.g., a fingerprint scan). This means that, even if an attacker manages to steal or crack a user’s password, they won’t be able to access that user’s account without a second factor of authentication—and it’s much harder to steal a fingerprint than it is a password.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best authentication solutions for Microsoft 365. We’ll give you some background information on the provider and the key features of each solution, as well as who they’re best suited for, so you can be certain you’re choosing the best protection for your organization.
Acquired in 2018 by Cisco, Duo is a market-leading multi-factor authentication and zero trust identity security provider. Duo helps organizations secure access to their user accounts by verifying user identities on login. The solution is available in five plans, with versions tailored to small teams right through to large enterprises. Each plan combines risk-based MFA with single sign-on (SSO), and the enterprise-grade versions also include more granular policy configuration.
When a user attempts to sign into their account, Cisco Secure Access by Duo analyzes the login for anomalous behavior such as an unusual login time or location, or unknown device. The more anomalies detected, the riskier the login attempt. If a login is deemed safe, Duo grants the user access; if it’s deemed risky, Duo alerts an admin and requests that the user verifies their identity via a second method of authentication. This could be via a one-time passcode, token, U2F USB device or the Duo “Push” authentication app. Duo also offers SAML 2.0 SSO, which enables users to sign in to all of their corporate accounts and applications using just one set of credentials. This minimizes password fatigue, while making it easier for admins to monitor password security.
Duo is cloud-based and offers hundreds of in-built integrations with other popular cloud applications, including the Microsoft Office 365 suite. From the management console, admins can configure MFA and SSO policies, monitor account access, and generate reports into access security for compliance and auditing needs. We recommend Duo as a strong solution for organizations looking to easily secure access to all their corporate accounts and applications, including Microsoft 365.
ESET is a cybersecurity provider known for their lightweight, user-friendly solutions. ESET Secure Authentication is their two-factor authentication (2FA) solution, which supports a number of authentication methods for users to verify their identities, mitigating the risk of account compromise via credential theft. ESET Secure Authentication helps organizations to protect on-premises applications, web apps and cloud apps, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Dropbox.
ESET Secure Authentication supports authentication via mobile authentication apps, FIDO security keys, hardware tokens and ESET’s own push notifications, which are compatible with Android and iOS systems. This makes it compatible with all users, no matter what device they are working on or from where they are working. ESET offers protection for on-prem, web and cloud applications, but their full-featured API also enables them to protect remote desktop protocols and a number of business VPNs, including Cisco, Citrix and Fortinet. Admins can manage ESET Secure Authentication via a single web-based console, from which they can monitor access attempts, configure authentication policies and generate reports on account security for auditing and compliance purposes.
ESET Secure Authentication is fully cloud-based and, according to ESET, deploys in just ten minutes, regardless of the number of users being onboarded. Because of this, we recommend ESET Secure Authentication not only for small business without a dedicated security team, but also larger enterprises that need to onboard a lot of users quickly. ESET Secure Authentication is a strong solution for any organization looking for unified authentication across all on-prem, web and cloud apps.
HID is a provider of identity and access management solutions to secure both physical and logical assets. Delivered as part of their Identity and Access Management product suite, HID Advanced Multi-Factor Authentication enables organizations to secure access to digital corporate accounts and applications, including the Microsoft Office 365 suite and cloud VPNs.
HID Advanced MFA used a converged credential ecosystem to authenticate access to company accounts. This ecosystem supports a wide range of authentication methods, including push notifications, biometric scans, hardware tokens, PKI-base smartcards and digital certificates. All authentication methods support FIDO and OATH protocols, and the PKI-based smartcards enable physical access as well as logical access. This is particularly useful for hybrid work environments. HID Advanced MFA also gives admins the ability to generate detailed reports on account sign-in and usage, helping to create a comprehensive audit trail and ensure users can only access the parts of the network they need.
Organizations can deploy HID Advanced MFA on-prem or in the cloud, as best fits their existing infrastructure. This not only makes it highly flexible and scalable, but it’s also easy to deploy and onboard users, offering seamless native integrations with Active Directory, Azure AD and Microsoft Office 365. We recommend HID Advanced MFA as a strong solution for mid- to large-sized organizations looking to secure access to corporate applications, as well as physical access to on-site locations.
IBM Security is a trusted enterprise cybersecurity provider that offers solutions for IT infrastructure and management, analytics, and software development. Verify Access, formerly Access Manager, is their user authentication and access management solution designed to secure user logins to on-premises, mobile and cloud applications, including the Microsoft 365 suite. Verify Access offers MFA, SSO, identity analytics and a range of management and configuration options.
With IBM Security Verify Access, users can authenticate using one-time passcodes, email verification, and knowledge-based questions. Admins can also enable passwordless SSO, which allows seamless access to applications such as Microsoft Office 365 via a biometric fingerprint scan. SSO is compatible with desktop and mobile devices, helping to create a unified login experience across all devices and take the friction out of logging in for end users. Admins can configure risk-based authentication policies via the management console, which instructs the risk-scoring engine to analyze each user’s login patterns, including their session activity. Verify Access then scans for—and challenges—anomalous login activity based on this baseline of “normal” activity.
Verify Access secures login attempts from both desktop and mobile devices, thanks to IBM’s companion app for mobile MFA. Admins can configure login policies for mobile authentication based on a user’s geolocation, IP address reputation and application data. This feature may be useful for organizations with a lot of BYOD or hybrid workers. Verify Access offers a range of deployment options, including on-prem, in virtual or hardware appliances, or in Docker containers. We recommend it as a highly customizable and flexible MFA solution for mid- to large enterprises looking to secure access to their Microsoft Office 365 suite via both desktops and mobile devices.
Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory offers its own native multi-factor authentication solution, Microsoft Authentication, to help prevent the compromise of users’ Microsoft 365 accounts. Azure AD supports a wide range of authentication methods and, being a Microsoft product, integrates seamlessly with the 365 application suite, among other common workplace applications.
With Microsoft Authentication, users can verify their identities via SMS and email OTPs, a phone call, or a unique authentication code generated via the Microsoft Authenticator app. To access the app-generated code, users must enter their device’s PIN or complete a biometric scan, adding a further layer of verification to the login. From the Azure portal, admins can enable Microsoft Authentication easily with the in-built security defaults, or configure more granular conditional access policies. These enforce MFA across user and application groups, ensuring that all business levels are protected with the level of security they require. They also include adaptive access policies, which require Microsoft to analyze the risk of each user login and grant or deny access—or request further verification—as per admin configurations.
Microsoft Authentication is extremely easy for organizations using Azure Active Directory to set up; admins simply sign in to the Azure portal and enable MFA across all user accounts. We recommend Microsoft Authentication as a secure solution for SMBs that want to quickly and easily authenticate their users, via a platform that integrates natively with the Microsoft Office 365 application suite.
Okta is a cloud-based identity and access management (IAM) platform that secures user access to business resources via MFA and SSO. Okta Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication is their dedicated MFA solution for business. The solution offers a wealth of out-of-the-box integrations with cloud tools and applications, as well as custom-built applications, helping to ensure a seamless, universal login experience for all users, across all accounts, from all devices.
Okta Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication analyzes the context of each login attempt and assigns that attempt a risk score based on anomalous login activity, such as logging in from an unknown device. If a login is considered risky, Okta prompts the user to provide further verification of their identity. The solution supports authentication via push notifications, biometrics, security questions and one-time passcodes sent via SMS, email and phone call. Okta Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication also features an admin console where security teams can configure access policies and generate a variety of off-the-shelf and custom reports, including real-time system logs. These can be used not only for compliance purposes, but also to give an accurate insight into login trends company-wide to continually improve access policies.
Okta’s solution is fully cloud-based, making it quick and easy to deploy, despite its high level of customizations. Because of the granularity of customizations on offer, we recommend Okta Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication as a strong MFA solution for mid- to large enterprises looking to authenticate user access to their Microsoft Office 365 applications, as well as detailed reporting and policy customization options.
Ping Identity is an identity and access management provider that offers solutions to secure access to cloud applications and user accounts, without compromising the overall login experience. PingOne is Ping Identity’s flagship adaptive—or risk-based—authentication solution, designed to secure access to all corporate applications, including both on-prem apps and cloud apps, like the Microsoft Office 365 suite. PingOne offers MFA, SSO and a comprehensive management console to help admins secure and monitor account access organization-wide.
With PingOne, admins can configure granular adaptive authentication policies for their users and devices. PingOne then uses these policies to assess the risk level of all login attempts. If the platform detects high-risk behaviors, such as logins from an unknown device, PingOne either denies access or requests further ID verification, according to admin policies. If the login isn’t risky, the user is granted access as normal. This prevents account compromise, without adding unnecessary friction to all users’ logins. As well as adaptive MFA, PingOne offers SSO to ensure a universal login experience across all applications, and help minimize password fatigue.
PingOne is a cloud-based solution and integrates seamlessly with Active Directory, making it easy to deploy and onboard users. It’s compatible with mobile devices—as well as desktops—so all users can authenticate safely, no matter what type of device they’re working on. We recommend PingOne as a strong solution for mid- to large organizations looking to prevent the compromise of their Microsoft Office 365 accounts via customizable, adaptive authentication.
RSA is a cybersecurity provider that specializes in account access security and identity verification. Their solution help to mitigate the risk of account compromise, while making the login experience as seamless as possible for end users. RSA SecurID is their MFA solution designed to help admins configure and apply granular, risk-based authentication policies to secure access to corporate applications, including the Microsoft Office 365 suite.
RSA SecurID scans each login attempt for over 100 risk indicators, including payment activity and cross-channel intelligence, and requests further identity verification from users whose login attempts are deemed high risk. The solution supports authentication via SMS one-time passcodes, biometrics, push notification, and hardware and software tokens. Admins can configure which of these methods should be used at both a user and application level to ensure the highest grade of security at all organizational levels. Admins can also enforce secure SSO across all of their custom and third-party applications to minimize password fatigue and create a universal login experience for all users, no matter what data they’re accessing.
Organizations can deploy RSA’s solution either on-premises or in the cloud, as best fits their existing architecture. Smaller organizations with little technical resource may struggle to set up the highly granular policy configurations. However, once set up, these policies ensure that the solution provides high levels of security. For this reason, we recommend RSA SecurID as a strong solution for larger organizations looking to secure access to their Microsoft Office 365 suite, and request different authentication methods at different levels of the business.
SecureAuth is an identity and access management platform that combines MFA, SSO and user lifecycle management to mitigate the risk of account compromise and other credential-related threats. The SecureAuth Identity Platform provides adaptive, risk-based authentication driven by AI analytics, which supports nearly 30 different authentication methods. It also offers in-built SSO, granular configurations, and detailed report generation.
The SecureAuth Identity Platform assigns each login attempt a risk score based on contextual information such as device health, geolocation, user behavior and IP reputation. If, after analysis, a login is considered high risk, the user must verify their identity via another method. The platform supports nearly 30 authentication methods, including OTPs and push notifications, so that organizations can verify all of their users, no matter where they’re working from or what device they’re using. From the management console, admins can configure authentication policies and view reports into login activity company-wide. Policies can be created from scratch, or chosen from SecureAuth’s library of editable templates for faster set-up.
The SecureAuth Identity Platform deploys on-prem, in the cloud, or as a hybrid combination of these options, allowing it to fit any existing architecture. Built with open standard and offering full API integration with existing applications, the platform is highly flexible and easy to deploy. Additionally, users can self-serve their own enrolment, password resets and updates. We recommend SecureAuth’s Identity Platform as a user-friendly, highly customizable authentication solution for any sized organization looking to secure access to their Microsoft Office 365 application suite.
Authy, acquired by cloud comms company Twilio in 2015, is a market-leading two-factor authentication solution popular among consumers, developers and businesses alike. Designed to protect against account compromise while delivering a user-friendly login experience, Authy is easy to set up and use, and offers powerful security for mobile devices as well as desktops. The solution also works offline, enabling users to securely access corporate websites and applications on a mobile device without internet access.
The Authy app generates secure one-time authentication tokens authentication which users can unlock via TouchID, PINs and passwords. This remediates the risk of SIM-swapping attacks associated with the use of SMS or email OTPs, and provides two layers of verification per login attempt. The app is compatible with all iOS, Android and Chrome operating systems, helping organizations to create a unified login experience across their mobile workforce. Admins can remove lost or stolen devices from their subscription for added security, as well as disable future installations of Authy. They can also control which devices users can access their authentication tokens from.
Deployed in the cloud, Authy is very easy to set up and configure. We recommend Authy as a simple yet strong authentication solution for SMBs looking to secure access to their Microsoft Office 365 application suite, and particularly those with a high percentage of mobile devices in their fleet.
What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?
MFA is a security tool that requires users to verify their identities in two or more ways before being granted access to corporate applications, devices, or systems. Users can authenticate using:
- Something they know, e.g., a password.
- Something they have, e.g., a hardware token.
- Something they are, e.g., a fingerprint scan.
What Features Should You Look For In An MFA Solution?
There are five key features you should look for when comparing authentication solutions for Microsoft 365:
- Granular access policy configuration: you should be able to implement conditional access policies at a global, user, and application level.
- Support for multiple authentication methods: by enabling users to choose from multiple different authentication methods, you can ensure streamlined, secure access for all users on all devices.
- Adaptive or risk-based authentication: adaptive authentication analyzes the context of each login attempt for abnormal behaviors and steps up authentication/ alerts admins if suspicious activity is detected.
- Reporting on login activity: you should be able to generate reports into login activity to identify suspicious login attempts and prevent lateral account compromise attacks.
- Integrated single sign-on (SSO): SSO reduces friction and boosts productivity by enabling users to sign in once at the beginning of their session to gain access to their entire suite of corporate applications.