article

How to secure corporate logins ๐Ÿ”

An essential guide for 2022

Jake DowieJake Dowie
5 mins read
Data breaches
involving credentials
61%

The risk of a data breach is something that every business owner fears.

Stolen or hacked user credentials are easily the biggest threat to your company's information assets and one you can't afford to ignore!

Implementing better login security in your corporate environment can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. Strong passwords can be difficult to remember, and users often reuse passwords on multiple sites. However, friction introduced by changes to login security can be the cause of significant user dissatisfaction.

But it needn't be this way.

In this article, we'll describe how we helped one of our clients almost entirely eliminate the threat of breached credentials while increasing user satisfaction.

The entire implementation took less than 2 months to implement, test and roll out. From a userโ€™s point of view, the solution is essentially self-documenting. Very little formal communication with users was required, therefore there was very little disruption.

The IT landscape

We are focused on Windows 10 since these are the most prevalent operating systems in corporate environments but. This approach also enables increased security across other platforms and applications.

In this case, the client was using a combination of commonly used business devices and applications:

Our approach

The approach we took to secure the whole IT environment used 5 key elements of modern authentication:

Single sign-on (SSO)

SSO allows users to access multiple business systems using a single login, reducing the burden of setting up and remembering multiple sets of credentials.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA/2FA)

MFA requires users to have access to multiple sources (factors) before successfully logging in. This significantly reduces the risk associated with a single factor like a password.

Biometrics

Biometric login uses physical characteristics such as fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scans to identify users. It reduces the number of times a user is required to enter their password and allows users to sign in much faster.

Passwordless authentication

As the name suggests, passwordless login allows users to access their accounts without needing to enter a password. Users get a push notification to their mobile device and verify identity with biometrics or a PIN.

Conditional access

Conditional access uses behavioural characteristics such as geolocation, device verification & MFA to grant or deny access to company resources.

Combining these 5 technologies enabled us to increase security across the board while reducing reliance on passwords, leading to increased user satisfaction.

Here's how we did it.

Our solution

To simplify the solution we used a combination of technologies that are already available in many corporate Windows environments.

MFA

MFA is known to be one of the most effective mechanisms to secure login.

Phishing attacks *
ย 
86%from 72%
Increased by14%
Rate of compromise of accounts using MFA **
<1%
* Among UK businesses identifying any breaches or attacks, from 2017 to 2020 - UK Gov - Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2020

So this is the sensible place to start. Whilst it's common to use security questions or security codes delivered by email, SMS or mobile apps, these all involve compromises, ranging from decreased security to lower user satisfaction. Our client needed a solution that was secure and simple to use, so we decided to use passwordless MFA.

We had previously implemented a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution as part of the client IT setup. MDM enables us to monitor and configure mobile and Windows devices. A key element of the MDM solution was the ability to push apps to users' devices which is how we used it in this case. However, MDM certainly isn't a prerequisite to implementing MFA.

We would always recommend the use of password managers to increase password security. However, many clients donโ€™t want to roll- out a dedicated password manager app. There can be a relatively steep learning curve and they are also not always 100% reliable, which can cause challenges, especially among less technically-minded users. Microsoft Authenticator is primarily used for MFA but has seen some really useful developments over the last 12 months enabling it to also be used as a password manager. Whilst this functionality isn't as fully featured as many off-the-shelf solutions it more than compensates for this in simplicity, versus the additional friction of using multiple applications.

SSO

The 2nd element to put in place was SSO. As mentioned, single sign-on centralises login to multiple systems. We wanted users to be able to access multiple systems using the same authentication system.

The mechanism we used to link login to Google Workspace with the Windows login involved linking Azure Active Directory to Google Workspace using SAML. This had other significant benefits. The first was that it allowed automatic provisioning/de-provisioning of users. The second benefit was centralising user setup for both Azure AD and Google Workspace within Azure AD. Finally, it allowed granting only particular users access to Google Workspace.

It's worth mentioning that this doesn't only apply to Google Workspace, there are thousands of other SSO integrations enabled using SAML SSO.

Also, if you haven't yet migrated your user directory to the cloud and your Active Directory is currently on-premises, you can also still use SSO via Azure Active Directory Domain Services (Azure AD DS) to link your on-premise AD implementation to the cloud. This provides you with the same integration options as Azure AD.

Biometric login

We intended to use biometrics for authentication on both Windows laptops and (Android and iPhone) mobile devices when logging into and verifying identity in the Microsoft Authenticator app.

On laptops, we used Windows Hello for Business and leveraged PINs or facial recognition depending on user preference. Fingerprint recognition could just as easily be used if corporate devices have fingerprint readers.

This means that users can (if they choose) unlock their laptops just by looking at them - a significant improvement over having to remember a password.

Passwordless

It was really important in this case to cause as little diruption to users as possible. Passwordless allowed us to not only offset the risk of a data breach by not requiring users to enter a password. It also allowed us to provide a more convenient login experience.

The benefits of passwordless vs using passwords & MFA and just using passwords

Conditional Access

As well as all the other security features described above, conditional access adds yet another layer of security to authentication and authorisation flows. Conditional access rules can be tweaked to meet the needs of a particular organisation.

In this case, we used conditional access with the following rules:

Mandating MFA for all users

All users must go through the MFA process when they log on to use any of the corporate applications. This doesn't mean users are challenged every time they want to use an app, they are only challenged when appropriate, for instance when a particular risk is detected:

Security risk-based access

The risk-based access policy tracks user behaviour and can either block access or require MFA when a login is detected that falls outside of normal usage patterns. This can be very useful if your users' usage patterns are usually relatively predictable. For example, if they don't do a lot of international travel (obviously pretty common these days), or if they don't commonly use anonymous or malicious IP addresses.

Require compliant devices

Our client's mobile devices (laptops, desktops and phones) are setup to use mobile device management (MDM), this validates that devices are in compliance with various security rules and settings.

If access isn't from a compliant device it won't be granted.

Block legacy authentication

Some legacy authentication mechanisms are considered insecure or less secure than they should be.

This rule restricts access to only those mechanisms that are considered secure.

Other conditional access policies

As mentioned, conditional access policies can be tweaked according to your organisation's preference and risk profile. Microsoft has recently released a bunch of templates to make this process even simpler.

It's also possible to use any of these policies in the report-only mode which allows you to track how they'd affect user authentication before implementing them.

As you can see, combining MFA, Passwordless and biometrics significantly simplifies login

Final tweaks

Finally, we pushed a Chrome (and Edge) extension (via MDM), which allows users to access 3rd party cloud applications based on their Windows login.

In this case, it means users can access Google Workspace (or any SSO application) without needing to input their credentials or re-authorise.

Conclusion

There are plenty of 3rd party software vendors that offer similar setups but in this case, we started from the point of the OS (Windows 10) and chose to leverage the power of Microsoft's infrastructure rather than implement the cost and complexity of multiple 3rd party solutions to achieve a similar result.

This entire setup involved no extra costs for the client and significantly increased their security while simultaneously improving users' login experience.

Ready to dive in?

At JDLT, we manage IT systems & build custom software for organisations of all sizes.

Get in touch to see how we can help your organisation.

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