Office 365 and Multi-Factor Authentication

Cloud Services, rightly, throw up a number of questions around security and Microsoft always seem to be making improvements to the, already substantial, security of Office 365.

A recent one is the availability of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for all Office 365 users. This has been available for admins since June 2013 but has now rolled out across the board.

With Multi-Factor Authentication for Office 365, users are required to acknowledge a phone call, text message, or an app notification on their smartphone after correctly entering their password. Only after this second authentication factor has been satisfied can a user sign in.

This will be very similar to the process already in place for Microsoft Accounts, when you sign into a new device and you receive a confirmation text.

Admins can set MFA for some/all users in the admin console, as you’d expect.

The second authentication factor options are:

  • Call my mobile
  • Text my mobile
  • Call my Office phone
  • Notify me through app
  • Show one-time code in app

Currently this isn’t available with the desktop apps of Office 2013 so MS have introduced App Passwords to help increase the security here.

Once an information worker has logged in with multi-factor authentication, they will be able to create one or more App Passwords for use in Office client applications. An App Password is a 16-character randomly generated password that can be used with an Office client application as a way of increasing security in lieu of the second authentication factor.


It’s interesting to see that Microsoft are continuing to invest in MFA with Office desktop applications, and so App Passwords will be only a temporary method.

We’re planning to add native multi-factor authentication for applications such as Outlook, Lync, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PowerShell, and OneDrive for Business, with a release date planned for later in 2014. This update includes the current phone-based multi-factor authentication, and it adds capability to integrate other forms of authentication such as: third-party multi-factor authentication solutions and smart cards.

Multi Factor Authentication with desktop apps isn’t something I’ve really though about to be honest, but as ever more data is accessed via Office and desktops, it certainly makes sense.

Read more about Office 365 & MFA here:

Forefront Product Cull

Microsoft are discontinuing a number of their Forefront security products:

  • Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server (FPE)
  • Forefront Protection 2010 for SharePoint (FPSP)
  • Forefront Security for Office Communications Server (FSOCS)
  • Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010 (TMG)
  • Forefront Threat Management Gateway Web Protection Services (TMG WPS)
  • There will be no further releases of these products and “Forefront Online Protection for Exchange” AKA “FOPE” will, from the next release be known as, “Exchange Online Protection”.

    Additionally, “basic malware protection” is being added to Exchange 2013, although this can be “easily turned off, replaced, or paired with other services”.

    Both Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) & Unified Access Gateway (UAG) are continuing to be actively developed.

    The full Microsoft post is here:

    Microsoft Windows Intune: Online Systems Management

    Microsoft Windows InTune is the new Cloud based systems management tool from Microsoft, formerly known as “System Center Online” and has been long awaited. The ability to manage multiple locations/organizations from one central, online point is attractive to a lot of people for a lot of reasons…so let’s take a look @ InTune.

    There are at least 10 sections inside InTune so I’m going to cover them in a number of posts, we’ll start with – System Overview:



    This is the first screen you see when you log in to the Windows InTune Admin Console and it immediately gives you a great overview of yours systems. It shows:

    • If Machines are infected/unprotected
    • If there are updates for your machines
    • A number of other alerts

    Malware Protection:

    From here you can see which machines have Malware protection turned off completely and also if they have overdue scans or specific parts of the protection, such as USB device scanning, turned off.

    1 click takes you to a list of machines, from where you can turn on protection.


    This, not surprisingly, gives you a list of all the updates that are available for you machines be they for the OS or applications.

    One issue with this is that, as default, it shows you ALL possible updates:


    however, these can easily be filtered:



    Another problem I have noticed is that it wants to give my laptop updates for Office 2007, as well as Office 2010; oddly, this doesn’t happen with my other 2010 machines. I had a number of issues when upgrading Office versions and I’m inclined to believe that there are some Office 2007 remnants on the machine that are being picked up by Intune.

    Should you choose to approve an update for a machine/machines, you then reach this screen:


    Choose the groups on which you want to install the updates, click approve and job done!

    I feel it would be a smoother experience and require less clicks, if you could see the machine names on the same screen as all the updates. Currently, you must:

    • Select the update
    • click on “x computers need this update”
    • Check the groups/machines
    • Go back to the previous screen
    • Approve Update

    Showing the machines names/groups on the initial screen would remove a lot of that.

    You can also access the updates via the individual machine screen, I’ll cover that in a later post.

    Alerts by Type:

    This section, as well as the above, also includes other types of alerts…not just updates and malware. This is where InTune starts to differentiate itself from other products, for example:


    If I click through, it tell me:


    That is pretty cool, and something that is very useful for System Admins. I didn’t expect InTune to cover things like this, certainly not in the beta, so I’m pleasantly surprised Smile However, you can’t initiate the defrag from InTune.

    The 2 options on the right hand side “Create Computer Group” and “View a Report” will be covered in later posts.


    This is a brief look at just the first screen of Microsoft Windows InTune but I’m sure you will agree that it already looks very interesting. So stay tuned for the remaining posts in this series (at least 9!) and ask any questions you may have in the comments Smile



    Microsoft BitLocker & Security

    BitLocker is Microsoft’s drive encryption software that first appeared in Vista and now Windows 7, along with Bitlocker to Go for USB devices. Having Hard drive and USB drive encryption built into the desktop OS is a great idea, as it reduces the cost & complexity barriers for companies looking to adopt better security practices.

    Recently, a story came out that Bitlocker had been “broken” and that a commercially available tool was now able to bypass the security (I saw this on Ars Technica but I’m sure many other places reported it too). When I saw the headline I thought “Oh sh*t…that’s a fly in the old ointment ain’t it?” (don’t ask me why I was thinking in that style of voice!) but then I read the article and saw this gem in the 1st paragraph:

    “It scans a physical memory image file of the target computer and extracts all the encryption keys for a given BitLocker disk.”

    So this requires the machine to be “hot” i.e. on…as soon as it’s turned off, the memory is dumped and it’s ok…not exactly crack of the century is it?! :-) Plus most, if not all encryption offerings from TrueCrypt, PGP etc are vulnerable to this…

    The vast majority of comments on Ars Technica saw this for the ineffectual non-story that it was:




    although there were of course a few people who took this as a chance to point out that Linux was better that Microsoft and all proprietary software evil…but that’s nothing new!

    Ars Technica have made an update to the article saying:

    “this isn’t exactly a "crack" for BitLocker”

    but it doesn’t really show, in my opinion at least, how pointless the story was and doesn’t re-assure that BitLocker is jsut as safe as people thought it was.

    Paul Cooke of the Windows Blog team has a great post all about BitLocker and these recent claims here:

    Microsoft Black Screen of Death

    Recently, a new buzz phrase has risen up…”Black Screen of Death”. Supposedly Microsoft’s latest updates for November have been causing user’s machines to boot up into blackness with no system tray, side bar, desktop etc. The cause, according to PRevX, is that the registry key:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Shell key

    was being edited.

    This issue was brought to light by security firm PrevX, who said “millions” of people have been affected. However, actually finding someone who’d experienced one has proved very difficult…even on Twitter and the internet at large. This was strange but it didn’t stop it becoming the #1 story on the BBC site today and starting to become quite a talking topic. Microsoft have just released a statement about this saying:

    “We’ve investigated these reports and found that our November Security Updates are not making changes to the system that these reports say are responsible for these issues…Thus, we don’t believe the updates are related to the “black screen” behaviour described in these reports.”

    As the information and issues weren’t given directly to Microsoft, they are unable to give a definite answer as to what is causing the problem. However, the important thing is to reassure users that Microsoft Updates are safe and should still be applied regularly as normal.

    You can see the full MS statement here:



    It is still an odd state of affairs as PrevX are a reputable company with some great technology that has really helped me, and our customers, out of some sticky situations. So it’s unlikely that they’d just make it up but perhaps almost as unlikely that they’d be this wrong about something they’ve publicised so much. On the other hand, it’s even less likely that Microsoft would be wrong! So where does that leave us? To be honest I’m not sure…could it be that they’re both right?

    MS note that “Black Screens” can be caused by the “Daonol” family of Malware…but “Black Screens” are known in Windows…as this Wikipedia page shows.


    A Windows 3.0 BlSOD error message.

    Maybe if you have a machine infected with certain Malware AND you do the updates, then the “BlSOD” is triggered?

    I honestly don’t know but I’m intrigued to learn more and see how this case is solved!

    Update: They’ve Apologised

    PrevX have released a statement on their blog confirming Microsoft’s statement that the November updates from MS did NOT cause the Black Screen of Death.

    “Having narrowed down a specific trigger for this condition we’ve done quite a bit of testing and re-testing on the recent Windows patches including KB976098 and KB915597 as referred to in our previous blog. Since more specifically narrowing down the cause we have been able to exonerate these patches from being a contributory factor.” (Bold mine)

    You can read their full statement here:

    Thanks to @Jamestutt for letting me know