Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) Isn’t Enough Any More in Cloud Environments

Tim Layton
Feb 13 · 4 min read

For high-risk accounts like developers and cloud administrators, MFA is no longer good enough.

It is easy and painless to take the extra step to add conditional policies to these accounts in all of the major public cloud providers (Azure, AWS, Google).

In this article, I will describe conditional policies for Microsoft Azure.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication provides additional security for your identities by requiring two or more elements for full authentication. These elements fall into three categories:

  • Something you know: A password or the answer to a security question.
  • Something you have: A mobile app that receives a notification or a token-generating device.
  • Something you are: Some sort of biometric property such as a fingerprint or face scan used on many mobile devices.

For any type of privileged account in the cloud, it should be standard operating procedure (policy) requiring multi-factor authentication because MFA increases the security of these special identities by limiting the impact of credential exposure. It is far less likely that an attacker would also have possession of the privileged user’s phone which has the second factor token.

Azure AD has multifactor authentication capabilities built in and will integrate with other multifactor authentication providers.

Conditional Access Policies

Along with multi-factor authentication, ensuring that additional requirements are met before granting access adds another and very important layer of protection.

For example, blocking logins from a suspicious IP address, or denying access from devices without malware protection, can limit access from risky sign-ins.

Azure Active Directory provides conditional access policies based on group, location, or device state. The location feature allows your organization to differentiate IP addresses that don’t belong to the network, and it satisfies the security policy to require multifactor authentication from all such locations.

You can create a conditional access policy that requires users who access the application or cloud management plane from an IP address outside the company network to be challenged with multi-factor authentication.

Adding conditional access policies is simple and easy on all major public cloud provider platforms and should be part of your standard security implementation for all cloud environments.

Tim Layton

Tim Layton specializes in demystifying the complexities and technical jargon associated with cloud computing security and risk management for business stakeholders across the enterprise. Tim is a cloud security thought leader defining actionable and defensible strategies to help enterprise stakeholders make risk-based decisions and prioritize investments in the new digital frontier.

Medium: https://timlaytoncloudsecurity.medium.com

LinkedIn: https://LinkedIn.com/In/TimLaytonCyber

COMMON RISK TERMS & DEFINITIONS

Threat: Any circumstance or event with the potential to adversely impact organizational operations (including mission, functions, image, or reputation), organizational assets, individuals, other organizations, or the Nation through an information system via unauthorized access, destruction, disclosure, or modification of information, and/or denial of service. (NIST 800–30)

Threat: potential cause of an unwanted incident, which can result in harm to a system or organization. (ISO 27001)

Vulnerability: Weakness in an information system, system security procedures, internal controls, or implementation that could be exploited by a threat source. (NIST 800–30)

Vulnerability: weakness of an asset or control that can be exploited by one or more threats. (ISO 27001)

Likelihood: A weighted factor based on a subjective analysis of the probability that a given threat is capable of exploiting a given vulnerability or a set of vulnerabilities. (NIST 800–30)

Likelihood: chance of something happening. (ISO 27001)

Risk: A measure of the extent to which an entity is threatened by a potential circumstance or event, and typically a function of (i) the adverse impacts that would arise if the circumstance or event occurs; and (ii) the likelihood of occurrence. (NIST 800–30)

Risk: effect of uncertainty on objectives. (ISO 27001)

Security Controls: The management, operational, and technical controls (i.e., safeguards or countermeasures) prescribed for an information system to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the system and its information. (NIST 800–30)

Compensating Security Control: A management, operational, and/or technical control (i.e., safeguard or countermeasure) employed by an organization in lieu of a recommended security control in the low, moderate, or high baselines that provides equivalent or comparable protection for an information system. (NIST 800–30)

Impact Level: The magnitude of harm that can be expected to result from the consequences of unauthorized disclosure of information, unauthorized modification of information, unauthorized destruction of information, or loss of information or information system availability. (NIST 800–30)

Residual Risk: Portion of risk remaining after security measures have been applied. (NIST 800–30)

Security Posture: The security status of an enterprise’s networks, information, and systems based on information assurance resources (e.g., people, hardware, software, policies) and capabilities in place to manage the defense of the enterprise and to react as the situation changes. (NIST 800–30)

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