Microsoft is making Windows Azure tougher to crack, alleviating the security concerns for businesses that are on the fence about its cloud platform.
Steven Martin, general manager for Windows Azure, described identity and access management as an "anchor for security and top of mind for enterprise IT departments" in a Sept. 26 blog post. He added that Microsoft was "pleased to announce the general availability of Windows Azure multifactor authentication," enabling IT departments and end users to securely access data stored on Microsoft's cloud.
Recent security breaches have made businesses think twice about keeping their data on third-party clouds. Last year, a high-profile security breach at Dropbox, the popular online storage service, prompted the service to tighten up its procedures and offer two-factor authentication.
Multifactor authentication hardens applications and cloud-based services by going a step beyond passwords. For example, an increasingly common method of locking down mobile and Web banking apps when unusual activity is suspected is to require customers to enter an additional code that is delivered to their mobile phones via Short Message Service (SMS) communications.
The messaging technology featured prominently Azure's earlier foray into multifactor authentication.
In June, the company rolled out Active Authentication for Windows Azure Active Directory. The measure helped lay the groundwork for "secure access to Office 365, Windows Azure, Windows Intune, Dynamics CRM Online and many other apps that are integrated with Windows Azure AD," announced Windows Azure Director Sarah Fender on June 12.
Active Authentication is based on technology from mobile security provider PhoneFactor, which Microsoft snapped up in 2012. "The acquisition of PhoneFactor will help Microsoft bring effective and easy-to-use multifactor authentication to our cloud services and on-premise applications," Microsoft's Bharat Shah, corporate vice president for the Server and Tools Division, said in company remarks.
Now, the company is delivering on at least the cloud part of its vision. "Multifactor authentication quickly enables an additional layer of security for users signing in from around the globe," wrote Martin. Along with traditional username and password combos, he added that users can now authenticate by using a mobile app, via an automated voice call or with a text message containing a passcode.
Windows Azure multifactor authentication can be used as an extra layer of security for "Windows Azure, Office 365, Intune, Dynamics CRM and any third-party cloud service that supports Windows Azure Active Directory," in addition to custom applications, noted Microsoft General Manager Scott Guthrie on his blog.
On-premise scenarios are also supported. "You can optionally download our new Multi-Factor Authentication Server for Windows Server Active Directory and use it to protect on-premise applications as well," stated Guthrie.
Per user and per authentication billing options are available. Under a pay-as-you-go plan, prices are $2 per month per user for unlimited authentications or $2 per 10 authentications. Subscription pricing (6 or 12-month plan) ranges from $1.36 to $1.60 per month per user for unlimited authentications, or $1.36 to $1.60 per 10 authentications. Microsoft is currently offering half-off promotional pricing until Oct. 31.