Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Microsoft acquires two factor provider

One of the criticisms levelled at Office 365 is that it doesn’t easily support two factor authentication. Basically this means that when you log into a system with an id and password you require another form of identification to gain access. This second factor is normally provided by a token that generates a number you enter during login.
Two factor provides an much greater level of security because it means that anyone trying to access your system need more than just a password (which could be captured by a key logged on a PC you are using). A good example of this is the PayPal security key that I have blogged about previously.

When you access PayPal you are asked for the security key number that appears when you press the key. So without this physical key you can’t gain access to PayPal services.
Now this is all well and good if you always remember to have your security key with you. But what happens if you don’t and you need to access your system? The solution is to use a software token. That is a piece of software on a device you have with you (a tablet or mobile for example) that allows you to generate the required key. A great example of this is Google Authenticator which I use with all my Google accounts as well as Lastpass. If I need to access my Google information or retrieve a password from Lastpass I simply run the Google Authenticator program on my iPad and enter the number it provides (along with my password and id) to gain access.
Even something as simple as Google Authenticator can prove technically challenging for some, so a final option is to use an SMS text message to provide the required key. As I mentioned, Microsoft has been a little late to the game but that should all change now that they have acquired Phonefactor.

Hopefully we’ll soon be able to use two factor authentication with Office 365 to provide additional security and overcome the tendency for users to implement poor passwords. It also looks like you’ll be able to use these with on premise Microsoft software but I reckon it’ll come to the cloud first.
I’ll keep my eyes peeled for when it becomes available and let you know.