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In the midst of businesses beefing up their digital security in the wake of rising cyber threats, Microsoft has announced new additions for its authenticator app (Android, iOS) and Office 365 to help customers make sure that the right personnel are getting access to their systems. Now, companies using Microsoft's Azure Active Directory can set up the authenticator to verify access, and new security tools are being built into Office 365.

These announcements come as part of Microsoft's annual Ignite conference happening now in Orlando, Florida.

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Skipping passwords with Microsoft's authenticator app

If you work for a medium- or large-size business, your IT department is probably making you periodically change the password that you use to log into your company laptop or desktop PC. Meanwhile, this login procedure can't really benefit from a password manager, which would ordinarily generate a strong password for you that you could just paste right in.

The result is that you need a password that's relatively short and easy to remember -- which is exactly the kind of thing that a hacker looks for when trying to break into a network. Microsoft's authenticator app, however, lets you skip your password entry by tapping on a confirmation prompt on your phone; you verify your identity once in the app to get it set up properly, and then you don't need to re-enter your password again.

Google has offered password-free logins for sometime, using the same system. You just enter your email address, then Google sends a confirmation prompt to your phone, where you verified your ID beforehand. Just tap the Yes button, and you're in. You can set that up in your My Account settings in a few minutes.

(However, if this is a business Gmail account, then your system administrator may block this login option in favor of a third-party tool.)

By integrating this system for Microsoft's Azure customers, cyber attacks could be much less successful; hackers now need physical access to your pre-authorized devices if they want to break into your account.

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Enhanced security for Office 365 customers

In an Ignite-related blog entry today, Microsoft corporate vice president of security Rob Lefferts describes the company's Secure Score system as "the only enterprise-class dynamic report card for cybersecurity," and it's now coming to Office 365, which is the subscription version of the Microsoft Office productivity suite.

This system provides users "assessments and recommendations that typically reduce their chance of a breach by 30-fold." The chief example put forward is instructing users on how to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), which is an umbrella term for tools that include the Microsoft Authenticator mobile app.

Secure score is also coming to "hybrid cloud workloads in the Azure Security Center," which ties the new Office 365 security enhancements to the expansion of Microsoft Authenticator to Azure business users. Lefferts says that this will give admins "full visibility across your estate."

Last but not least, company admins of Office 365 will also be getting access to Microsoft Threat Protection, "an integrated experience for detection, investigation, and remediation across endpoints, email, documents, identity, and infrastructure in the Microsoft 365 admin console."

Lefferts says that Threat Protection can automate a number of "mundane" security tasks and potentially save "thousands of hours" that they could instead put to work on projects that require hands-on expertise.

The takeaways

  • Microsoft has announced that its Authenticator app will become available for customers of its Azure cloud compute service, and that Office 365 is getting Threat Protection to help block hackers and limit their damage.
  • With the Authenticator app, you can skip entering your password and just tap on a prompt to confirm that you want to log in. This can help reduce support tickets for people who have difficulty remembering complex passwords, and improve security when passwords are weak.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.