Microsoft Delivers Multi-Factor Authentication to Windows Azure

Microsoft on Thursday launched its Windows Azure-based multi-factor authentication product, previously code-named "Active Authentication" in its preview phase.

The Windows Azure Multi-Factor Authentication product is an additional security measure to validate the identity of end users. A secondary-authentication process gets initiated typically via an automated phone call to a mobile device or via a text message requiring a password. Microsoft also offers applications for smartphones and tablets running Android, iOS or Windows Phone operating systems that IT pros can use to send authentication push notifications. The notifications get sent after users log onto a computing environment.

The new multi-factor authentication service works with Microsoft's cloud services, including Windows Azure, Office 365, Windows Intune and Dynamics CRM Online. The service also works with "any application you are using in another cloud," according to Alex Simons, director of program management for Active Directory, in Microsoft's announcement. However, he didn't provide any specific details. There is also a premises-based multi-factor authentication solution for Windows Server that's called the "Windows Azure Multi-Factor Authentication Server."

The server version gets installed by downloading it through the Windows Azure Management Portal. It can be configured to work with an organization's virtual private networks and remote access gateways using RADIUS, LDAP or IIS. Multi-factor authentication can be added to Web sites using IIS, as enabled via forms or HTTP authentication. Windows Azure Multi-Factor Authentication works with Terminal Services implementations, too. The server version, although premises based, still uses Microsoft's cloud to deliver multi-factor authentication messages to end users, according to a Microsoft Channel 9 video description.

The general availability release of the product comes at a price, as described at this page. Windows Azure Multi-Factor Authentication is subscription based and billed monthly, either on a per-user basis for every user authenticated at $2 per month or on a per-authentication basis that's sold in blocks of 10 authentications at $2 per month. The prices go into effect on Nov. 1. Microsoft added a cautionary note that once one of the subscription plans is set up, organizations can't switch between the two billing models.

The per-user plan might be used by organizations with "a fixed number of employees who authenticate regularly." The per-authentication plan might be for organizations with "a large group of external users who authenticate infrequently," according to TechNet library article. It costs extra to get technical support, but Microsoft has a no-cost TechNet support page here.

Microsoft also released a software development kit that allows developers to build the multi-factor authentication process into an application's sign-in process. The kit allows developers to tap an existing database of users.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.