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Microsoft Paves Way for Identity Federation Alternatives in Office Apps

Microsoft recently described how it's enabling different approaches to identity federation with Microsoft Office apps and Office 365 apps via Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) 2.0.

Support for SAML 2.0 in Microsoft's cloud-based Windows Azure Active Directory is facilitating these alternative approaches, Microsoft said in its announcement. The company describes SAML 2.0 as a "commonly used federation standard for user sign-in." It's typically used in so-called "passive authentication scenarios," which happens when a Web form is sent to an end user from an "identity provider" requesting a log-in.

Microsoft's support for SAML 2.0 will help "Office 365 customers who are using an on-premises Identity Provider other than Active Directory," explained Paul Andrew, a technical product manager on Microsoft's Office 365 team, in the announcement.

The SAML 2.0 support has certain requirements. The identity provider has to support "SAML 2.0 with the SP-Lite Profile." In addition, the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LADP) 3 needs to be used. To assure interoperability, Microsoft offers a program, called "Works with Office 365 -- Identity," that certifies the Office 365 federation.

Currently, only Office Web Apps support SAML 2.0 federation for single sign-on capabilities. Microsoft plans to add SAML 2.0 federation support for Microsoft Office desktop applications later this year, according to Andrew.

Until that time, Microsoft Office applications require "active authentication" via the WS-Trust and WS-Federation protocols. Active authentication takes place via Microsoft's Active Directory Federation Services or third-party solutions certified through Microsoft's Works with Office 365 -- Identity program, Andrew explained.

Microsoft is planning to release an update that will add "native multifactor authentication" support to Microsoft Office desktop apps in the near future, although multifactor authentication support for Office 365 apps was rolled out last month. Andrew promised that support for "SAML 2.0 passive authentication from Office desktop applications" also will be enabled when Microsoft issues that update sometime "later in 2014."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.