Since last year, Microsoft has held a free traveling conference called the Microsoft Tech Summit where industry members can learn about Microsoft’s newest products and services. These summits are essentially a subset of talks given at Microsoft’s Ignite conference. This year, Microsoft struck a different tone by focusing heavily on security as companies become increasingly hybrid cloud enterprises while also focusing on their newest data and cognitive service platforms.
One Microsoft product that almost everyone has experienced in some way is Active Directory Domain Services (ADDS). Any time you log into a work PC, chances are high that you are interacting with ADDS in some fashion. Most enterprises use ADDS to validate the usernames and passwords you use to log in at work. This helps companies ensure that only authorized people are accessing their corporate resources.
Now, Microsoft is saying that it’s simply not enough to rely on ADDS to authenticate employees. Hackers have been able to compromise many organizations that rely on simple username-password combinations through methods like social engineering, password lists, and even just by looking for a post-it note someone left under their keyboard. This is driving a huge push from Microsoft to get users using Azure Active Directory (AAD), even if organizations only use it supplement their on-premises domain.
AAD is free to use and offers numerous security features that can reduce an organization’s attack surface from “everyone in the world with the right password” to only your company’s employees. The simplest of which is multifactor authentication (MFA). By simply requiring users to have a trusted device or reply to a text message when they sign in to your business productivity applications, your confidence in successful logon events becomes much greater, and it is easier to pick out fraudulent, risky, or impossible sign-ins. Companies can even region-lock their sign-ins. If only people in the US should be signing into your applications, blocking international sign-ins is an easy way to reduce your attack surface.
Cognitive Services and AI
Artificial intelligence is a broad, hard to define, and sometimes hard to understand topic. That’s why Microsoft gets so excited when they talk about their Cognitive Services products and AI platform. Using the nearly limitless compute and storage potential of Azure, Microsoft has made things like image recognition, sentiment recognition, language recognition, and other machine learning tasks truly easy to start using in applications.
Let’s say you run a moderately sized blog site, and you let users post pictures and comments. Instead of having to manually review user-submitted content to look for inappropriate themes, you could submit that content to Azure. Azure would score that content using AI and give you immediate feedback on whether that content is something you want on your site. Many of these services are even free to use up to a certain number of requests.
Companies are becoming highly cloud focused as the years go by. Although this paradigm shift to cloud computing comes with new security challenges, Microsoft is trying to provide modern businesses with the tools they need to keep their information secure. That same information is being given new meaning thanks to AI. I expect we will continue to see Microsoft invest in Azure’s data platforms and ways to interpret that data in the years to come.