Microsoft Security: Use baseline default tools to accelerate your security career

I wrote a series of blogs last year on how gamified learning through cyber ranges can create more realistic and impactful cybersecurity learning experiences and help attract tomorrow’s security workforce. With the global talent shortage in this field, we need to work harder to bring people into the field. This blog is for new cyber professionals or perhaps younger aspirants considering getting into cyber. From an employee’s perspective, it can seem daunting to know where to start, especially when you’re entering an organization with established technology investments, priorities, and practices. Having come to this field later in my career than others, I say from experience that we need to do a better job collectively in providing realistic and interesting role-based learning, paths toward the right certifications and endorsements, and more definitive opportunities to advance one’s career.

I’m still a big fan of gamified learning, but if gaming isn’t your thing, then another way to acquire important baseline learning is to look at simpler, more proactive management tools that up-level different tasks and make your work more efficient. Microsoft has recently released two important cloud security posture management tools that can help a newer employee quickly grasp basic yet critically important security concepts AND show immediate value to your employer. They’re intuitive to learn and deserve more attention.  I’m talking about Azure Security Defaults and Microsoft Secure Score (also including Azure Secure Score). While tools like these don’t typically roll off the tongue, and your experience won’t grab you like an immersive gaming UI, their purpose-built capabilities that focus on commonly-accepted cyber hygiene best practices reinforce solid foundational practices that are no less important than SecOps, incident response, or forensics and hunting. Learning how to use these tools can make you a champion and influencer, and we encourage you to learn more below. These capabilities are also built directly into our larger Azure and M365 services, so by using built-in tools, you’ll help your organization maximize its investments in our technologies and help save money and reduce complexity in your environment.

Azure Security Defaults is named for what it does—setting often overlooked defaults. With one click, you automatically enable several foundational security controls that if left unaddressed are convenient and time-tested targets for attackers to go after your organization. One question that I frequently receive is why Microsoft doesn’t simply pre-configure these settings by default and force customers to turn them off. Several large, high-threat customers have asked specifically that we do that. It’s tempting, but until or unless we make such a move, this is a great self-service add-on. As explained in this blog, ASD does the following:

  • Requires all users to register for Azure Multi-Factor Authentication.
  • Requires admins to perform MFA.
  • Blocks legacy authentication protocols.
  • Requires users to perform MFA when necessary.
  • Protects privileged activities to access the Azure Portal.

A recent important addition to ASD is that Microsoft announced on August 12th that ASD is now also available through Azure Security Center. This is an important and beneficial addition in that it adds another opportunity for your IT organization—whether identity and access management, or security operations—to implement the defaults. I’ve noticed on several occasions when briefing or providing a demo on Azure Security Center to a CISO team that a challenge in effectively using this service may come down to organizational issues, specifically, Who OWNS it?  Is ASC a CISO tool? Regardless of who may own the responsibility, we want to provide the capability upfront.

MICROSOFT SECURE SCORE is a relatively new feature that is designed to quantify your security posture based on how you configure your Microsoft resources. What’s cool and impactful about it is that it provides in a convenient top-down meu approach the relative approach your organization has taken compared (anonymously) with your industry segment’s peers (given in many cases similar reference architectures), and provides clear recommendations for what you can do to improve your score. From a Microsoft perspective, this is what we’d say all carrot and no stick. Though as covered above we provide Azure Security Defaults, customers are still on point to make a proactive decision to implement controls based on your particular work culture, compliance requirements, priorities, and business needs. Take a look at how it works:

This convenient landing page provides an all-up view into the current state of your organization’s security posture, with specific recommendations to improve certain configuration settings based on an art-of-the-possible. In this demo example, if you were to turn enable every security control to its highest level, your score would be 124, as opposed to the current score of 32, for a percentage of 25.81. Looking to the right of the screen, you get a sense of comparison against peer organizations. You can further break down your score by categories such as identity, data, device, apps, and infrastructure; this in turn gives a security or compliance team the opportunity to collaborate with hands-on teams that control those specific resources and who might be operating in silos, not necessarily focused on security postures of their counterparts.

An image of Microsoft Secure Score.

Azure Secure Score

You’ll also find Secure Score in the Azure Security Center blade where it provides recommendations front and center, and a color-coded circular graph on important hybrid infrastructure configurations and hygiene.

An image of Secure Score in the Azure Security Center.

Drilling deeper, here we see a variety of recommendations to address specific findings.  For example, the top line item is advice to ‘remediate vulnerabilities’, indicating that 35 of 59 resources that ASC is monitoring are in some way not optimized for security. optimized for security.

An image of variety of recommendations to address specific findings.

Going a level further into the ‘secure management ports’ finding, we see a sub-heading list of actions you can take specific to these resources’ settings. Fortunately, in this case, the administrator has addressed previously-discovered findings, leaving just three to-do’s under the third subheading. For added convenience, the red/green color-coding on the far right draws your attention.

An image of the ‘secure management ports’ finding.

Clicking on the third item above shows you a description of what ASC has found, along with remediation steps.  You have two options to remediate:  more broadly enable and require ‘just in time’ VM access; or, manually enable JIT for each resource. Again, Microsoft wants to incentivize and make it easier for your organization to take more holisitic and proactive steps across your resources such as enabling important settings by default; but we in no way penalize you for the security settings that you implement.

An image of a description of what ASC has found, along with remediation steps.

To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.