Putting data on the cloud was a hot topic of debate for many years. Information technology professionals believed it was unsafe to do so and would be an invitation for the kind of headline-breaking data breach that ruins credibility.

Fast-forward to today, and cloud-based directory and identity management services are in demand. Many companies are enjoying the benefits of using platforms such as Microsoft 365, prompting them to consider cloud-based management systems to stay connected with their team. With wider adoption and improved security measures, IT pros no longer hold the same anxiety as they once did about the cloud.

Since the worry over cloud security is easing, IT managers can choose a cloud-based directory and identity management service that best meets their needs.

What Is Azure Active Directory?

Microsoft introduced Azure Active Directory as its cloud-based identity and access management solution. It allows legacy applications incapable of modern authentication methods to run in the cloud. Azure AD incorporates comprehensive identity management capabilities like auditing, device registration, multi-factor authentication, and self-service password management. It was designed with streamlining in mind. Its improved security, productivity, and single sign-on (SSO) afford access to thousands of cloud applications, including DropBox, Office 365, and Salesforce.

Benefits of Azure Active Directory

Azure AD benefits organizations in several ways. The top two advantages are the cost-effectiveness and ease of use. It helps businesses streamline processes while improving productivity and security. Other pros include:

  • It allows employees to sign in to multiple services and access them from anywhere via the cloud.
  • It requires only one set of sign-in credentials for users logging in on-site or remotely.
  • It easily integrates with an existing Windows Server Active Directory.
  • It is pre-integrated with other cloud services.
  • It employs multi-factor authentication and conditional access, improving security and management control.
  • It is available globally, running from 60-plus data centres around the world.

Azure AD works with more than just Microsoft software, which is an added benefit. It effectively supports other operating systems and virtual tools, allowing businesses to adopt services and solutions that meet their needs and requirements.

What Is Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)?

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) uses single sign-on capabilities for users logging into servers. Not all applications can use Integrated Windows Authentication through Active Directory. Windows created ADFS as a component of Windows Server OS to provide users with authenticated access to those applications.

It works by using an open standard known as Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) that enables communication of identities between organizations. SAML authenticates user cookies and authorizes functions.

ADFS authentication acts as a type of Security Token Service (STS) and follows four steps:

  • Users navigate to the URL provided by the ADFS service.
  • ADFS employs the organization’s AD service to authenticate the user.
  • ADFS generates an authentication claim.
  • The user’s browser forwards the claim to the target application.

When the process completes, it grants access to users.

While ADFS is a valuable tool, it is not without its drawbacks. Two major disadvantages include hidden server maintenance costs and the complexity of restricting access for certain groups.

Azure AD vs. ADFS

Before 2017, companies had just two options available to them when integrating with Azure AD: Password Hash Sync and ADFS authentication.

User experience is vital to the success of a cloud-based directory and identity management service that touts a single sign-on experience. The ADFS authentication process is cumbersome and anything but user-friendly. Authentication occurs on-site and is costly and complicated to set up. It makes access to tools like Office 365 reliant on servers, which defeats the purpose of moving to the cloud.

Password hash sync is the preferred authentication method. Azure AD effectively syncs a hash to reduce the number of passwords users must maintain. Password Hash Synchronization improves user productivity and can reduce helpdesk costs. It also allows for seamless SSO.

Some companies still prefer ADFS. They are missing out on the availability and scalability of Azure AD, which guarantees 99.9%s percent uptime, eliminating costly capacity constraints. Azure AD brings the best of both worlds to your doorstep.

Moving on to Cloud-Native Authentication

Office 365 is susceptible to credential-stealing attacks. Implementing a cloud-native authentication process, like that available through Azure AD, is a recommended way to safeguard against such attacks.

Using Azure AD as a primary authentication method will lower the risk of a breach versus relying on ADFS. Azure AD is more equipped to provide security safeguards due to several features such as multi-factor authentication and conditional access to ensure that the right users have the right access. You can also ban common passwords, block legacy authentication, and protect your privileged identities.

According to a Forrester study, using Azure AD features can help businesses reduce the risk of a data breach, saving them about USD 2.2 million over three years.

Seamless Sign-On

Azure AD’s seamless single sign-on is one of its biggest advantages. It is easily combined with Password Hash Synchronization or Pass-through Authentication sign-in methods. The feature is free to use and user-friendly, allowing for the dual sign-in to both on-premise and cloud-based applications. Best of all, access to Microsoft 365 and its features is not reliant on an on-site component.

Choosing the Azure AD Professionals

Interested in learning more about how Azure Active Directory can help your business transform its IT infrastructure, services, and data? Contact us or phone us at 888-976-3852 and a team member will schedule a consultation.

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Softlanding is a long-established IT services provider of transformation, professional services and managed IT services that helps organizations boost innovation and drive business value. We are a multi-award-winning Microsoft Gold Partner with 13 Gold Competencies and we use our experience and expertise to be a trusted advisor to our clients. Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, we have staff and offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary to serve clients across Canada.

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