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Authentication Tackles Forests at Microsoft Ignite

Authentication is an issue on a personal computer. It's a complex problem in AD forest management.

ORLANDO -- Microsoft Ignite 2017 -- Who are you? It's a deeply metaphysical question. It's one of my favorite songs by The Who. And it's the question that lies at the beginning of just about every security discussion going on at Ignite 2017 in Orlando.

The discussions that I had with vendors and practitioners at Ignite looked at this basic question on several levels. The flashiest level is, in most respects, the easiest because it deals with users one at a time. How do you tell that the user logging into the computer is legitimate? You can use facial recognition or other biometric markers as a piece in a two-part authentication scheme. You can require strong passwords. There are many options, but each one deals with the authentication of a single individual.

When you start talking about authenticating 100,000 users or more, it's an entirely different discussion. A number of the sessions I heard (and conversations I had) dealt with managing authentications across Active Directory forests or collections of forests.

Microsoft spent quite a bit of time at Ignite talking about the tools available for automating deployment of role-based access control and management in IT infrastructures that span on-premise, hosted service and cloud-based platforms that must support single sign-on from tens or hundreds of thousands of users.

The key point in much of what Microsoft discussed was automation -- systems that allow thousands of roles to be assigned and deployed based on rules and programmatic action rather than an administrator running through the employee directory and manually building directory entries. The automation continues through policy enforcement, security analysis and issue remediation. Overlaying everything is the common theme that systems are too complex and humans too slow for the traditional relationship to continue.


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One of the focal points of that automation is sharing an identity across different applications, servers and forests. Since most organizations are still using single-factor authentication requiring strong passwords, rational security professionals recognize that requiring employees to create and remember multiple strong passwords (that change on a frequent basis) isn't a great solution. Making the IT system do the heavy lifting to keep a single authenticated identity valid across multiple domains makes sense. It's not that it's wrong -- it's just very complicated.

At Ignite, there were 151 sessions and classes devoted to security. We're going to be writing about some of the products, technologies and strategies covered in those sessions in the coming days and weeks. To help our coverage, let us know what you most want to know about Microsoft's tools for automating security -- and security in general. Is it cross-forest authentication? Graph as a security tool? Security automation using Windows Defender ATP and System Center? We'd like to hear about what you most want to know. And if you were at Ignite, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the conference!

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— Curtis Franklin is the editor of SecurityNow.com. Follow him on Twitter @kg4gwa.

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