What is Office 365 Conditional Access? Understand The Access Policy

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On May 1st, 2023
Reading Time 6 Minutes Reading

Today we’ll have an in-depth discussion regarding Office 365 conditional access. What does it mean, and how does it benefits organizations from the security point of view and its other functionalities? So, without further ado let’s start our discussion.

With time, organizations are moving their workload to the cloud, either fully or partially. And, why not? It lets users work from anywhere and allows them to leverage many other features of this advanced platform. As the companies continue to run more operations in the cloud, balancing security with anywhere access & remote work has become a real challenge that is laying in front of them.

Let’s take a look at the main security concerns of Office 365.

Pressing Security Concerns of Office 365 Platform

As you know Microsoft Office 365 offers, 

  • Users can access this cloud platform from the office, home, or anywhere with an internet connection.
  • They can access this from any device they want such as corporate devices, personal laptops or PCs, etc.
  • Last but not least Office 365 can be accessed by just entering a username and password.

Though the platform is designed to be more user-friendly, it may trigger security concerns since,

  • Emails can be copied elsewhere and cached offline on a home PC with Outlook.
  • Mail can be copied to other destinations and downloaded to mobile devices.
  • All data from OneDrive for Business can be shared or copied elsewhere and synchronized offline to a personal computer.
  • All data from SharePoint Online can be shared or copied elsewhere and synchronized offline to the user’s personal computer.
  • Office 365 does not by default enable multi-factor authentication; instead, a username and password are needed to log in.

That’s why it’s essential to ensure the security of Office 365 is taken care of. In fact, making sure resources like legacy on-premise applications using tools like Application Proxy and new cloud-based SAS applications are accessible to the right people in the right situation requires granular controls. 

So, that’s when Office 365 conditional access comes to the rescue. Let’s get familiar with this term and its functionalities.

What is Office 365 Conditional Access?

Conditional access is an Azure AD premium feature that provides a policy-based mechanism to address the security challenges mentioned above.

These days, the modern security perimeter is extended beyond an organization’s network. To include users and device identity, companies use identity-driven signals as part of their access control decisions. And, conditional access brings signals together which leads to better decision-making & enforcement of organizational policies. 

More Information About Office 365 Conditional Access Policies

Conditional Access policies can be considered as an “if-then” statement. That means if a user wants to access a resource, then they must complete an action. For instance: If a payroll manager wants to check the payroll application then the manager requires to do multifactor authentication to access it.

Organizations can deploy conditional access policies to apply the right access controls when needed for keeping the IT environment safe and secure.

The two primary goals of implementing these policies are to;

  1. Empower users to be productive wherever and whenever
  2. Protect the organization’s assets

Office 365 conditional access

[Image Source: Microsoft]

Note: After first-factor authentication is complete, conditional access rules are put into effect. In situations like denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, Conditional Access isn’t meant to be the organization’s first line of defense, but it can use the signals from these occurrences to control access.

Office 365 Conditional Access – What Are the Common Signals?

Here are the common signals that conditional access can take into account while making a policy decision.

  • User or group membership: Administrators have granular control over access thanks to the ability to target policies to particular individuals and groups.
  • IP Location information: Trusted IP address ranges can be made by organizations and used when deciding on a policy. Administrators can designate whole IP ranges for nations or regions to accept or restrict traffic from.
  • Device: Users with devices running a specific operating system or tagged with a specific condition may be used when imposing Conditional Access restrictions. Use filters for devices to customize policies for specific devices, such as workstations with privileged access.
  • Application: When users attempt to access specific programs, various Conditional Access policies may be activated.
  • Real-time and calculated risk detection: Conditional Access policies can recognize unsafe sign-in activity thanks to the integration of signals with Azure AD Identity Protection. Then, policies can compel users to modify their passwords, require them to utilize multi-factor authentication to lower their risk or halt access until an administrator takes manual action.
  • Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps: Increases visibility and control over who has access to and what is done in your cloud environment by enabling real-time monitoring and control of user application access and sessions.

Common Decisions Included in Office 365 Conditional Access Policy

The most common access decisions used by conditional access involve:

  • Block access: It’s the restrictive decision
  • Grant access: It’s comparatively less restrictive and requires one or more of the following:
  1. Multi-factor Authentication
  2. The device needs to be marked as compliant
  3. Hybrid Azure AD joined the device
  4. Approved client app
  5. App protection policy

On the other hand, common access issues are faced by many organizations, and conditional access policies can help. Following are some commonly applied policies.

  • Multi-factor authentication for users with administrative roles
  • Blocking sign-ins for users attempting to use legacy authentication protocols
  • Trusted locations for Azure AD Multi-Factor Authentication registration
  • Blocking or giving permission to access from specific locations
  • Multi-factor authentication for Azure management tasks
  • Restricting risky sign-in behaviors

Licensing Requirement for Deploying Office 365 Conditional Access Policy

Below are the right licenses your organizations should have to use the conditional access policy.

  1. Azure AD Premium P1 licenses
  2. Microsoft 365 Business Premium licenses
  3. Azure AD P2 feature
  4. Microsoft 365 E3 or E5

Note: If you don’t have the above plans then you can upgrade your Office 365 subscription anytime. Once you upgrade the plan you can easily and efficiently migrate existing Office 365 data to the new account with the help of our Managed Office 365 Migration Services.

Final Insight

As the name suggests the Office 365 Conditional Access policies provide the conditions for accessing Microsoft apps and services. Though security features may work for most organizations in the beginning, eventually they need to create custom policies for better security of their data.

Thus, organizations should give it a thought to generate protection rules using conditional access policies to supervise who can and can’t enter the tenant. If you haven’t considered implementing this policy then it’s now is the time.