February 11, 2014, 2:52 AM — Microsoft is offering multifactor authentication free as an option to all users of the enterprise versions of Office 365 suite, a hosted set of Microsoft Office tools and applications. It will be available to users of Office 365 Mid-Size Business, Enterprise, and other plans, but not to consumer or small business editions.
The company also plans to add multifactor authentication for Office 2013 client applications, with native multifactor support for applications such as Outlook, Lync, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PowerShell, and OneDrive for Business, planned for release later this year, Paul Andrew, technical product manager on the Office 365 team, wrote in a blog post Monday.
Microsoft also plans to integrate third-party multifactor authentication systems and smart cards such as the Common Access Card of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. federal Personal Identity Verification card.
Multifactor authentication has been available for Office 365 administrative roles since June last year.
The multifactor authentication requires the user to enter other authentication factors besides the basic password. These could include mobile phones, biometric verification or a personal identification number. "The multifactor authentication increases the security of user logins for cloud services above and beyond just a password," Microsoft said. Office 365 administrators can enroll users for multifactor authentication through the Office 365 admin center.
The company said in September it was offering multifactor authentication on its Windows Azure cloud platform, whereby in addition to an user name and password, users can authenticate through an application on their mobile device, automated voice call, or a text message with a passcode.
The authentication for Office 365 ranges from acknowledging a phone call, entering a six-digit code sent by text message on the portal to confirmation through apps on smartphones, Microsoft said. "Only after this second authentication factor has been satisfied can a user sign in," it added.
Microsoft is also adding App Passwords for users so they can authenticate from Office desktop applications as these are not yet updated for multifactor authentication. Once the users have logged in with multifactor authentication, they will be able to create one or more App Passwords, which are 16-character randomly generated passwords, for use in Office client applications.
The company is offering multifactor authentication for Office 365 to midsize business, enterprise plans, academic plans, nonprofit plans, and standalone Office 365 plans, including Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. Organizations on these subscriptions can use the service for free.