Apr 24 2023

Tech Tips: Building a Zero-Trust Environment with Microsoft 365

With data residing on-premises, in the cloud and beyond, government IT leaders must focus on identity, security and compliance to protect it.

The modern threat environment requires new ways of thinking about state and local government cybersecurity controls. Gone are the days when agencies could rely on physical walls around their facilities and networks to control the flow of information.

Today’s government workforce is constantly on the move and uses a variety of cloud services to get work done. Protecting information and resources in this environment requires shifting an agency’s trust paradigm from a focus on network location to a focus on users and their organizational needs.

The zero-trust model of cybersecurity adopts exactly this approach, building on three foundational pillars: identity, security, and governance and compliance. As agencies move toward this model, they require technology platforms that facilitate the zero-trust approach.

Microsoft 365 offers a range of services that assist administrators as they start down the long road toward a zero-trust cybersecurity philosophy. Let’s take a look at the role that Microsoft 365 plays in each zero-trust pillar.

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Microsoft Azure Acts as an Agency’s Identity Provider

Identity and access management programs are today’s firewalls. They serve as the first line of defense, providing strong authentication and authorization services for end users. The zero-trust model determines the identity of individual users and the roles that they play in the organization.

With that information in hand, other systems and platforms can grant users access to the data and resources they need to do their jobs at the appropriate times and prevent unauthorized access.

Azure Active Directory functions as an agency’s identity provider, acting as a single source of truth for identification, authentication and authorization. The centralized role of Azure AD allows administrators to quickly modify government user privileges across the enterprise and immediately revoke enterprisewide access when necessary.

EXPLORE: Here are 3 best practices for state agencies to strengthen identity protection.

Microsoft 365 Secures Government Endpoints

Cybersecurity controls are also quickly evolving to protect against increasingly sophisticated threats. This is particularly apparent in the world of endpoint protection. Yesterday’s endpoint protection software used signature detection techniques to identify, block and remediate known threats.

Now, there are simply too many new threats appearing every day for signature-based approaches to have any chance of keeping up. State and local government networks may be particularly vulnerable.

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Microsoft 365 provides access to endpoint detection and response capabilities that adopt a modern approach to endpoint protection. Microsoft 365 can identify and analyze potentially malicious activity, and it allows agencies to automatically block and remediate security issues.

READ MORE: What are DMZ networks, and how do they help state and local governments?

Microsoft Apps Ensure Governance and Compliance

Organizations must comply with a wide variety of national, state and industry laws and regulations governing the way they handle sensitive information. Complying with these mandates presents a significant technological and administrative burden.

Microsoft 365 includes a number of components that assist with this work. The Microsoft Purview Information Protection suite provides data loss prevention technology to prevent data exfiltration and offers unique “in motion” encryption capabilities that protect the security of information even after it leaves a protected government environment. Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps provides cloud access security broker capabilities that reach into cloud services to enforce an agency’s security policies wherever data resides.

Zero-trust computing promises to give state and local governments a sustainable security model that will protect their information and systems against emerging threats for years to come. Agencies that adopt Microsoft 365 services will find themselves well positioned to deploy a zero-trust approach.

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