Microsoft: Cybersecurity the ‘Central Challenge of the Digital Age’

Microsoft used this year’s Ignite conference to stress the need for increased IT security and introduced various new security products and programs, including Microsoft Authenticator, which it said helps make secure sign-on easier for workers thanks to features including password-free login.

“One thing that is uniform and core to all digital transformation journeys” by companies “is how to ensure more trust and more security in digital technology because, otherwise, we can have a tremendous amount of friction in how we transform using technology,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Sept. 24, during the annual IT event’s keynote, in Orlando.

“In this era of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge, businesses in every industry are looking for a trusted partner to help them transform,” Nadella said in a news release. He added: “We are pushing the bounds in” artificial intelligence (AI), “edge computing and IoT, while providing end-to-end security to empower every organization to build its own digital capability and thrive in this new era.”

Microsoft called cybersecurity the “central challenge of the digital age,” noting that each day, organizations are devoting “precious time” and shifting “resources away from their core business mission to defend against, and recover from, cyberattacks.” Companies “operate dozens of complex, disconnected tools, yet the gaps between those tools remain and threats get through,” Microsoft said, adding: “As the nature of the threats and the profile of the attackers continue to evolve, security teams struggle to keep up, and skilled expertise is scarce. Microsoft is uniquely positioned to help.”

The company shared several ways in which it said it’s “empowering IT to unlock the security capabilities of the intelligent cloud.” In order to “tip the scales in the cyberwar,” the company’s focused on three things: security operations at global scale that work not just for Microsoft, but also for its customers; enterprise-class technology; and “broad cybersecurity partnerships for a heterogeneous world,” it said.

At Microsoft, more than 3,500 full-time security professionals work with leading AI tools to analyze more than 6.5 trillion global signals each day, it said. The company’s global security infrastructure protects customers by securing datacenters, running a Cyber Defense Operations Center, hacking its own defenses (red-teaming), hunting down attackers and blocking more than 5 billion distinct malware threats every month, it pointed out.

Recently, Microsoft’s cloud-based machine learning models detected — with just 200 discrete targets — a “stealthy and highly targeted attack” targeted at small businesses across the U.S., it said. The company neutralized that threat, called Ursnif, in mere seconds, it noted. Also, Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, focused on advanced disruption and deterrence, has worked with worldwide law enforcement agencies to take down 18 criminal bot-nets and rescue almost 500 million devices from secret bot-net control, according to the company.

Microsoft is using the cloud to secure organizations broadly with new security features in its products that it said were designed to “protect against a wide range of threats, secure the network and protect sensitive information.”

Almost all data breaches begin with compromised passwords, the company said. Therefore, Microsoft has “declared an end to the era of passwords,” delivering new support for passwordless login via the Microsoft Authenticator app for the “hundreds of thousands of Azure AD connected apps that businesses use every day,” it said.

Microsoft Secure Score, meanwhile, is a dynamic report card that assesses Microsoft 365 customer environments and makes recommendations that can “reduce breaches up to thirtyfold,” it said, noting the report card now includes EMS and Azure Security Center. By using Secure Score, organizations get assessments and recommendations that significantly reduce their chance of a breach through steps that include enforcing multifactor authentication for both administrators and end users and ensuring trusted access to the right applications, it said. The Secure Score expansion also includes a broader set of controls from products including Microsoft Cloud App Security and Azure Active Directory to further harden defenses and help IT understand and improve their organization’s security position, it said.

Microsoft Threat Protection, also announced at Ignite, is a comprehensive end-to-end solution that the company said can “help protect, detect and remediate cyberthreats, bringing together advanced threat protection and auto-remediation across email, PCs, identities and infrastructure into a single integrated experience in Microsoft 365.” The service uses AI and human research to speed up investigations to eliminate threats quicker, saving thousands of hours for overstretched security teams in the process, it said.

Data breaches often stem from cybercriminals accessing data in use for computation, analysis and other functions, Microsoft also noted. That deters many organizations from putting sensitive data into cloud workloads. With that in mind, Microsoft announced its public preview of Azure confidential computing, making Azure the first cloud service to provide a secure platform for protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data in use, it said.

Protecting the Midterms

Microsoft is also working with technology companies, policymakers and institutions it said are “critical to the democratic process” on strategies designed to protect the U.S. midterm elections this year. The company’s Defending Democracy program’s goal is to “protect political campaigns from hacking, increase security of the electoral process, defend against disinformation and bring greater transparency to political advertising online,” Microsoft said. Part of the program is the AccountGuard initiative that the company said “provides state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, and other organizations critical to the democratic process.”

In the first month, Microsoft “onboarded more than 30 organizations into AccountGuard, focusing initially on large national party operations, and the initiative now includes committees representing both major U.S. parties, as well as high-profile campaigns and think tanks,” it said. Microsoft is also “developing plans to extend” the Defending Democracy program to democracies globally, it disclosed.

Since the creation of the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, an agreement to bring the entire technology sector together in defending all customers everywhere from malicious attacks by cybercriminal enterprises and nation-states, the group has almost doubled in size, Microsoft also said. With 27 new organizations, including Panasonic, joining from around the globe since its launch, the total number of signatories is now 61 companies, “strengthening the broad ecosystem needed to keep the world secure,” Microsoft said.


In partnership with security teams across the company, Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) has also fought nation-state hackers, it said. Using innovative legal approaches 12 times in two years, the DCU has shut down 84 fake websites often used in phishing attacks that were set up by a group known as Strontium, widely associated with the Russian government, Microsoft said.
Around the world, Microsoft is advocating for effective public policy by governments including stronger international rules, accountability through attribution, and the adoption of concepts such as the Digital Geneva Convention, the company also said.