Reinventing VPN Security: Microsoft Defender for Identity vs. Azure AD Application Proxy

Defender vs Application Proxy

As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, the need for robust, secure, and efficient VPN solutions has become more critical. Today, we delve into Microsoft’s offerings in this domain – Microsoft Defender for Identity and Azure AD Application Proxy, focusing on their ability to reduce the attack surface and enhance your organization’s security posture.

Part 1: The Comparison: Defender for Identity vs. Application Proxy

When evaluating security tools, a key metric is how effectively they minimize the attack surface – the area where unauthorized users can attempt to gain access to an environment.

Microsoft Defender for Identity specializes in monitoring and protecting Active Directory (AD), including user identities and credentials. It integrates with your VPN solution, improving detection of abnormal VPN connections by tracking user activities and identifying originating IP addresses and locations of VPN connections. However, it retains the traditional VPN’s broad attack surface. A VPN connection provides a user access to the entire network, potentially making it easier for a threat actor to move laterally if they gain access.

On the other hand, Azure AD Application Proxy significantly reduces the attack surface by offering secure, remote access to specific on-premises web applications rather than the entire network. It conceals your applications behind Azure AD’s security barriers, meaning threat actors have fewer opportunities for gaining unauthorized access. Application Proxy doesn’t require inbound connections through your firewall, an additional safety measure.

Part 2: Spotlight on Azure AD Application Proxy

What is Application Proxy?

Azure AD’s Application Proxy is a forward-thinking solution that provides secure remote access to on-premises web applications. It offers simplicity and cost-effectiveness, requiring no changes to your network infrastructure or the installation of additional on-premises hardware.

How Does It Work?

Application Proxy comprises two components – the Application Proxy service, which runs in the cloud, and the Application Proxy connector installed on an on-premises server. Together, they securely transmit the user’s sign-on token from Azure AD to the web application.

When a user accesses an application through an endpoint, they’re directed to the Azure AD sign-in page. After successful sign-in, Azure AD sends a token to the user’s device, which is then sent to the Application Proxy service. The service retrieves the user principal name (UPN) and security principal name (SPN) from the token and forwards the request to the Application Proxy connector. After any additional authentication, the connector sends the request to the on-premises application, and the response is sent back to the user through the connector and Application Proxy service.

Key Components

  • Endpoint: Users can access applications outside your network via an external URL. Upon authentication in Azure AD, they’re routed through the connector to the on-premises application.

  • Azure AD: Azure AD performs authentication using the tenant directory stored in the cloud.

  • Application Proxy service: Running as part of Azure AD in the cloud, it passes the sign-on token from the user to the Application Proxy Connector and sets the headers as per its protocol, to the client IP address.

  • Application Proxy Connector: A lightweight agent running on a Windows Server inside your network, the connector facilitates communication between the Application Proxy service in the cloud and the on-premises application.

  • Active Directory (AD): When single sign-on is configured, the connector communicates with AD to perform any additional authentication required.

  • On-premises application: The end target for the user.

While Microsoft Defender for Identity provides robust tracking and security for VPN users, Azure AD Application Proxy offers an innovative way to provide secure access to on-premises web applications, with a significantly reduced attack surface and a seamless user experience. 

Ready to redefine your organization’s security and identity management landscape? Join our Secure Identities and Access Workshop to learn more about the transition from traditional VPN solutions to Azure AD Application Proxy. Our seasoned experts will guide you through this transformation process, demonstrating how Azure AD Application Proxy can minimize your attack surface and improve overall security while providing efficient access to on-premises web applications. Don’t miss this opportunity to elevate your organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure. Contact us now to learn more and unlock the full potential of Azure AD Application Proxy!

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