Tips to protect Microsoft 365 –  on-premises compromise

Customers connect their private corporate networks to Microsoft 365 to benefit their users, devices, and applications. However, there are many well-documented ways these private networks can be compromised. As we have seen in recent events related to the SolarWinds compromise, on-premises compromise can propagate to the cloud. Because Microsoft 365 acts as the “nervous system” for many organizations, it is critical to protect it from compromised on-premises infrastructure.


We primarily focus on Azure AD tenant configuration settings, the ways Azure AD tenants can be safely connected to on-premises systems, and the tradeoffs required to operate your systems in ways that protect your cloud systems from on-premises compromise.

We strongly recommend you implement this guidance to secure your Microsoft 365 cloud environment.

The two primary threat vectors are federation trust relationships and account synchronization. Both vectors can grant an attacker administrative access to your cloud.

  1. Federated trust relationships, such as SAML authentication, are used to authenticate to Microsoft 365 via your on-premises Identity Infrastructure. If a SAML token signing certificate is compromised, federation would allow anyone with that certificate to impersonate any user in your cloud. We recommend you disable federation trust relationships for authentication to Microsoft 365 when possible.

  2. Account synchronization can be used to modify privileged users (including their credentials) or groups granted administrative privileges in Microsoft 365. We recommend you ensure that synchronized objects hold no privileges beyond a user in Microsoft 365, either directly or via inclusion in trusted roles or groups. Ensure these objects have no direct or nested assignment in trusted cloud roles or groups.


  1. Fully Isolate your Microsoft 365 administrator accounts. They should be
    • Mastered in Azure AD.
    • Authenticated with Multi-factor authentication (MFA).
    • Secured by Azure AD conditional access.
    • Accessed only by using Azure Managed Workstations.

These are restricted use accounts. There should be no on-premises accounts with administrative privileges in Microsoft 365. For more information see this overview of Microsoft 365 administrator roles. Also see Roles for Microsoft 365 in Azure Active Directory.

  1. Manage devices from Microsoft 365. Use Azure AD Join and cloud-based mobile device management (MDM) to eliminate dependencies on your on-premises device management infrastructure, which can compromise device and security controls.
  2. No on-premises account has elevated privileges to Microsoft 365. Accounts accessing on-premises applications that require NTLM, LDAP, or Kerberos authentication need an account in the organization’s on-premises identity infrastructure. Ensure that these accounts, including service accounts, are not included in privileged cloud roles or groups and that changes to these accounts cannot impact the integrity of your cloud environment. Privileged on-premises software must not be capable of impacting Microsoft 365 privileged accounts or roles.
  3. Use Azure AD cloud authentication to eliminate dependencies on your on-premises credentialsAlways use strong authentication, such as Windows Hello, FIDO, the Microsoft Authenticator, or Azure AD MFA.

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