Tag Archives: ActiveSync

Basic Authentication in Office 365 Part II

Update. Microsoft has changed their plans due to the Covid-19 crisis going on at the moment. Support for Basic Authentication in Exchange Online has been postponed to the second half of 2021 according to their blogpost on Basic Authentication and Exchange Online – April 2020 Update.

There are a few things to be aware of. For new tenants, Basic Authentication is already turned off, for older tenants it is still turned on. However, if Basic Authentication has not been used in a tenant it will be turned off as well. This will start upcoming October.

In my previous blogpost I explained more about basic and modern authentication, how they work and how to identify which method your outlook client is using. In this blogpost I will explain more about monitoring basic authentication to find out which clients are currently still using basic authentication in your Office 365 environment. I will continue with how to disable basic authentication and how to test what might happen.

Monitoring Basic Authentication

In my previous blogpost I explained a bit more about basic authentication and how to identify it, and the working of modern authentication.

The next step is to identify how many users and application are actually using basic authentication in your Office 365 environment. After all, these are the users that are impacted when Microsoft stops basic authentication.

To identify this, logon to the Azure Active Directory Portal (https://aad.portal.azure.com) and select sign-ins (under Monitoring). There you will see an overview of all sign-ins in Azure AD, successful and failed, for all clients, all services and all locations. An example is shown in the following screenshot (click to enlarge):

This shows all logins in Azure AD, for all aplications and services, failed and successful. You can use the Add Filters button to narrow down the information, in this blogpost to show only information regarding Basic Authentication.

To do this, click Add Filter | Select Client App | Click Apply

Click on “Client App: None Selected” and select all options except Browser and Mobile Apps and Desktop Clients as shown in the following screenshot (click to enlarge):

Modern Authentication Clients

Note. Updated the screenshot on April 6, 2020. Microsoft made a nice GUI enhancement here to easily identify different clients (modern vs legacy).

Now an overview will be shown of all basic authentication attempts in your environment. When you select one entry it will show additional details, including the client application, the username and the the user agent (which identifies the client app) as shown in the following screenshot (click to enlarge):

Another interesting thing is that you can identify where all failed basic authentication attempts are coming from. Add a filter Status | Failure and you will see only failed attempts. Some are legitimate (typo when entering password) but most of them are just brute force attacks. The following screenshot shows attempts coming from Russia, Thailand and New Caledonia, located where we don’t have offices. You can also see that the attempt is coming from a script (User agent CBAInPROD) and that it’s using IMAP4 (which is disabled for all mailboxes). This is one reason why you want to disable basic authentication in your tenant. Click to enlarge:

This is an easy way to identify mobile clients that use ActiveSync as a protocol and thus are using basic authentication. Apple iOS native mail client support OAuth2 since iOS11, so all recent iPhones are using modern authentication. For the Android native mail client things are different. The native Gmail client support OAuth2 but cannot be used of course with Office 365. Most other mail clients do not support OAuth2 yet, so these are using basic authentication and will run into issues when Microsoft stops basic authentication. In other words, these clients will stop working. Change the Client App filter to Exchange ActiveSync only and remove the Status | Failure filter. It will show a list of mobile users that use basic authentication as shown in the following screenshot (username is removed for privacy reasons) (click to enlarge):

Note. Outlook for iOS and Outlook for Android are using OAth2 so these will continue to work.

So, using the filtering options on the sign-in page in the Azure AD portal you can identify which clients are still using basic authentication when accessing Office 365 services (and thus which clients are impacted when basic authentication is stopped).

Disabling basic authentication

It is possible to disable basic authentication in your Office 365 by creating an Authentication Policy and apply this policy to users. Once applied they can no longer use basic authentication to logon to any Office 365 service. To create a new Authentication Policy use the following command in Exchange Online PowerShell:

[PS] C:\> New-AuthenticationPolicy -Name “Block Basic Authentication”

To add a user to the policy and effectively block basic authentication for this user you can use the following command in Exchange Online PowerShell:

[PS] C:\> Set-User -Identity j.wesselius@exchangelabs.nl -AuthenticationPolicy “Block Basic Authentication”

It will take up to 24 hours before this policy is effective. To take the policy effect (almost immediately, or at least within 30 minutes) you can use the following command:

[PS] C:\> Set-User -Identity j.wesselius@exchangelabs.nl -AuthenticationPolicy “Block Basic Authentication” -STSRefreshTokensValidFrom $([System.DateTime]::UtcNow)

To remove a user from an authentication policy you can use $Null for the authentication policy:

[PS] C:\> Set-User -Identity j.wesselius@exchangelabs.nl -AuthenticationPolicy $Null

When you have a number of users added to this authentication policy you can start testing with various clients and create a table with clients and scenarios, like the table below:

Client Results
Office 2010 Stops working (keeps asking for password)
Office 2013/2016 Continues to work (was already using Modern Authentication)
Outlook 2010 on-premises mailbox, cross-premises free/busy Continues to work, but need further investigation (note 1)
Outlook 2013/2016 on-premises mailbox, cross-premises free/busy Continues to work
iPhone 8, iOS13, native mailclient Continues to work
iPhone 8, iOS13, Outlook for iOS Continues to work
Samsung A10, Android 9, native Email client 6.1.11.6 Stops working
Samsung A10, Android 9, AquaMail (by MobiSystems, supports OAuth) Continues to work (note 2)
Samsung A10, Android 9, Outlook for Android Continues to work
Exchange Online PowerShell New-PSSession Stops working (note 3)
Exchange Online PowerShell module Continues to work
Exchange PowerShell V2 Continues to work
POP3 Clients TBD
IMAP4 Clients TBD

Note 1. In this scenario an Outlook client is using an on-premises mailbox but tries to retrieve free/busy information from a mailbox that’s in Exchange Online. Both accounts have basic authentication disabled in Azure AD.

Note 2. The native mailclient in Android 9 (on my Samsung A10) only supports basic authentication. This is not a device limitation but an application limitation. AquaMail (from MobiSystems) for example does support OAuth and keeps working when basic authentication is disabled. AquaMail however is not a free application but a subscription based application.

Note 3. It is possible to connect to Exchange Online as shown in line 9 of the table using the following method:

$ExCred = Get-Credential TenantAdminAccount
$Session = New-PSSession -ConfigurationName Microsoft.Exchange -ConnectionUri https://ps.outlook.com/powershell/ -Credential $ExCred -Authentication Basic -AllowRedirection
Import-PSSession $Session

This is using basic authentication and will stop working. However, you should not use this way of working anyway because it does not support MFA, which is a recommended best practice for admin accounts! For more information please check Multi Factor Authentication MFA in Office 365 for admin accounts.

Summary

In the previous two blogposts I tried to explain a bit more about basic and modern authentication, and what might happen when Microsoft ends support for basic authentication in Exchange Online next October.

For sure, things will break when connecting to Exchange Online. The most obvious is Outlook 2010 which won’t connect anymore. Native mobile clients that do not support oAuth2 (common in Android mail apps, but also older iPhones) stop working too. If you don’t act now you will be in a lot of trouble when Microsoft makes the change.

For now, start testing using the options I explained in this second blogpost. Create your own list of apps and services that use basic authentication and start testing with an authentication policy that blocks basic authentication. That’s the only way to prepare for this major (mega major) upcoming change. But in the end, we will all benefit from a security point of view.

More information