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Microsoft Defender for Identity: A comprehensive overview

Previously known as Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), Microsoft Defender for Identity is a cloud-based security service that protects your organization’s hybrid environment. It focuses on identity-based threats, offering comprehensive protection against both external and internal attacks.

How does Microsoft Defender for Identity work?

Microsoft Defender for Identity gathers data from various sources, including:

  • Domain controllers (DCs): These central servers in your Active Directory (AD) hold user accounts, group memberships, and access permissions. Defender for Identity monitors user activities like login attempts, password changes, account lockouts, and privilege escalations.
  • AD Federation Services (AD FS): If you use AD FS for single sign-on (SSO) across cloud and on-premises applications, Defender for Identity monitors these login attempts. This provides visibility into user access across both environments.
  • Windows security events: Logs generated by Windows devices offer valuable insights. Defender for Identity analyzes these logs to identify suspicious activities like failed login attempts, attempts to access unauthorized resources, or malware execution attempts.
  • Network traffic: By analyzing network traffic patterns, Defender for Identity can identify anomalies such as unusual login attempts from remote locations or attempts to exploit vulnerabilities.

The collected data feeds into Defender for Identity’s analytics engine, which uses machine learning algorithms to:

  • Establish baselines: It analyzes user behavior patterns, device usage norms, and typical network activity to establish baselines for what’s considered “normal” within your organization.
  • Detect anomalies: Once baselines are set, Defender for Identity continuously monitors for deviations from these established patterns. This allows it to identify suspicious activities like sudden spikes in login attempts from unusual locations, attempts to access unauthorized resources, or access requests outside of typical working hours.

When it detects anomalies, Defender for Identity analyzes the severity of the potential threat and prioritizes alerts based on the risk they pose. This helps security teams focus on the most critical threats first.

As Defender for Identity gathers more data and monitors user behavior over time, it continuously refines its baselines and detection capabilities. This ensures that it stays up-to-date with evolving threats and can effectively identify even the most sophisticated attacks.

Why use Microsoft Defender for Identity?

Microsoft Defender for Identity offers several benefits to organizations looking to improve their identity security. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Proactive threat detection: The tool uses advanced analytics to detect suspicious user activity in real-time. This helps you identify and stop attacks before they can do any damage. For instance, it can detect lateral movement within your network, a tactic attackers use to compromise high-value accounts.
  • Improved security visibility: Defender for Identity provides a centralized view of your identity security posture. This helps you understand where your biggest risks are and take steps to mitigate them.
  • Integration with Microsoft 365: Defender for Identity integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft security products, such as Microsoft 365 Defender. This allows you to get a more comprehensive view of your security posture and take coordinated action against threats.
  • Cloud-based deployment: Defender for Identity is a cloud-based solution, which means it is easy to deploy and manage without requiring additional hardware or software.

Deployment and use cases

Microsoft Defender for Identity suits organizations of all sizes that utilize AD or Azure AD for user authentication. It is particularly valuable for businesses with a high focus on data security, such as finance, healthcare, and government agencies. Here are some common use cases for Defender for Identity:

Protecting against privileged account misuse

Defender for Identity helps monitor privileged user activities and detect suspicious behavior that could indicate an attempt to compromise these accounts.

Detecting lateral movements

As mentioned earlier, lateral movements are a crucial tactic for attackers expanding their reach within a network. Defender for Identity’s ability to identify these movements allows you to take swift action to contain the breach.

Investigating phishing attacks

Phishing emails are a common tactic used by attackers to steal user credentials. Defender for Identity can help identify suspicious login attempts that might result from a successful phishing attack.


Microsoft Defender for Identity detects and combats identity-based threats, offering real-time insights and threat analysis. By reducing the attack surface, improving security visibility, and integrating with other Microsoft security solutions, Defender for Identity lets organizations take a holistic approach to securing their identities and data. Whether your concern is external attackers, insider threats, or just streamlining security operations, Microsoft Defender for Identity offers a compelling solution for organizations of all sizes.

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