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Howdy folks,

Today’s news might well be our biggest news of the year. Azure AD Pass-Through Authentication and Seamless Single Sign-on are now both in public preview!

When we talk to organizations about how they want to integrate their identity infrastructure to the cloud, we often hear the same set of requirements: “I’ve got to have single sign-on for my users, passwords need to stay on-premises, and I can’t have any un-authenticated end points on the Internet. And make sure it is super easy”.

We heard your feedback, and now the wait is over. I’m excited to announce we have added a set of new capabilities in Azure AD to meet all those requirements: Pass-Through Authentication and Seamless Single Sign-on to Azure AD Connect! These new capabilities allow customers to securely and simply integrate their on-premises identity infrastructure with Azure AD.

Azure AD pass-through authentication

Azure AD pass-through authentication provides a simple, secure, and scalable model for validation of passwords against your on-premises Active Directory via a simple connector deployed in the on-premises environment. This connector uses only secure outbound communications, so no DMZ is required, nor are there any unauthenticated end points on the Internet.

That’s right. User passwords are validated against your on-premises Active Directory, without needing to deploy ADFS servers!

We also automatically balance the load between the set of available connectors for both high availability and redundancy without requiring additional infrastructure. We made the connector super light-weight so it can be easily incorporated into your existing infrastructure and even deployed on your Active Directory controllers.

The system works by passing the password entered on the Azure AD login page down to the on-premises connector. That connector then validates it against the on-premises domain controllers and returns the results. We’ve also made sure to integrate with self-service password reset (SSPR) so that, should the user need to change their password, it can be routed back to on-premises for a complete solution. There is absolutely no caching of the password in the cloud. Find more details about this process in our documentation.

Seamless single sign-on for all

Single sign-on is one of the most important aspects of the end-user experience our customers think through as they move to cloud services. You need more than just single sign-on for interactions between cloud services – you also need to ensure users won’t have to enter their passwords over and over again.

With the new single sign-on additions in Azure AD Connect you can enable seamless single sign-on for your corporate users (users on domain joined machines on the corporate network). In doing so, users are securely authenticated with Kerberos, just like they would be to other domain-joined resources, without needing to type passwords.

The beauty of this solution is that it doesn’t require any additional infrastructure on-premises since it simply uses your existing Active Directory services. This is also an opportunistic feature in that if, for some reason, a user can’t obtain a Kerberos ticket for single sign-on, they will simply be prompted for their password, just as they are today. It is available for both password hash sync and Azure AD pass-through authentication customers. Read more on seamless single sign-on in this documentation article

Enabling these new capabilities

Download the latest version of Azure AD Connect now to get these new capabilities! You’ll find the new options in a custom install for new deployments, or, for existing deployments, when you change your sign-in method.

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I encourage you to download the new version of Azure AD Connect today and start testing out these new functions.

The fine print

As with all previews there are some limits to what we currently support. We are working hard to ensure we provide full support across all systems. You can find the full list of supported client and operating systems in the documentation, which we’ll be updating consistently as things change.

Also, keep in mind that this is an authentication feature, so it’s best to try it out in a test environment to ensure you understand the end-user experience and how switching from one sign-on method to another will change that experience.

And last but by no means least, it’s your feedback that pushes us to make improvements like this to our products, so keep it coming. I look forward to hearing what you think!

Best regards,

Alex Simons (Twitter: @Alex_A_Simons)

P.S.: Many of you have asked how the usernames and passwords are protected by the service. Usernames and passwords are passed to the on-premises connector and the results are passed back to Azure AD over an encrypted HTTPS connection. During the public preview we are also going to add an additional layer of public key/private key encryption to the service [updated 12/7/16 at 1:15pm pdt.]