Active Directory Federation Services in Windows Server 2016 

.When we look at IT businesses today, the most common spoken word is the “cloud”. Cloud computing made a huge impact in a way of functioning and business organization. 

But with more possibilities, usually we get more problems. And one of biggest challenges with doing business in the cloud is security and access control, especially in organizations with the need of extranet access. 

With that in mind, Microsoft has introduced an improvement to the Microsoft Windows Server 2016 system. 

Active Directory Federation Services  (ADFS)  

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) provides access control and single sign-in across a wide variety of applications like Office 365, cloud-based SaaS applications, and other applications on the corporate network. 

It enables organizations to provide a sign-in and access control to both modern and legacy applications — on-premises and in the cloud — with the unified set of credentials and policies. 

ADFS was first presented as an additional download in Windows Server 2003 R2 edition. But in the Windows Server 2016 edition, it became one of the most significant components of the system. 

ADFS 2016 has numerous improvements to offer. But the two most important ones are the three new options for signing in without using passwords and support for any LDAPv3 directory. 

Azure Multi-Factor Authentication  

The first option is the use of the Azure Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) adapter for ADFS. Azure MFA can be configured for intranet or extranet, or as part of any access control policy. 

In the past, the Azure MFA server on premise was the only way of eliminating passwords as authentication methods. Now, with a configuration on the MFA adapter, the primary authentication method is the username and the OTP (One Time Password) code from the Azure Authenticator app. 

With MFA as the additional authentication method, the user provides primary authentication credentials (using Windows Integrated Authentication — username and password, smart card, or user/device certificate), then comes a prompt for text, voice, or OTP based Azure MFA login. 

 Access from Compliant Devices

ADFS 2016 upgraded device registration capabilities and enabled sign-on and access control based on the device compliance status. Sign-in is now possible with device credentials. And if/when device attributes change, compliance is re-evaluated, which brings certainty in enforcing policies. 

This can be allowed by enabling the following policies:  

  • Enable Access only from devices that are managed and/or compliant. 
  • Enable Extranet Access only from devices that are managed and/or compliant.  
  • Multi-factor authentication for computers that are neither managed nor compliant.

Windows Hello for Business  

The Windows Hello for Business (formerly known as Microsoft Passport for Work) feature can replace passwords with strong two-factor authentication that combines an enrolled device with a PIN or biometric (fingerprint or facial recognition) user input to sign in. ADFS 2016 supports this way of authentication and enables user sign-in on all ADFS applications without the need for a password. 

LDAPv3 Support  

Another improvement in ADFS 2016 is support for a combination of Active Directory and third-party directories. With the addition of ADFS support for authenticating users stored in LDAP v3-compliant directories, ADFS can now be used for:  

  • Third party, LDAP v3-compliant directories.
  • Active Directory forests where an Active Directory two-way trust is not configured. 
  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS).

New and Improved Migration Procedure 

Earlier, this operation was pretty painful for administrators. It required building completely new parallel server farm and export of configuration from old one which will then be imported into a new one. 

In ADFS 2016, Microsoft took a different approach, and simplified the process by a lot.  

Now, moving from ADFS (on Windows Server 2012 R2) to ADFS 2016 requires adding new Windows Server 2016 to an existing Windows Server 2012 R2 farm. This will completely run as 2012 R2, but with adding more servers to the farm and removing old ones from the load balancer, the system will allow upgrade and usage of new features.  

More Features

Other than these, some more important new options and interesting features of ADFS 2016 are:

  • Supports the latest modern protocols which will provide a better user experience on the most relevant platforms (Windows, iOS, Android).
  • Ability to add industry standard OpenID Connect and OAuth 2.0-based authentication and authorization to applications in development.
  • A way to customize messages, images, logos, and web themes per application.
  • Streamlined auditing for easier administrative management and configuration to participate in confederations such as InCommon Federation and other implementations conforming to the eGov 2.0 standard. 

ADFS 2016 provided the best improvements in the development of the Windows Server systems, especially in the extranet access situation. Most experts agree that listening to user feedback made a significant impact.

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