Basic Authentication: End of an Era

1sep2022: Added announcement regarding Jan2023 extension

Back in September 2019, Microsoft announced it would start to turn off Basic Authentication for non-SMTP protocols in Exchange Online on tenants where the authentication protocol was detected as inactive. This is part of an overall movement to deprecate the less secure Basic Authentication, which is unfit to face the security challenges of the modern world, being subject to things like password spray attacks. It’s modern successor, modern authentication or OAuth2, uses a token and claim based mechanism contrary to sending accounts and passwords, and is the preferred authentication method. When combined with Azure AD for authentication, Modern Authentication also supports features such as Multi-Factor Authentication or Conditional Access.

The original date for disabling of Basic Authentication was October 13th, 2020. Then the world had other matters to deal with, and Microsoft extended the timelines. After initially postponing turning Basic Authentication off to second half of 2021, the ‘start date’ for permanently turning the lights off for Basic Authentication was set to October 1st, 2022, as per this article on Docs and MC286990 in the Message Center. Mind the ‘start’ in start date, as flicking the switch for millions of tenants takes time before it becomes effective on your tenant. Organizations do need to anticipate on this change for the first of October.

On September 1st, Microsoft published an update to these timelines as there were still some cases were organizations could not make the deadline of October 1st. To meet these customers “one last time”, organizations can now use the self-service diagnostics to extend disabling of Basic Authentication to January 2023. This needs to be done per protocol, also if organizations requested opt-out or re-enabled Basic Authentication earlier. Details as well as instructions and revised timelines on Basic Authentication switching off are laid out in a new article.

Until then, organizations can (re-)enable Basic Authentication for the protocols they need, using the self-help system in the Microsoft 365 admin center. After entering “Diag: Enable Basic Auth in EXO” in the problem search query, the request will be checked, and Basic Authentication will get enabled. But with the end of support for Basic Authentication, so will this temporary workaround. On a side note, per end of 2020, newly created tenants already have basic authentication disabled by means of security defaults – if those organizations require Basic Authentication for some reason, they will also need to reconfigure security defaults which by default is an all or nothing option for all protocols.

So, with the doomsday counter ticking away for Basic Authentication, what are the consequences for Exchange related workloads organizations might wonder. In this article, I will address some of these concerns.

Update: Microsoft meanwhile has disclosed much awaited details on changes in the native Mail app on iOS. This update is effective per iOS 15.6, and adds support for migrating configured accounts from using Basic Authentication to using Modern Authentication (OAuth). For this work work seamlessly and without user interruption, some configuration is needed on the back-end. Details can be found in a separate article here on this specific topic.

Click here to read the full article on ENow Solutions blog. Note that the ENow article does not include later updates, such as the latest timeline revisions and iOS account conversion, both mentioned above.