A Guide to Azure Virtual Desktop’s Security Features

Updated: 9 Jul 2024

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One of the world’s premier cloud computing platforms, Microsoft Azure has changed the way businesses everywhere operate for the better. Letting organisations of various sizes and needs create, communicate and store applications and files, as well as a tonne of other useful features and services, it’s no wonder 95% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Azure in their day-to-day, according to Microsoft.

Azure Virtual Desktop is one of Azure’s most popular offerings letting employees access a virtual desktop environment, from virtually any digital device with a modern browser, containing all the applications, files and tools they need to perform their roles and stay in touch with their colleagues. Ideal for remote and hybrid workers, Azure Virtual Desktop has emerged as an essential component for many companies in an increasingly remote working world.

However, because the service is cloud-based and accessible via the internet, security is of top concern. This is why Microsoft has equipped Azure (and Azure Virtual Desktop components) with many different layers and types of security, giving businesses the peace of mind they need to fully utilise the service and use it with confidence when handling sensitive company data. In this blog, we’ll be looking at the security features of an Azure Virtual Desktop environment, to give you a better understanding of how Microsoft will help to keep your data and applications safe and sound, should you be looking to onboard the tool for your business.

A Guide to Azure Virtual Desktop’s Security Features

Identity and Access Management

If you’re concerned about which employees (or anyone else for that matter) can access specific files and tools within your Azure Virtual Desktops, Microsoft Entra (formerly Azure Active Directory or Azure AD) offers some impressive identity and access management options for your peace of mind. By utilising the single sign-on feature, employees can use a single universal key to access multiple tools, instead of signing into services individually every time. This also allows session hosts to monitor which employees have access to which tools at any given time, for full clarity should any actions need to be traced or conditional access granted.

Similarly to the security features you will have on your smartphone and other devices, Azure Virtual Desktops also take advantage of multi-factor authentication (MFA). This requires the user to confirm their identity on a separate device or platform before accessing the Azure Virtual Desktop session, helping to guarantee only authorised individuals will ever be able to enter. Customisable access policies are also a great component of Azure Virtual Desktop, allowing administrators to restrict access to virtual machines and elements they contain based on pre-decided parameters. These can include but aren’t limited to, location, device compliance and behaviour, to name but a few. 

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) works in a similar way, allowing administrators to assign allowances to specific employees, limiting or opening up the actions they’re able to accomplish within Azure Virtual Desktop. This ensures users are sticking to their specific roles and aren’t straying into actions or applications they’re not qualified, or authorised, to use.

Network Security

The Azure platform allows for the creation of an Azure Virtual Network. This network exists separately from your wider company network and can be used to host and protect data and applications that would pose significant risks should they be breached.  As a lot of sensitive data is often housed within virtual desktops, it makes all the sense in the world that Azure Virtual Desktops can be moved to such a network, to heighten your defences. Better still, private IP addresses can be created to restrict access from unwanted parties, both internal and external.

Network Security Groups (NSGs) can be employed within Azure Virtual Desktops which monitor inbound and outbound traffic and force it to act within a predetermined set of rules, designed to protect the virtual desktop environment from potentially harmful traffic. Similarly, the Azure Firewall can be used to create a centralised network security policy, along with protecting your wider devices, to prevent breaches to your virtual desktops.

Network Security with Microsoft Azure

Data Protection

Encryption is one of the leading methods network administrators and technicians use to protect important company data from being accessed by invaders. Encryption scrambles data, making it illegible to anyone reading it without the correct key to decipher it, which sits only with the intended recipient. Data being moved to, from and within Azure Virtual Desktops can benefit from Server Side Encryption (SSL) when it is both at rest and in transit. This process encrypts data even when it is not currently in use, so should it be accessed by unauthorised users, it is robustly protected. Transport Layer Security (TLS) can also be used within Azure Virtual Desktops, encrypting communications between specific applications. 

The Azure Key Vault also comes in handy for virtual desktop users and session hosts, ensuring they always have access to the passwords, keys and secret information they need to enter protected folders, applications and services. It works just like a password manager, storing all the information a user needs to access the tools they need to work with, but can be used to house slightly more complex security data.

Threat Protection

While traditionally used to detect and eliminate threats to physical devices such as laptops, mobiles, desktops and tablets, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is a comprehensive enterprise security system that can also offer the same security levels to your virtual machines, including Azure Virtual Desktop. The tool collects data from behavioural signals within the operating system to detect and destroy potential threats while flagging the issue to the user. It also leverages machine learning capabilities to adapt its knowledge set over time, enabling it to defend against more advanced threats in the future through real-time advanced monitoring. When combined with Microsoft Defender for Cloud, businesses can create an ironclad defence system for their cloud environments.

As Azure Virtual Desktop is a part of the wider Azure platform, it benefits from integration with the Azure Security Center. An all-encompassing tool to manage security elements of your cloud environments and tools, the Azure Security Center allows for live monitoring of all security processes, while also offering recommendations you can use to bolster the security of the Azure platform as a whole, as well as Azure Virtual Desktops.

Much like Defender for Endpoint, threat intelligence is applied to monitor and neutralise threats to your virtual machines, while regular security alerts help you to stay ahead of potential threats should you need to take action outside of the autonomous processes.

Compliance and Governance

With so many essential rules and regulations in place across businesses, industries, countries and governing bodies, it can be difficult for companies to remain compliant at all times, or to have a comprehensive knowledge of precisely how to remain compliant in their actions, both in non-cloud systems and those housed within Azure Virtual Desktops. Thankfully, Azure has tools in place to help businesses adhere to any relevant standards, including GDPR, HIPPA and many others, preventing potential slip-ups that could cause legal strife in the future.

Along with compliance standards, maintaining consistency within rulesets and organisational standards in a company-wide sense can also be difficult, especially if the company in question is home to several locations, national or international. That’s where Azure Policy is so useful. Azure Policy can be used to create and enforce standards across locations and devices – yes, this includes virtual elements too, such as Azure Virtual Desktops. This can be an automated process, relieving stresses from administrators who may have once needed to enforce standards on a location-by-location or cloud environment-by-cloud-environment level.

In terms of understanding and governing which employees are only utilising the tools they’re authorised to use, or using them responsibly within virtual desktops, Azure Monitor and Azure Log Analytics are always helpful. They allow administrators a live view of which employees are utilising which tools, set or alter permissions as necessary and track the digital movements of employees (also within virtual desktop environments) for auditing and security purposes.

Endpoint Security

In organisations with a lot of remote working needs, being able to track which devices are accessing Azure Virtual Desktops and utilising the tools and files within is essential for security and monitoring. Microsoft Intune (formerly Microsoft Endpoint Manager) allows administrators to see precisely which devices are connected to which cloud services and environments at all times, ensuring there are no unauthorised connections or that no employees are acting out of turn. Application control also lets administrators determine which applications can and can’t run within Azure Virtual Desktop environments, offering complete command and guaranteeing only approved applications are being used for specific purposes, streamlining productivity.

Along with this, user profiles and roaming settings can be managed on a cloud-environment or individual basis, meaning users can be restricted in their access and manoeuvrability within virtual desktop environments, bolstering security and prioritising set tasks. 

Backup and Disaster Recovery

A benefit of using cloud-based resources like Azure Virtual Desktop to manipulate and store data is that it creates an off-site backup, should you experience a data disaster on your internal servers and hard drives. Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery can be a godsend for businesses that experience such a catastrophe. Backup lets you create an automated backup of data and configurations of Azure Virtual Desktop contents, as well as any other files you’d like to protect, so you’ll always have something to restore should things go horribly wrong. Site Recovery, on the other hand, allows for the replication of cloud environments (including their contents) to other parts of the Azure network, creating an instant saving grace should one of your virtual desktops go awry or be breached. 

Explore Azure Virtual Desktop Deployments and Remote Desktop Services with Netcentrix

If your Azure Virtual Desktop security concerns have been answered in the above, it’s time to put your faith in the infinitely popular cloud platform to reshape the way your business operates. Netcentrix is here to help you onboard the technology, so you can avoid running into any speed bumps and you’ll have access to a dedicated team of experts and specialist engineers who know how to get the job done.

With decades of experience in the business technology and cloud technology space, companies just like yours trust us to deliver the new additions they need to make a serious change in their business operations, boosting productivity and profits across the board. Plus, as a certified Microsoft Solutions Partner, we’re trusted by the technology giant to offer its products and services to the customers who need them most, as well as offering comprehensive technical support, should you require it.

To find out more about Azure Virtual Desktop deployment or any other Microsoft products that could help your business, speak to a Netcentrix expert today.

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  • Liv Appleton

    Technology Content Marketing Executive, Liv, joined the team in 2021, as our technology copywriter, before progressing to her current role as our Content Marketing Executive in 2022. Liv has a strong background in the field of technology and leverages deep industry knowledge across a range of topics to create informative, insightful, and educational content to guide businesses towards effective technology adoption. Liv is committed to bringing up to date information on the latest technology, reporting on industry trends and providing advice to empower customers to make the most of everything their technology solutions have to offer.

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