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Microsoft Defender Vulnerability Management

The value proposition for the services in the EM+S E5 suite does not seem like it has been convincing to customers for a while now. Over the last year or so, Microsoft has been putting a lot of work into the Defender services to improve that value proposition, and to provide a better technical security solution for Microsoft 365 customers.

In the last year or so Microsoft has rebranded and reorganized the Defender applications into Defender for Cloud Apps, Defender for Office 365, Defender for Endpoint, and Defender for Identity. While those four services are a good start, there are still gaps in the protection they provide.

To that end, Microsoft has added a new product in public preview to the Defender Suite, Microsoft Defender Vulnerability Management (DVM). DVM is targeted at improving vulnerability management in the following areas:

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  • Security baselines assessment
  • Browser extensions assessment
  • Digital certificates assessment
  • Network shares assessment
  • Blocking vulnerable applications
  • Vulnerability assessment for unmanaged endpoints

In this blog post we’re going to look at the public preview for this new service. How to get it activated in your tenant, what it does, and where I see it fitting into your overall security architecture for Microsoft 365.

Activating the public preview

While public previews for many new Microsoft 365 features are automatically added to tenants, the public preview for DVW requires a short process to activate. You can sign up here. That process only took me a couple of minutes, then I had new licenses in my tenant that I could assign to an admin account to gain access to DVM features. Once that is complete, you will have access to the feature we’ll cover below.

Where is DVM?

The GUI for the Microsoft 365 Defender stack of applications is mostly (but not entirely) homed in the Microsoft Security Portal. While this can make it a little difficult to differentiate the functionality of the different applications within the Defender stack, it also gives us a “one stop shop” for Microsoft 365 security configurations. Maybe a separate portal for each application would be a good idea, but then again maybe this way is best.

Once you have DVM licensed and you have logged into the Security Portal, you will find all the new DVM features accessible under the Endpoints section on the left-hand side of the screen:

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There are currently seven subsections under Vulnerability Management here. As this application is still in public preview, that may change before DVM hits GA.

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Exploring the Dashboard and Recommendations

The first area to explore is the dashboard. Here you will find a quick view of a few different measures of vulnerability within your Microsoft 365 tenant.

In my tenant, you can see my exposure score is low (3/100 is a good thing. You want that number to be as low as possible), and my secure score for devices isn’t great (49% means I have remediated about half of the issues Microsoft monitors to make up that score).

Clicking on Improve Score on either of those widgets will take you to the recommendations sub-section, where suggested remediations are detailed to help you improve the security posture of your tenant.

Below is a screenshot of the recommendations page for my device secure score. With 61 items to address, it seems like I have to some work to do in my tenant.

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Remediation

The remediation sub-section is for organizing the recommendations into active tasks.

Going back up to recommendations for my secure score for devices, I selected one of the recommendations (in this case “Update Office”), and then selected the Request remediation button at the bottom of the fly-out page.

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This will give you a quick wizard that allows you to mark that recommendation for remediation. It’s by no means a full-blown ticketing system, but this looks like it could be helpful for prioritizing the implementation of those recommendations in your team. Not super helpful for me, as I am the only administrator in my tenant.

Inventories

The inventories tab gives you an inventory of the applications, browser extensions, and certificates installed on Windows machines that have been inventoried into Endpoint Management.

I do have an iPad that has Defender, but no applications from that device are inventoried here. This sub-section will inventory macOS, Linux, and Windows. iOS and Android devices are left out for now.

Weaknesses

The weaknesses sub-section is yet another view of the same information presented in a different way. Here you’ll see vulnerabilities that can affect your devices listed by vulnerability name.

Below you can see I selected one of the vulnerabilities that is related to Office. It shows me that I have one Windows 10 laptop that needs an Office update.

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It’s telling me that updating Office on that one laptop will take care of the Recommendation, the Remediation that I opened from that Recommendation, and this Weakness listed here.

While that level of redundancy probably isn’t necessary for a small tenant like mine, I do look forward to playing around with DVM in a much larger tenant. I think this information would be much more useful in a larger environment where it’s more difficult to keep track of the different vulnerabilities affecting a deployment.

Event Timeline

Guess what’s in the Event Timeline sub-section. If you guessed another view of the same vulnerabilities, then you just earned a gold star for the day.

In the screenshot below, you can see that I really need to update Office on that laptop!

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Again, this is the same two Office vulnerabilities that are shown in a slightly different view. There is even a button here that will take you back up to the Recommendations for these vulnerabilities.

Baseline Assessment

So far DVM has shown us a dashboard that summarizes the vulnerabilities listed in the next five sub-sections, then those same vulnerabilities listed in those five different subsections. I don’t want to sound too “complainy” here, as this is good vulnerability information that can absolutely help administrators better secure their devices, but I do think those sub-sections could be condensed into a single pane with some sort of different views. I am not a UI designer, so maybe there is a good reason Microsoft felt they needed all that real estate within the Security Center to present the same information multiple times.

The Baseline Assessment sub-section, however, does provide different functionality. According to Microsoft Documentation:

“A security baseline profile is a customized profile that you can create to assess and monitor endpoints in your organization against industry security benchmarks. When you create a security baseline profile, you're creating a template that consists of multiple device configuration settings and a base benchmark to compare against.”

To create a Baseline Assessment profile:

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  1. From the Baseline Assessment sub-section, select “+Create” in the upper left to create a new profile.
  2. Name your new profile and add a description. Select Next.
  3. Select your profile scope by choosing software to monitor (Versions of Windows 10 and 11 are listed here. Hopefully Microsoft will add additional software at a later date), a baseline benchmark (I selected CIS v1.12.0), and a compliance level. Select Next
    defender-vulnerability-7
  4. Add configuration settings. Based on the benchmark and compliance level selected on the last page, you will see different configuration settings you can select. With the selections I made there are hundreds of different configuration settings for me to choose from. I’m going to select them all for this test profile, but you’ll want to spend some time on selecting options that meet your organization’s compliance needs. There is also a Customize button to the right of each setting so you can edit each setting individually. Once you’re done, select Next.
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  5. Choose devices to assess. I only have one device in my tenant to which this profile can apply, so I selected All device groups. Select Next, then review you profile settings on the next page and submit the profile. Once you have submitted your bassline assessment profile, it will take some time for any new information to show up. The documentation says 12 hours.

I’m going to let that run, then we’ll take a deeper look at the baseline assessment and over DVM features in a future blog post.

 



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