Discover apps by using Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps and Active Directory Federation Services app report


To start learning how to protect cloud apps, you first need to learn what Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) is. Then, learn what the Microsoft implementation of CASB is.

CASB - Cloud Access Security Broker - An on-premises or cloud-based security policy enforcement point, placed between cloud service consumers and cloud service providers to combine and interject enterprise security policies as the cloud-based resources are accessed.

MDCA - Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps (MDCA) - Microsoft implementation of a CASB service to protect data, services, and applications with enterprise policies. It provides supplemental reporting and analytics services

Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps

Moving to the cloud increases flexibility for employees and IT alike. However, it also introduces new challenges and complexities for keeping your organization secure. To get the full benefit of cloud apps and services, an IT team must find the right balance of supporting access while maintaining control to protect critical data. Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps (MDCA) is a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) that supports various deployment modes, including log collection, API connectors, and reverse proxy. It provides rich visibility, control over data travel, and sophisticated analytics to identify and combat cyberthreats across all your Microsoft and third-party cloud services. Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps natively integrates with leading Microsoft solutions and is designed with security professionals in mind. It provides simple deployment, centralized management, and innovative automation capabilities. Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps is a comprehensive cross-SaaS solution bringing deep visibility, strong data controls, and enhanced threat protection to your cloud apps. Cloud Discovery, a feature of Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps, enables you to gain visibility into Shadow IT by discovering cloud apps in use.


Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps integrates visibility with your cloud by:

  • Using Cloud Discovery to map and identify your cloud environment and the cloud apps your organization is using.

  • Sanctioning and de-authorizing apps in your cloud.

  • Using easy-to-deploy app connectors that take advantage of provider APIs, for visibility and governance of apps that you connect to.

  • Using Conditional Access App Control protection to get real-time visibility and control over access and activities within your cloud apps.

  • Helping you have continuous control by setting and continually fine-tuning policies.

    Diagram of Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps architecture. How are apps found and managed.

Cloud Discovery

Screenshot of the M D C A Cloud Discovery report in the Azure portal. Report shows how many apps have been discovered.

Cloud Discovery uses your traffic logs to dynamically discover and analyze the cloud apps your organization is using. To create a snapshot report of your organization's cloud use, manually upload log files from your firewalls or proxies for analysis. To set up continuous reports, use Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps log collectors to periodically forward your logs.

Review the Cloud Discovery Dashboard

The admin should review the information in the Cloud Discovery Dashboard first, to get a general picture of your Cloud Discovery apps. Look for:

  • First look at the overall cloud app use in your organization in the High-level usage overview.
  • Then, dive one level deeper to see which are the top categories used in your org for each of the different use parameters. You can see how much of this usage is by Sanction apps.
  • Go even deeper and see all the apps in a specific category in the Discovered apps tab.
  • You can see the top users and source IP addresses to identify which users are the most dominant users of cloud apps in your organization.
  • Check how the discovered apps spread according to geographic location (according to their HQ) in the App Headquarters map.
  • Finally, don't forget to review the risk score of the discovered app in the App risk overview. Check the discovery alerts status to see how many open alerts should you investigate.

Filtering Discovered Apps

  • App tag - Select whether the app was sanctioned or unsanctioned or not tagged. Additionally, you can create a custom tag for your app and then use it to filter for specific types of apps.
  • Apps and domains - Enables you to search for specific apps or apps used in specific domains.
  • Categories - The categories filter, located on the left of the page, enables you to search for types of apps according to app categories. Example categories include social network apps, cloud storage apps, and hosting services. You can select multiple categories at a time, or a single category, then apply the basic and advanced filters on top.
  • Compliance risk factor - Search for a specific standards, certification, and compliance that the app may comply with (HIPAA, ISO 27001, SOC 2, PCI-DSS, and more.).
  • General risk factor - Search for general risk factors such as consumer popularity, data center locale, and more.
  • Risk score - Enables apps to filter by risk score so that you can focus on, for example, reviewing only highly risky apps. You can also override the risk score set by Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps. For more information, see Working with the risk score.
  • Security risk factor - Enables you to filter based on specific security measures (such as Encryption at rest, multifactor authentication, etc.).
  • Usage - Enables filtering based on the usage statistics of this app. Usage such as apps with less than or more than a specified number of data uploads, apps with more than or less than a specified number of Users.
  • Legal risk factor - Provides the ability to filter based on all the regulations and policies that are in-place to ensure data protection and privacy of the app's users. Examples include safe-customer-data ready cloud apps, DMCA, and data retention policy.

Sanctioning and unsanctioning an app

You can use Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps to sanction or unsanction apps in your organization by using the Cloud app catalog. The Microsoft team of analysts has an extensive and continuously growing catalog of more than 16,000 cloud apps that are ranked and scored based on industry standards. Use the Cloud app catalog to rate the risk for your cloud apps based on regulatory certifications, industry standards, and best practices. Then, customize the scores and weights of various parameters to your organization's needs. Based on these scores, Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps monitors how risky an app is. Scoring is based on more than 80 risk factors that might affect your environment.

Active Directory Federation Services

If you have an on-premises directory that contains user accounts, you likely have many applications to which users authenticate. Each of these apps is configured for users to access using their identities. Users may also authenticate directly with your on-premises Active Directory. Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) is a standards-based on-premises identity service. AD FS extends the ability to use single-sign-on (SSO) functionality between trusted business partners without requiring users to sign in separately to each application - federation. Many organizations have software as a service (SaaS) or custom line-of-business (LOB) apps federated directly to AD FS, alongside Microsoft 365 and Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), part of Entra based apps.

Screenshot of the Applications available directly on-premises. Other supporting data on app usage.

To increase application security, your goal is to have a single set of access controls and policies across your on-premises and cloud environments.

Screenshot of the same Applications connected through Azure A D, after using app discovery.

Many organizations use AD FS to provide SSO to cloud applications. Moving your AD FS applications to Azure AD for authentication provides significant benefits, especially in terms of cost management, risk management, productivity, compliance, and governance. But understanding which applications are compatible with Azure AD and identifying specific migration steps can be time consuming.

Sometimes the organization may be using alternate on-premises or cloud identity providers, such as SiteMinder, Oracle Access Manager, PingFederate, etc. Most of them are on-premises installations. Some cloud providers, such as Okta and OneLogin, offer similar services.

The AD FS application activity report in the Azure portal enables you to quickly identify which applications you can migrate to Azure AD. It assesses all AD FS applications for compatibility with Azure AD, checks for any issues, and gives guidance on preparing individual applications for migration. With the AD FS application activity report, you can discover AD FS applications and scope your migration. The AD FS application activity report lists all AD FS applications in your organization that have had an active user logged in within the last 30 days. The activity data is available to users who are assigned any of these admin roles: global administrator, global reader, report reader, security reader, application administrator, or cloud application administrator.

Types of apps to migrate

Migrating all your application authentication to Azure AD is optimal, as it gives you a single control plane for identity and access management.

There are two types of applications to migrate:

  1. SaaS applications, which are procured by the organization.
  2. Line-of-business applications, which are developed by the organization and not meant to be used by other companies. Your applications may use modern or legacy protocols for authentication. Most SaaS applications use modern authentication protocols and provide guidance on how to enable SSO. Consider first migrating applications that use modern authentication protocols (such as SAML and Open ID Connect). These apps can be reconfigured to authenticate with Azure AD via either a built-in connector in our App Gallery, or by registering the application in Azure AD. Integrate apps using older protocols by using Application Proxy and/or Azure AD Domain Services.

Discover AD FS applications that can be migrated

The AD FS application activity report is available in the Azure portal under Azure AD Usage and insights reporting. The AD FS application activity report analyzes each AD FS application to determine whether it can be migrated as-is or after review.

  1. Sign in to the Azure portal with an admin role that has access to AD FS application activity data (global administrator, report reader, security reader, application administrator, or cloud application administrator).

  2. Select Azure Active Directory, and then select Enterprise applications.

  3. Under Activity, select Usage and insights, and then select AD FS application activity to open a list of all AD FS applications in your organization.

    Screenshot of A D F S application activity. Track what application you have.

  4. For each application in the AD FS application activity list, view the Migration status:

    • Ready to migrate means the AD FS application configuration is fully supported in Azure AD and can be migrated as-is.
    • Needs review means some of the application's settings can be migrated to Azure AD, but you'll need to review the settings that can't be migrated as-is.
    • Additional steps required means Azure AD doesn't support some of the application's settings, so the application can’t be migrated in its current state.