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Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a great security tool, and we always recommend it. Office 365 admins can enforce MFA for users, which means you can help protect anyone sharing your Office 365 business subscription.

To do this you’ll need to be an Office 365 administrator, which only happens with a business plan. If your Office 365 subscription comes as part of a domain hosting package, then you’ll have access to the Admin console. However, if you’ve just purchased a personal subscription (or home subscription for your family), then you won’t have access to the Admin console, and you can only turn MFA on for yourself. If you’re not sure, click the Office 365 app launcher and look for the Admin tile.

The Admin tile on the O365 app launcher

If it’s there, you’ve got access to the Admin console. Click the Admin tile, and on the menu on the left-hand side click Settings > Services and add-ins.

The "Services & add-ins" option in the Admin menu

This opens the Services and add-ins page, where you can make various tenant-level changes. One of the top items will be “Azure multi-factor authentication.”

The "Azure multi-factor authentication" option

Click this, and on the panel that opens on the right, click “Manage multi-factor authentication.”

The "Azure multi-factor authentication" link

This will take you to the multi-factor authentication page. You can immediately turn MFA on for anyone who is using your Office 365 subscription, but, before that it’s best to acquaint yourself with the default settings. To do this, click “Service Settings.”

The "service settings" tab

You can change whatever settings you like, or leave them as the defaults. One potential setting to look at changing is whether or not MFA can be remembered on a device. By default this is off, but turning it on means your family won’t have to go through the MFA process every time they want to check their email or edit a document.

If you switch this on, the default number of days a device can go before having to re-authenticate is 14, which means a phone/tablet/computer will be trusted for 14 days before the user has to go through the MFA process again. Having to go through the MFA process is simple, but having to do it every 2 weeks on every device that your family uses might still be a bit too much and you have the option to set this as high as 60 days.

If you do make any changes to this or any other settings, click “Save” at the bottom to the panel to save the changes, then click “users” to go back to turning on MFA.

The "service settings" options and the "users" tab

Now that you’ve made sure the settings are right, you can enable MFA for each user. Select the users for whom you want to turn MFA.

The users table with a selected user

To the right of the table of users, click the “Enable” option that appears.

The Enable option

On the confirmation screen, click “Enable Multi-Factor Authentication.”

The "enable multi-factor authentication" button

This will enable MFA for the user, and the next time they login to Office 365 on the web, they’ll have to go through a process of setting up MFA. If they don’t log in very often (or you want to make sure you’re around to help them through the process), you can also send them the link from the confirmation screen so that they can set up MFA at a time that suits them. The link is https://aka.ms/MFASetup, which is the same for everyone setting up MFA.

Once you’ve clicked “Enable Multi-Factor Authentication” you’ll see a success message, which you can close.

The "Updates successful" dialogue

MFA is now enabled for the user; now, they need to set it up. Whether they wait until the next time they login, or they use the link we mentioned above, the process for setting up MFA is exactly the same.

Login to your Office 365 account as normal, and a screen will be displayed telling you that “your organisation needs more information to keep your account secure.”

The start of the O365 login process

Click “Next” to be taken to the “Additional security verification” panel, where you can choose your MFA method. We always recommend using an authenticator app, and you’ll have to use Microsoft Authenticator with Office 365. Even using MFA via SMS is still better than not having MFA at all, so choose the method that works best for you in the first dropdown.

The "Additional security verification" panel

We’re going to use a mobile app, which will change the available configuration options. First you need to choose whether to”Receive notifications for verification” (which means a message will pop up on the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone asking you to approve or deny a login to your account) or whether to “Use verification code” (which means you’ll have to enter a code generated by the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone when you login to Office 365). Either works fine, and it’s up to you what you choose. After this, you need to click the “Set Up” button to set up the app.

Radio buttons to choose the contact method

At this point a panel will appear telling you to install the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone and then either scan a QR code or, if you can’t scan the QR code, enter a code and URL instead. Once you’ve done this, click “Next” to go back to the Additional Security Verification window, which will show that the activation status is being checked.

The "Checking activation status" message

This may take a few seconds, and once it’s finished the message will change to show that MFA has been configured.

The successful MFA configuration message

Click Next, and Office 365 will check that everything is working. Depending on what option you selected for verification, it will either send a Deny or Approve message to your app, or ask you to enter a code from the app. In this example, it sent a Deny or Approve message and is waiting for a response.

A message displayed while waiting for you to respond to the test notification

After you’ve verified that MFA is working, you’ll be asked for a phone number in case you lose access to the app.

The mobile phone number text field

This phone number will be used as backup to use SMS or voice calls in the event that you can’t use the Microsoft Authenticator app, such as when you haven’t got Wi-Fi (or you’ve run out of data on your monthly plan, and you’re out and about). It could also be used if you’ve lost your phone, so you might want to choose the number of a family member instead of your own. Once you’ve entered a number, click “Next” to see the final screen.

The app passwordtext box, and Finished button

This page includes a Microsoft-generated password that it will recognize as being created for MFA use. You’ll need to use this password now on rather than the one you normally use, in all of the following apps:

  • Outlook desktop app for your PC or Mac
  • Email apps (except the Outlook app) on an iOS, Android or BlackBerry device
  • Office 2010, Office for Mac 2011 or earlier
  • Windows Essentials (Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail)
  • Zune desktop app
  • Xbox 360
  • Windows Phone 8 or earlier

The next time you try to open any of these apps they’ll ask for your password, so copy it down from here and use it when asked. We can verify that Outlook on your computer needs to use the generated password but the Outlook app on your phone doesn’t, and yes, we find that odd as well, but it’s not a great hardship.

Click “Finished,” and you’ll be taken back to the login screen to login as normal, but this time using MFA. It’s a simple, quick process that provide a valuable layer of extra security, and one that we at How-To Geek strongly recommend.

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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