Microsoft’s decision to extend the use of multifactor authentication will improve security for Office 365 users, the company claims.

The firm has announced that it is making two-step verification available, for free, to those who use the cloud-based productivity suite on certain enterprise plans.  The latest announcement will not, however, impact those with the suite’s consumer and small business editions.

[themecolor]How safe is my online data?[/themecolor]

It’s one of the most common causes for concern when it comes to cloud computing solutions, so this development should be welcomed by those worried about the security of the files they upload.

With multifactor authentication in place, users are required to provide more than just a basic password to gain access. In theory, the second step could involve the use of physical attributes such as retina scanning or fingerprints, although Microsoft is not expected to go this far.

Speaking about how users will be affected, product manager Paul Andrew said: “With multifactor authentication for Office 365, users are required to acknowledge a phone call, text message, or an app notification on their smartphone after correctly entering their password. Only after this second authentication factor has been satisfied can a user sign in.”

This isn’t the first time such techniques have been used with the hugely popular Office 365; users in administrative roles were first given access in June 2013.

The tech giant’s new focus on security will also impact users of Office 2013 client applications, with two-step verification support also expected for Word, PowerShell, PowerPoint, Excel, Lync and Outlook.

In a blog post published recently, Microsoft’s technical manager for the Office 365 team, Paul Andrew, said that OneDrive for Business, which is set to be launched before the end of the year, will also be supported. This is the enterprise edition of the company’s flagship file-hosting service, which until recently was known as SkyDrive.

Multifactor authentication will be made available for those on a number of Office 365 plans, including the midsize business, academic, enterprise and non-profit editions. Businesses using SharePoint Online and Exchange Online will also benefit.