Introduction to Microsoft Defender for servers


Azure Security Center and Azure Defender are now called Microsoft Defender for Cloud. We've also renamed Azure Defender plans to Microsoft Defender plans. For example, Azure Defender for Storage is now Microsoft Defender for Storage. Learn more about the recent renaming of Microsoft security services.

Microsoft Defender for servers is one of the enhanced security features of Microsoft Defender for Cloud. Use it to add threat detection and advanced defenses to your Windows and Linux machines whether they're running in Azure, on-premises, or in a multi-cloud environment.

To protect machines in hybrid and multi-cloud environments, Defender for Cloud uses Azure Arc. Connect your hybrid and multi-cloud machines as explained in the relevant quickstart:


For details of which Defender for servers features are relevant for machines running on other cloud environments, see Supported features for virtual machines and servers.

What are the benefits of Microsoft Defender for servers?

The threat detection and protection capabilities provided with Microsoft Defender for servers include:

  • Integrated license for Microsoft Defender for Endpoint - Microsoft Defender for servers includes Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. Together, they provide comprehensive endpoint detection and response (EDR) capabilities. For more information, see Protect your endpoints.

    When Defender for Endpoint detects a threat, it triggers an alert. The alert is shown in Defender for Cloud. From Defender for Cloud, you can also pivot to the Defender for Endpoint console, and perform a detailed investigation to uncover the scope of the attack. Learn more about Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.


    Defender for Cloud’s integration with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is enabled by default. So when you enable Microsoft Defender for servers, you give consent for Defender for Cloud to access the Microsoft Defender for Endpoint data related to vulnerabilities, installed software, and alerts for your endpoints.

    Learn more in Protect your endpoints with Defender for Cloud's integrated EDR solution: Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.

  • Vulnerability assessment tools for machines - Microsoft Defender for servers includes a choice of vulnerability discovery and management tools for your machines. From Defender for Cloud's settings pages, you can select which of these tools to deploy to your machines and the discovered vulnerabilities will be shown in a security recommendation.

  • Just-in-time (JIT) virtual machine (VM) access - Threat actors actively hunt accessible machines with open management ports, like RDP or SSH. All of your virtual machines are potential targets for an attack. When a VM is successfully compromised, it's used as the entry point to attack further resources within your environment.

    When you enable Microsoft Defender for servers, you can use just-in-time VM access to lock down the inbound traffic to your VMs, reducing exposure to attacks while providing easy access to connect to VMs when needed. For more information, see Understanding JIT VM access.

  • File integrity monitoring (FIM) - File integrity monitoring (FIM), also known as change monitoring, examines files and registries of operating system, application software, and others for changes that might indicate an attack. A comparison method is used to determine if the current state of the file is different from the last scan of the file. You can use this comparison to determine if valid or suspicious modifications have been made to your files.

    When you enable Microsoft Defender for servers, you can use FIM to validate the integrity of Windows files, your Windows registries, and Linux files. For more information, see File integrity monitoring in Microsoft Defender for Cloud.

  • Adaptive application controls (AAC) - Adaptive application controls are an intelligent and automated solution for defining allowlists of known-safe applications for your machines.

    When you've enabled and configured adaptive application controls, you'll get security alerts if any application runs other than the ones you've defined as safe. For more information, see Use adaptive application controls to reduce your machines' attack surfaces.

  • Adaptive network hardening (ANH) - Applying network security groups (NSG) to filter traffic to and from resources, improves your network security posture. However, there can still be some cases in which the actual traffic flowing through the NSG is a subset of the NSG rules defined. In these cases, further improving the security posture can be achieved by hardening the NSG rules, based on the actual traffic patterns.

    Adaptive Network Hardening provides recommendations to further harden the NSG rules. It uses a machine learning algorithm that factors in actual traffic, known trusted configuration, threat intelligence, and other indicators of compromise, and then provides recommendations to allow traffic only from specific IP/port tuples. For more information, see Improve your network security posture with adaptive network hardening.

  • Docker host hardening - Microsoft Defender for Cloud identifies unmanaged containers hosted on IaaS Linux VMs, or other Linux machines running Docker containers. Defender for Cloud continuously assesses the configurations of these containers. It then compares them with the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Docker Benchmark. Defender for Cloud includes the entire ruleset of the CIS Docker Benchmark and alerts you if your containers don't satisfy any of the controls. For more information, see Harden your Docker hosts.

  • Fileless attack detection - Fileless attacks inject malicious payloads into memory to avoid detection by disk-based scanning techniques. The attacker’s payload then persists within the memory of compromised processes and performs a wide range of malicious activities.

    With fileless attack detection, automated memory forensic techniques identify fileless attack toolkits, techniques, and behaviors. This solution periodically scans your machine at runtime, and extracts insights directly from the memory of processes. Specific insights include the identification of:

    • Well-known toolkits and crypto mining software

    • Shellcode, which is a small piece of code typically used as the payload in the exploitation of a software vulnerability.

    • Injected malicious executable in process memory

    Fileless attack detection generates detailed security alerts that include descriptions with process metadata such as network activity. These details accelerate alert triage, correlation, and downstream response time. This approach complements event-based EDR solutions, and provides increased detection coverage.

    For details of the fileless attack detection alerts, see the Reference table of alerts.

  • Linux auditd alerts and Log Analytics agent integration (Linux only) - The auditd system consists of a kernel-level subsystem, which is responsible for monitoring system calls. It filters them by a specified rule set, and writes messages for them to a socket. Defender for Cloud integrates functionalities from the auditd package within the Log Analytics agent. This integration enables collection of auditd events in all supported Linux distributions, without any prerequisites.

    Log Analytics agent for Linux collects auditd records and enriches and aggregates them into events. Defender for Cloud continuously adds new analytics that use Linux signals to detect malicious behaviors on cloud and on-premises Linux machines. Similar to Windows capabilities, these analytics span across suspicious processes, dubious sign-in attempts, kernel module loading, and other activities. These activities can indicate a machine is either under attack or has been breached.

    For a list of the Linux alerts, see the Reference table of alerts.

How does Defender for servers collect data?

For Windows, Microsoft Defender for Cloud integrates with Azure services to monitor and protect your Windows-based machines. Defender for Cloud presents the alerts and remediation suggestions from all of these services in an easy-to-use format.

For Linux, Defender for Cloud collects audit records from Linux machines by using auditd, one of the most common Linux auditing frameworks.

For hybrid and multi-cloud scenarios, Defender for Cloud integrates with Azure Arc to ensure these non-Azure machines are seen as Azure resources.

Simulating alerts

You can simulate alerts by downloading one of the following playbooks:

Next steps

In this article, you learned about Microsoft Defender for servers.

For related material, see the following page:

  • Whether an alert is generated by Defender for Cloud, or received by Defender for Cloud from a different security product, you can export it. To export your alerts to Microsoft Sentinel, any third-party SIEM, or any other external tool, follow the instructions in Exporting alerts to a SIEM.