What are the limitations with Microsoft Defender for Business Standalone?

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Limitations with MDB Standalone

What are the limitations with Microsoft Defender for Business Standalone?

Most of my readers will already be familiar with Microsoft Defender for Business (MDB), which is included with Microsoft 365 Business Premium. And a majority of those will be deploying MDB as one part of a broader security solution which includes other services within the Business Premium bundle. But a subset of folks have asked about the “Standalone” version of Microsoft Defender for Business.

Yes, it is true, there is indeed a standalone version (USD $3/user/month), which was announced last month. The use case? Consider a scenario where the customer is using a different productivity platform such as Google Workspace, or they haven’t yet made the transition to other Microsoft 365 services. Using the standalone SKU, you could theoretically onboard devices and start providing protection, ahead of deploying other services, and with far less upfront licensing commitment.

Some of the MDB-related services will function much in the same way as you are used to with the full product, however, you should be aware that certain services would only be available with an Intune license (Microsoft Endpoint Manager). For example, the “Automatic onboarding” option during the first-run wizard experience requires devices to be enrolled with Endpoint Manager already. As well, certain functionality in the Microsoft 365 Lighthouse product may rely on the presence of the Intune licenses in order to work. At the same time, some functionality within Endpoint Manager will still be available, even without the “complete” license set. In fact, just enough of the MEM product is activated to make basic policy deployment possible for the “standalone” scenario. Clear as mud, right?

Show me

Let’s take a look at an example where I have onboarded a new “standalone” device into a tenant where I also happen to have some “fully licensed” Microsoft 365 Business Premium users.

In the first place, I need to actually purchase and assign the standalone license product to the correct users. For this purpose, I created a new user named “Mark Twain” in my tenant, and assigned the MDB standalone product.

Assign the MDB standalone license

Next, we want to check on a couple of settings related to this scenario. Begin by navigating to Settings > Endpoints from the Microsoft 365 Defender Security Center, and click on Enforcement scope.

Enable the features in Defender security center

You will want to turn On the setting called Use MDE to enforce security configuration settings from MEM and select the OS choices below (and yes: Windows Server support is coming soon to the Business product).

Then, check Microsoft Endpoint Manager by navigating to Endpoint Security > Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.

Enable the features in MEM

Be sure that the option Allow Microsoft Defender for Endpoint to enforce Endpoint Security Configurations is switched to On, and Save settings if necessary.

With those settings in place, let’s onboard a device named “Workstation10” using the local script method (you could also use GPO or other methods, but just note that you cannot use MEM to onboard the device in this scenario since the requisite license is not available and the device is not enrolled into the service).

Run the local onboarding script

Okay, now that the script has been run, we expect the device to show up in our inventory. Let’s take a look. We should be able to see it from the Defender Security Center:

See the device from the Defender Security Center

Yep. And as well, from Endpoint Manager:

See the device in MEM

You will notice in both cases that there is a column called Managed by which will indicate whether the device is being managed by Intune or MDE (which is the Enterprise term for MDB). Those devices which are managed by MDE are the so-called “standalone” devices. You will also notice that not all the data are available for standalone devices, because they are not enrolled with Intune (therefore things like Compliance cannot be evaluated).

Finally, you will notice that we can still take all the same actions against standalone devices, such as Isolate device, Restrict app execution, Run antivirus scan, Collect investigation package, Initiate Live Response Session, etc.

Same device actions are available for standalone devices

I will also add that in addition to the device inventory and device actions, the Vulnerability management functionality that we have via the Microsoft 365 Defender Security Center is still available and visible for standalone devices.

TVM data is available for standalone devices

Assigning policies

Let’s say you want to assign policies to your standalone devices. We can either use the Microsoft 365 Defender Security Center (you will find it under Configuration management > Device configuration), or we can use MEM. Since the purpose of this blog is to highlight the boundaries and limitations of MEM with regard to these standalone devices, let’s examine the option to assign policies from Endpoint Manager.

Start by creating a Dynamic device-based security group. Go to Groups, and create a new group. Name it something descriptive like “MDB Standalone Devices” or similar. Then, use the following expression to capture the devices managed by MDE:

  • (device.systemLabels -contains “MDEJoined”) or (device.systemLabels -contains “MDEManaged”)

Create a dynamic device group

(Note: I have also observed that using the “All devices” option works as well when making assignments, but it can be useful to have a group that can identify for you which devices are managed by MDE/MDB, and not yet onboarded to MEM.)

Next we can create a policy and assign it to our new security group. The following policy types are supported currently:

  • Antivirus
  • Firewall
  • Firewall rules
  • Endpoint Detection & Response

I suspect we will see additional policy types supported in the future (e.g., Attack Surface Reduction), but at the time of this writing, the above is all that is included.

I created a simple Antivirus policy. Again this could also be achieved from the Microsoft 365 Defender Security Center, but I have elected to manage my policies in MEM instead for the purposes of demonstration.

Antivirus policy is applied successfully

Now, if I try to create and assign a policy that isn’t yet supported, such as Attack Surface Reduction rules, what happens?

ASR policy stuck in pending state

As of now, we see that it just remains in a perpetual “Pending” state. I hope to see support for more policies soon, though. Fingers crossed.


So can the standalone product do everything that the MDB product can when bundled with a more complete subscription set such as Business Premium? No.

Certain policies and functionality would require the “full” license bundle including Azure AD Premium and Intune/MEM. For example, if you want to unlock features like the Conditional Access integration, and measure device Compliance, or if you want to view and managing additional device attributes. But it appears that Microsoft is attempting to open “just enough” functionality here to support a sort of “lite” management scenario of the MDE/MDB product via MEM, even if you don’t have an Intune license. (It is always best of course if you can move into the full experience with the complete license bundle).

In my opinion, we should at least get support for Attack Surface Reduction rules added both to the MEM for standalone scenario, as well as receive a new way to deploy these policies from the Defender portal (like we have with Antivirus and Firewall policies today). I do not know if/when this will happen, but my hope is that we will see it yet this year.

And that is basically the whole story in a nutshell, as of right now. Hopefully that cleared up some of the more confusing points. If we get additional functionality in the future, I will be sure to report back.

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