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Advanced Data Security Standards in Microsoft 365

A Guide to Implementing Advanced Data Security Standards in Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 is the world’s leading provider of business productivity tools, enabling communication, file storage and sharing, document management, and much more. 

With so much sensitive information entrusted to the company by so many organizations, Microsoft has had to double down on data security protocols to protect against advancing data breaches and cyber-attacks – but do you know how to configure these security controls to ensure maximum effectiveness?

The Basics of Microsoft 365 Security

Data security encompasses various practices and protocols aimed at protecting digital information from unauthorized access, corruption, or theft. In the context of Microsoft 365, this means safeguarding your sensitive data, including emails, documents, and communication channels, against security risks.

Security Key Concepts:
  • Encryption: A method that transforms readable data into an encoded format, which can only be decoded with the right key, ensuring that only authorized users can access the information.

  • Authentication: The process of verifying the identity of a user or device, typically through passwords, biometrics, or Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).

  • Authorization: Determining whether a user has the right to access specific resources within Microsoft 365, based on their verified identity.
Microsoft’s Built-in Security Features:

Microsoft 365 comes equipped with a range of built-in security features designed to provide a strong defense against common threats:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to their Microsoft 365 accounts.


  • Advanced Threat Protection (ATP): Protects against sophisticated threats like phishing and zero-day malware in email, collaboration tools, and more.


  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Helps prevent sensitive information from being inappropriately shared or leaked outside the organization.


  • Azure Information Protection (AIP): Enables classification, labeling, and protection of documents and emails, helping to keep data secure, regardless of where it’s stored.


  • Compliance Manager: A feature designed to help organizations meet complex compliance obligations, including data protection and regulatory standards, with ongoing risk assessments, actionable insights, and simplified compliance processes.


  • Microsoft Intune: A cloud-based service focused on mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) that helps ensure that your organization’s devices and apps are compliant with your security requirements.


  • Conditional Access Policies: Allow you to implement automated access control decisions for accessing your cloud apps, based on conditions.


  • Secure Score: A measurement of an organization’s security posture, with recommendations on actions that can improve it and reduce the risk of a security breach.


  • Exchange Online Protection (EOP): Offers email filtering service that protects against spam and malware, and includes features to safeguard your organization from messaging policy violations.


  • Microsoft Defender: Provides protection for all of Microsoft 365 against advanced threats like business email compromise and credential phishing, and includes investigation and response capabilities.


  • Endpoint DLP: Extends the activity monitoring and protection capabilities of DLP to sensitive items that are physically stored on Windows 10 devices.


  • Information Governance: Helps you manage your content lifecycle using capabilities such as retention policies, retention labels, and records management.

How to Configure Microsoft 365 Security Standards

Advanced data security protocols go beyond the basics, providing enhanced protection against sophisticated threats and ensuring compliance with stringent regulations. The following Microsoft 365 features can be configured to your business’s specific needs:

Email and File Encryption

Microsoft 365 allows for advanced encryption of emails and files, ensuring that sensitive information is protected both at rest and in transit. To enhance email security, consider using Office 365 Message Encryption (OME), which enables users to send encrypted emails to anyone, inside or outside the organization. 

For files, leverage the capabilities of OneDrive and SharePoint to encrypt documents stored in the cloud.

Azure Information Protection

Integrating Azure Information Protection (AIP) with Microsoft 365 can provide an additional layer of security. AIP allows you to classify, label, and protect documents and emails based on their sensitivity. This helps in preventing accidental sharing of sensitive information, and enables you to track and control how content is used.

Advanced Threat Protection

Microsoft 365’s Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) offers stringent defenses against phishing attacks, malware, and other threats. ATP Safe Links protect users by scanning URLs in emails and Office documents, while ATP Safe Attachments protect by scanning email attachments for malware. 

Setting up these features requires configuring ATP policies in the Microsoft 365 Defender portal, ensuring all links and attachments are verified before being accessed by the users.

ATP also includes anti-phishing capabilities that use machine learning models and impersonation detection algorithms to protect against sophisticated phishing attempts. By setting up anti-phishing policies in Microsoft 365, you can define actions to be taken when potential phishing emails are detected, minimizing the risk of successful phishing attacks.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

DLP policies can be configured to identify, monitor, and automatically protect sensitive information across Microsoft 365 services. For example, you can set up a DLP policy to detect and block the sharing of financial data or personally identifiable information (PII) outside the organization.

DLP policies are highly customizable, allowing you to define what constitutes sensitive information and the actions to be taken when such information is shared inappropriately. This might include blocking the content from being shared, notifying administrators, or simply alerting the user about the potential breach of policy.

Compliance Center

The Microsoft 365 compliance center provides tools and resources to manage data governance and ensure compliance with legal and regulatory standards. It includes features like content search, eDiscovery, and audit logs, which help in managing and auditing data access and usage.

To maintain control over your sensitive data, implement governance policies that dictate how data is retained, accessed, and managed. Retention policies ensure that data is kept for a specified period for compliance purposes, while sensitivity labels can be used to classify and protect data based on its level of sensitivity.

Microsoft 365 Data Security Best Practices

Consistent management and vigilant monitoring are key to ensuring that your data within Microsoft 365 remains secure against cyber threats.

Regularly Review Security Policies
  • Conduct Periodic Assessments: Regularly assess your security policies and configurations to ensure they align with current security standards and business requirements. This includes reviewing encryption protocols, access controls, and threat protection settings.

  • Stay Informed: Microsoft frequently releases security patches. Stay informed about these updates and assess how they can be integrated into your existing security framework.
Employee Cyber Training
  • Security Awareness: Foster a culture of security within your organization by regularly educating employees about the latest security threats, such as phishing scams and social engineering attacks, and how to avoid them.

  • IT Training: Provide specific training on the correct use of Microsoft 365 security features, such as secure sharing practices, recognizing and reporting suspicious emails, and using multi-factor authentication.
Incident Response Plan
  • Develop a Response Plan: Prepare a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines procedures for responding to security breaches, including identification, containment, eradication, and recovery steps.

  • Regular Drills: Conduct regular drills and simulations to test the effectiveness of your incident response plan, ensuring that your team is well-prepared to act swiftly and effectively in the event of a real incident.
Secure Configuration and Access Controls
  • Least Privilege Access: Implement the principle of least privilege by ensuring that users have only the access they need to perform their jobs, reducing the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information.

  • Secure Default Settings: Review and adjust default configurations in Microsoft 365 services to ensure they meet your organization’s security requirements. Default settings may not always align with best security practices.
Monitoring and Reporting
  • Utilize Security Dashboards: Make use of Microsoft 365’s built-in security dashboards and reporting tools to monitor security indicators and detect potential threats or anomalies in real-time.

  • Regular Audits: Conduct regular security assessments and audits of user activities and access logs to identify unusual patterns or potential security breaches, allowing for timely intervention.
Data Backup and Recovery
  • Implement Backup Solutions: While Microsoft 365 includes data redundancy features, it’s essential to have a separate backup solution to recover critical data in the event of accidental deletion, corruption, or ransomware attacks.

  • Test Recovery Processes: Regularly test your data recovery processes to ensure you can quickly restore data when necessary, minimizing downtime and data loss.

Strengthen Your Data Security with Expert Support

Securing your Microsoft 365 environment is an ongoing process that requires diligence, awareness, and a proactive approach. However, the complexities of managing advanced data security protocols can be challenging.

The Microsoft 365 security specialists at ION247 will provide the specialized knowledge and support needed to implement, manage, and monitor advanced security measures for your business’s needs, allowing you to focus on your core business activities knowing your sensitive information and intellectual property is secure.