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7.2 min to readDigital WorkplacePublisher Advisory Services

How to improve your Microsoft 365 security

Ravi Bindra
Ravi BindraCISO
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Microsoft 365, also known as M365, is an indispensable tool for many businesses. However, while Microsoft 365 might be the world‘s most popular office productivity suite, it has a dark secret: it’s quite popular with malicious actors who hope to use the applications as a gateway to your organization’s most sensitive data.

While M365 does come equipped with native security features, it does not provide complete, end-to-end security. Organizations need to understand their role in securing their Microsoft 365 deployment and learn how to properly configure and deploy important security features. This is especially true for highly regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, and law, which must meet strict industry compliance requirements.

If you’re looking for how to improve your M365 security, here’s a closer look at the current security landscape and several top strategies that today’s most secure organizations are using.

The M365 security landscape

Statista estimates that more than one million companies across the globe use Microsoft 365 as a critical productivity suite. That translates into significant data exposure.

For hackers and other cyber criminals, that means opportunities — and they’re proactively taking advantage of them. The same study by McAfee found. With the widespread adoption of Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive as a rapid response to get people collaborating remotely, data governance and security is more important than ever. In a recent survey by BeyondTrust and Forrester about the post-COVID era, 83% of survey respondents report the rise in remote workers increases the risk of a security incident.

While there are a variety of embedded security tools within M365 that can help develop a strong security posture, many organizations aren’t using cutting-edge technology like automated management and proactive monitoring to their full potential. And when these tools are used, organizations need to implement them correctly to avoid a false sense of security.

Strategies for improving your M365 security

Microsoft 365 offers multiple embedded tools to help organizations get a handle on all aspects of their security landscape, from identity and access management, workplace protection, cloud and gateway protection and data protection. If your organization is using Microsoft 365 and you are looking for ways to improve security, here are four specific tool sets that can be part of your larger security strategy.

Identity and Access Management

Insider threats can be one of the most significant threats to your organization’s security. For example, a well-meaning employee may make an error that compromises their access credentials, or a disgruntled ex-employee may intentionally wreak havoc on your critical documents.

Thankfully, Microsoft understands that organizations sometimes need to protect themselves from inside threats. That’s why they offer several solutions that make it easier to protect and restrict access as needed.

  • Multi-factor authentication: With the Windows Hello feature, you can implement two-factor authentication at either the device or Active Directory level, with users verifying their identity using their smartphone and either a biometric marker or a PIN. There are other advanced multi-factor authentication options as well, which allow you to further improve identity verification and access management.
  • Conditional access: With conditional access, you’ll gain control over which users and devices get access to your most sensitive corporate data. This feature also uses the latest intelligent tools to evaluate requests for information against risk profiles. This means that even if you forget to revoke that angry ex-employee’s access, your Microsoft 365 could automatically lock them out and prevent them from enacting a scorched earth policy the second they lose access to an approved device. 
  • Identity protection: M365 includes a variety of solutions that help you proactively manage your users’ identities, helping to protect your business against malicious actors by ensuring compromised identity credentials cannot be accessed. For example, Azure ID Identity Protection monitors accounts on an ongoing basis for suspicious activity. The Microsoft Cloud security app provides a single-pane security view across your applications and data to help ensure identity protection at that level.

Threat Protection

On the surface, threat protection can seem simple - set up an anti-malware suite, configure your firewalls, and make sure nobody clicks on dodgy links. Unfortunately, the reality is that in today’s increasingly complex digital landscape, companies can’t rely on the simple security measures of yesteryear. M365 offers multiple tools to manage threat protection across your digital environment. Some examples include:

  • Azure Security Center: Unify your security management and threat-detection activities across your cloud workloads, with proactive monitoring and real-time remediation for issues that arise.
  • Azure Active Directory: This identity and access solution allows you to leverage adaptive machine learning to monitor, identify, and address issues that highlight compromised identities.
  • Advanced Threat Protections: This cloud-based solution helps your IT team identify and investigate a variety of issues, from advanced outside threats to malicious insider attacks.
  • Office 365 Threat Intelligence: Within the M365 dedicated security center, Threat Intelligence monitors and gathers data from different sources — user activity, verification, emails, and device level insights — to help you quickly identify and address any issues that impact your users or endanger your data.

Information Protection

While you are relying on Microsoft 365 to support your productivity, it’s almost inevitable that some business-critical proprietary information will eventually enter a cloud-connected Word or Excel document. If left unprotected, this can compromise the security of your data.

Fortunately, Microsoft has embedded a significant number of solutions that can help protect against attempts to destroy, alter, or share data in an unauthorized way. This ranges from industry standard offerings, like encryption that protects data in transit and at rest, to specialty solutions unique to M365.

For instance, organizations can utilize advanced labeling and capabilities across data sets and applications with integrated content management. When information is created or updated, it can be labeled according to its sensitivity levels, enabling you to develop a streamlined approach to applying policy-based security standards to help protect information. Those labels determine how each piece of information is monitored, accessed, and even deleted or retired — allowing more holistic controls across the information lifecycle.

With smart tools, organizations don’t have to rely only on user decisions. Content discovery tools can help you identify sensitive data that may be governed by obscure or complex regulations and apply the appropriate security solutions to protect it long-term. In addition, M365 has encryption that’s built into the software to protect data in transit and at rest.

Security Management

M365 has a dedicated security center designed to help organizations track their security across applications, data, and identities. With these tools, it’s possible for your security administrator to track device activities, set up security alerts, and take a holistic view of organizational security.

The security center offers a centralized Secure Score dashboard to provide at-a-glance, actionable insights, while their security solutions also provide intelligent recommendations to help you identify and close security gaps quickly and efficiently. Finally, with software-defined management capabilities, you can eliminate challenges and enforce solutions across the organization with policy-based management.

How SoftwareOne can help

While M365 has advanced security features that companies can take advantage of, organizations still need to periodically evaluate their security solutions and update them for the latest threats. After all, hackers and malicious actors are constantly looking for loopholes in any standard Microsoft 365 offering.

However, many companies don’t have the in-house cyber security talent to do so. Thankfully, SoftwareOne’s experienced team of experts can provide the latest in Managed Security Solutions for M365. As increasingly sophisticated security threats take hold in the business landscape, SoftwareOne’s managed security services program can help you develop a smarter approach to security.

By partnering with SoftwareOne, your business will receive the following services and benefits:

  • An evaluation to ensure that your existing M365 implementation features the latest security policies and controls
  • A secure Microsoft 365 environment across different security domains
  • Cutting-edge security controls for email, applications, and data
  • Access to advanced best practices for advanced threats, identity management, and data loss prevention
  • The prevention of outside attacks with solutions such as application controls, patch applications, user application hardening, and configuration of macros
  • The ability to restrict admin privileges, guidance for implementing operating system patches, and advanced multi-factor authentication to limit the impact of attempted attacks
  • Support system backup and data integrity with automated data backups

Final thoughts

As organizations adapt to a digital-first landscape, productivity tools such as Microsoft 365 are a centerpiece of their ability to get things done. However, don’t forget that your most sensitive data is handled through these cloud-connected solutions - and a single misstep could provide a malicious actor access.

That’s why organizations need to do everything possible to secure their M365 deployment. For starters, take advantage of the embedded security solutions to protect against threats, ensure users identify protection, and streamline data management. Then, consult outside experts for additional help. An external managed security services partner can help you implement an ongoing security plan that protects your organization’s most important information assets, giving you a priceless benefit: peace of mind.

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Ravi Bindra

Ravi Bindra

Ravi holds over 20 years’ experience as a cyber security evangelist, holding multiple leadership roles in the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, such as Global Head of Risk Management, Global Head of Architecture and Global Head of Security Operations.