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Securing Your Microsoft 365 Accounts – 6 Additional Security Protections

Cybercrime is one of the greatest threats facing UK businesses today, and it’s a danger that appears to be growing. Managing cyber risk means apply robust and widespread security controls and best practices across your business, including your Microsoft 365 accounts.

Sadly, many businesses fall victim to cybercrime because they fail to comprehend the scale and gravity of the situation. The UK Government’s cyber security breaches survey paints a worrying picture. Among its findings it discovered that:

  • 32% of all businesses identified a cyber-attack or breach attempt in the preceding 12-month period. This figure is far higher for larger businesses with better threat detection capabilities.
  • The average breach incident cost businesses of any size £1100.
  • The survey estimates that there were around 2.39 million instances of cybercrime in the 12-month study period, across all UK businesses of all sizes.

As we discussed in our previous article, Microsoft 365 is not immune to the effects of cybercrime, and it’s up to your business to take proportionate steps to secure the data you host on 365, and other Microsoft cloud services. Previously, we looked at some of the native security capabilities you can activate from within Microsoft 365 to mitigate against cyber risk. Now let’s look at some additional measures you can take to complement these steps, to further reinforce your security posture.

Use Dedicated Admin Accounts

Previously, we discussed the rationale behind extending user privileges and access rights in a limited and specific way to minimise harm in the event of an account takeover. Security best practice dictates that you should go one step further and use certain accounts exclusively for system admin tasks.

To safeguard these accounts against malicious takeover, web-connected features such as browsers, email clients and other web-based services should de-configured. This eliminates any possible entry-points for hackers, and ensures the account remains uncompromised so that it can be used safely for system admin tasks.

Use a Dedicated Microsoft 365 Backup Service

While Microsoft 365 allows you to specify retention periods, and some failover protection is provided through geo-redundancy, the service doesn’t provide the storage and recovery capabilities of a dedicated data backup service. Microsoft 365’s file and email retention capabilities are limited in their scope, and using your Microsoft storage to retain copies of your files is likely to prove a cost-inefficient way of doing things. Moreover, the native retention features may fall short of the data protection regulations your business is subject to, which could see your business incur fines or legal penalties in the event of a data breach.

Using a dedicated 365 backup service will give your business access to affordable backup storage options, let you specify retention periods that meet your compliance needs, and give you access to data discoverability tools that support easy restoration down to individual file level.

Security Awareness Training

With almost 9 out of 10 data breaches attributable to human error, maintaining a cyber-aware culture among staff is a vital cyber security defence that many businesses overlook. Cybercriminals often exploit poor user awareness through Phishing attacks, which involve the use of persuasive and deceptive emails designed to trick users into disclosing sensitive information or executing fraudulent payments. Educating staff on the dangers of phishing, and the tactics phishing scammers use, will empower your employees to act in your business’s best interests and lock the cybercriminals out of your digital assets.

Phishing awareness training can often be accessed through flexible, convenient e-learning modules, that you can tailor to fit around your workflows. These services often encompass phishing simulation exercises, designed to gauge the ability of staff to distinguish phishing attempts from legitimate email correspondence. Your IT support provider should be able to recommend cost-effective phishing awareness training resources that you can use to make your employees your greatest cyber security asset.

Use a Mobile Device Management (MDM) Solution

The growth in remote work has led to a corresponding rise in employees using laptops, tablets, and mobile phones to access company data. While flexible working practices can benefit both employers and employees, remote work can present a unique set of security challenges without the necessary precautions and data protection measures in place. Remote work devices must be subject to the same level of monitoring and governance as your on-premises machines, and the best way to achieve this is by enrolling them onto a mobile device management solution – ‘MDM’ for short.

MDM solutions give IT personnel the power to remotely configure and monitor mobile devices, ensuring the latest updates are routinely installed and the most secure settings are applied consistently across all work devices. MDM can be used to enforce multi-factor authentication to protect devices against unauthorised access, and it can be leveraged to prohibit the download of unsanctioned programmes to prevent malware being inadvertently introduced to your work devices.

Whether your team are using their own devices to access your Microsoft 365 data, or devices issued by your business, using and endpoint management solution like Microsoft Intune gives you the power to enforce secure settings, mitigate cyber threats, and apply data controls across your remote devices. Intune integrates with the identity and access management capabilities of Azure Active Directory, to offer a truly unified endpoint security solution that empowers both remote and office-based teams to work securely in Microsoft 365.

Configure Data Loss Prevention Policies (DLP)

There’s one last 365-native security feature we want to tell you about: Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies. Configurable from within the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance centre, DLP policies empower you to take action to prevent the inappropriate use, deletion or loss of sensitive information across your Microsoft 365 environment, including within OneDrive, SharePoint, Outlook and Exchange.

DLP works automatically to identify sensitive information types across your Microsoft 365 ecosystem, including the likes of personally identifiable information (PII) and banking information.

You can configure DLP to either display a user prompt to discourage an inappropriate data handling action, or to simply block the action altogether. Data loss prevention policies give you the ability to effectively govern your information, and uphold your compliance obligations.

Deploy Extended Threat Detection and Response (XDR)

For the ultimate in real-time cyber security protection, consider deploying XDR capabilities to identify and take action against cyber threats across your endpoints, apps and cloud services (including of course, Microsoft 365). Extended detection and response platforms offer next-generation security capabilities, leveraging threat intelligence feeds and AI to counter the most sophisticated modern threats.

Forming a core part of Microsoft’s Security offering, Microsoft 365 Defender is an industry-leading XDR solution optimised to detect, investigate and neutralise threats across the platforms, devices and cloud services your team uses. Offering centralised threat management through a unified portal, Defender will scan your environment for the early signatures of an attack, enabling you to take action before escalation causes a serious security incident for your business. Get in touch with your IT team today, if you’re interested in uprating your security posture with the power of XDR.

In Summary

We hope this short blog series has helped you evaluate the security posture of your 365 environment, and given an insight into some of the tools and practices you can use to make your 365 accounts more secure and resilient. If you’re in any doubt about your Microsoft 365 security, start a conversation with your IT team or IT support provider today, and make sure they’re doing what they can to mitigate cyber risk and safeguard your data against loss.

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