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How Office 365 Data Loss Prevention (DLP) improves your data security

Despite growing consumer awareness and data protection security, there are a number of recent high-profile reports that show we have a long way to go when it comes to safeguarding sensitive information.

Data loss is a major recurring issue plaguing enterprises all around the world, across multiple industries.

  • Data loss is up by 400% since 2012, with, 71% of organisations still not fully confident in their ability to recover after a disruption, according to EMC’s Global Data Protection Index.

  • Approximately US $914,000 is the estimated cost to the 29% of global companies that have suffered data loss in the last twelve months, according to Vanson Bourne.

  • The 2017 Breach Level Index (BLI) report found over 1.9 billion records were due to accidental data loss, due to misconfigured databases and unintended security issues - an increase of 580% in the number of compromised records from 2016.

With more businesses moving to cloud computing platforms like Azure Cloud, protecting both company and personal data in the modern workplace is made easier with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tool-sets like Office 365.

These essential software suites, backed by cloud capabilities incorporate inbuilt Data Loss Prevention (DLP) capabilities that help limit data accessibility by automatically identifying and protecting sensitive business data.


What is Data Loss Prevention (DLP)?

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a set of strategies and processes that help businesses keep corporate data accessible, private and secure from unauthorised users or security threats.

DLP is built into most modern enterprise software tools and is mainly used to detect and prevent data potential breaches, whether accidental or malicious in nature, via the use of policies. The types of information that would fall under ‘sensitive data’ you would want to use DLP for include:

  • Customer details

  • Financial data (bank account, credit cards, billing details, etc)

  • Health records

  • Staff details

DLP policies ultimately help organisations adhere to industry regulations, protect business-critical data from being accessed by the wrong people, and prevent inadvertent sharing by automatically identifying, tracking and protecting all business sensitive information.


What is Office 365 Data Loss Prevention (DLP)?

Office 365 Data Loss Prevention in-built features


Office 365 Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is an in-built security/policy feature that helps you better secure your data.

Microsoft have supported DLP as part of their Office 365 Security and Compliance Center and Exchange for several years now, enabling system admins to define and manage policies that:

  • Automatically classify data (confidential, sensitive, etc)

  • Limit or restrict unauthorised access to certain data

  • Prevent corporate data from being sent via email

  • Send notifications when data policies are violated

For example, you can use DLP to help your users stay compliant without interrupting their day-to-day activities by setting up a policy that sends them an email notification if they try to share a document that Office 365 identifies as containing sensitive corporate information.

This allows staff to review their decision and override the policy if they have a business justification. This accounts for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and most Office 365 apps.

In short, Office 365’s DLP feature is essential to protecting data integrity and preventing data loss - and extremely useful for reducing the number of breaches and leaks in your organisation.

Read also: Office 365 ProPlus vs Office 2019: What's the difference?


How does Office 365 Data Prevention help?

DLP allows your admins to set policies in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center or Exchange Admin Center to ensure information is properly secure and compliant with the latest industry regulations related to data loss prevention and overall data protection.

DLP policies are comprised of three key elements: Locations, Conditions and Actions.

  • Locations where you’re protecting your data, whether it’s in OneDrive for Business or Exchange Online. Protection includes accounts, sites, and mailboxes.

  • Conditions is what the content has to match before the set policy’s rules are enforced.

  • Actions is what you want to the rule to automatically execute when data that matches your set conditions are found.

DLP auto-detects your sensitive corporate information based on a number of different factors set by the admin, such as keywords or internal functions, and can identify different types of sensitive content within a single policy.

The best illustration of Office 365’s DLP capabilities is provided directly from Microsoft:

For example, you might have a DLP policy that helps you detect the presence of information subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This DLP policy could help protect HIPAA data (the what) across all SharePoint Online sites and all OneDrive for Business sites (the where) by finding any document containing this sensitive information that's shared with people outside your organization (the conditions) and then blocking access to the document and sending a notification (the actions). These requirements are stored as individual rules and grouped together as a DLP policy to simplify management and reporting.

You can also create custom policies from scratch, or use one of several ready-made DLP policy templates that help you protect your content based on specific industry regulations (financial, medical, etc).

These templates list the types of sensitive information they look for, as well as default conditions and actions, and acts as a helpful starting point for your specific (and unique) organisational scenario.


6 Steps to Setting Up a Policy with Office 365 DLP

Creating a DLP policy in Office 365 is achieved via the Microsoft 365 Security & Compliance Center. Follow these 6 easy steps to set up your first Office 365 DLP policy with the in-built Wizard.




1. After logging into the Microsoft 365 Security & Compliance Center expand the ‘Data loss prevention’ menu and click ‘Policy’.




2. Click the ‘Create a Policy’ button, which will load a Wizard that lets you choose from a number of pre-built policy templates or build your own custom policy from scratch. Clicking on any of the templates will provide you a helpful description of what the policy helps protect, including the type of information is will automatically detect and secure.


3. After selecting your policy, provide a name and description for fellow administrators.



4. Here you will choose the locations that Office 365’s DLP will protect your data. By default, this setting is recommended for all locations in Office 365 (OneDrive for Business, Exchange, SharePoint), but you also have the option to choose specific locations if required.




5. After selecting which locations your policy will protect, you now can set the type of content you want your DLP policy to protect.

You can use pre-set templates to quickly protect sensitive or labelled content, or use advanced settings to protect specific data, toggle policy tips notifications to users, and how many instances of the same sensitive info type before the policy detects and classifies specific information as sensitive.




6.  You can now choose whether to test your policy out first or roll it out immediately, and after a final review of your settings, click ‘Create’ to make the DLP policy live.


Why is Office 365 DLP so important?

With the most important change in data privacy regulation in over 20 years - the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - and Australia’s own Notifiable Data Breach (NBD) now in full effect, standard compliance practices are no longer adequate in most cases when it comes to data loss prevention and data protection - a fundamental shift in approach to data protection is absolutely necessary, and Office 365’s DLP features help greatly.

Along with the wider capabilities of Office 365’s Security & Compliance Center, these inbuilt DLP capabilities are some of the easiest data loss prevention methods to help your admins manage the full data life-cycle - importing, storing, classifying, retaining, monitoring, sharing - and ensure sensitive information is protected at all times.

In a nutshell, manual data protection and data loss prevention processes are available but much less efficient and time-consuming. Office 365’s DLP systems combined with the latest Modern Workplace solutions can automate much of the security processes, data governance, threat management and compliance duties for your business.

Tags: Data & AI, Office 365 ProPlus, Data Loss Prevention