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Challenges of Protecting Microsoft 365 Collaboration

Blog | Altitude Networks, August 11th, 2021

Microsoft offers a popular platform that solves common collaboration pain points among businesses across all industry segments. The platform, Microsoft 365 (M365), includes SharePoint, which users can leverage to store, organize, and share files, and Teams that enables messaging, meetings, and app and file sharing. 

The Microsoft 365 collaboration platform also includes OneDrive, which provides cloud storage for the company’s files and enables users to access them from any device with an internet connection. With Microsoft’s productivity suite, i.e., MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Visio, teams – whether working in different parts of an office building or different parts of the world – have all the tools they need to work together. 

M365 adoption is a strong indicator that businesses see the platform’s value. According to Statista, as of June 2021, more than 730,000 U.S. companies rely on Microsoft 365 collaboration as a part of their business processes. 

Microsoft 365 Collaboration Advantages – and Challenges 

One of the features of M365 that results in fast ROI for companies is how easy it is to use. Companies can set up their Microsoft 365 collaboration environments quickly and easily, including the rather simple process of adding users and permissions based on their roles. This capability facilitates collaboration within an organization – and it makes collaborating with contractors, partners, third-party vendors, and customers more convenient as well. 

However, the same ease of adding collaborators, allowing them to view sensitive information, and granting permission to share and upload files can also create a risk to data security. When sharing documents with collaborators is easy, files containing sensitive data have a greater likelihood to leave your organization – and your control. 

Additionally, your managers and security teams responsible for protecting data lack real-time visibility into file-sharing activity and where your data is going.  Microsoft 365 allows managers to pull activity reports, which show email, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams user activity. But pulling a report shows activity that has already occurred, and it does little to stop risky behavior in time to prevent a data breach. 

Moreover, the security tools you leveraged to protect data in your on-premises IT environment aren’t effective in the cloud. Even if you could integrate a traditional, on-prem data loss prevention (DLP) tool with your cloud environment, it wouldn’t provide the level of visibility required to recognize and stop threats as they emerge. 

Additionally, legacy DLP solutions have earned the reputation of generating large volumes of data and false alarms that create “noise” that prevents your team from spotting critical threats. They can also create barriers to expedient risk resolution, such as requiring managers to search through reports to trace behaviors that don’t comply with data loss prevention policy rather than immediately providing the information they need. 

Your managers and IT staff may then face the dilemma of choosing between making collaboration easy with the M365 suite and providing strong protection for your company’s most sensitive data.  

To give your team the benefits of Microsoft 365 collaboration – while still protecting your business’ critical data – the solution is using a true, cloud-based DLP solution. 

Cloud-Based DLP Features that Mitigate Risks of Microsoft 365 Collaboration

To protect data used and shared in Microsoft 365 collaboration environments, you need a purpose-built data loss prevention solution. Solution builders familiar with data loss risks in a cloud collaboration environment will provide you with a tool that has features to mitigate those risks. An effective DLP solution for an M365 environment -- one designed to protect data while not interfering with productivity -- will have these six capabilities:

1. Understands data

In the past, data protection strategies called for employees to follow rules-based policies and label files based on the types of data they contained. There are two major problems with these legacy models, however. 

An intelligent, AI-powered DLP solution for an M365 environment can ”read” and identify sensitive data. Solutions using machine learning and data science can scan logs, compile metadata, and correlate it with business phrases and terminology to understand data and its value to your organization. Employees don’t have to expend any effort to label data – the solution automatically understands which data needs to stay within your organization and remain for authorized-eyes-only. 

2. Provides a transparent, updated list of collaborators

As collaborative teams use Microsoft 365, an organization can connect with a growing number of email addresses, domains, and applications. Collaborators outside your organizations and third-party apps have access to the data in files your employees share with them. Keep in mind, though, they can also impact your network and infrastructure. The more collaborators you have outside your organization, the greater the chances that your data will fall prey to malware, accidental deletion, or malicious or compromised apps. Moreover, these threats not only make your data vulnerable. They can put your entire business at risk for ransomware, data breaches, downtime, and reputational damage. 

Your DLP solution must give you easily accessible and complete transparency into collaborators and connected apps and provide updates on changes to collaborators and connected apps in real time. 

3. Identifies threats in real time

Spotting a risk after the fact has little value – a data breach or malware infection could have already occurred by the time you are aware of behaviors that put data security at risk. A solution that protects files and data in a cloud-collaboration environment must continuously monitor, identify, and surface risks immediately. 

You also need to monitor your cloud environment for all threats, both external and internal. Malicious insiders can be every bit as dangerous to data security as hackers or cyberattack groups. When you think about your team, it may be hard to imagine that any of them want to undermine or harm your business. However, some may have self-promoting or self-enriching motivations and may be exfiltrating data or arranging to continue access to data after they leave your organization. 

It’s also important to recognize that some risks come from negligent insiders who are disinterested in following data security policies. Additionally, people sometimes simply make mistakes – and in some cases, those errors put data at risk. 

Regardless of the type of threat, careless or malicious insiders operate at internet speed. Therefore, you should implement a security solution that monitors activity as it occurs and stops threats.  

4. Minimizes false alerts and alert fatigue

Legacy solutions are notorious for producing a flood of alerts that your IT team needs to sort through, figure out which need to be addressed. It takes time away from their other responsibilities, and, after a multitude of false alerts, youyour may tend to ignore them – even if the threat is real. 

Your DLP solution should work with near-perfect accuracy rates and earn your IT team’s confidence that alerts require their attention. Your solution should be able to differentiate between a marketing document that could be distributed widely and a strategy document that only authorized people should see. An intelligent solution that learns the types of files and data you use will protect data as well as protect your IT team’s time. 

5. Prioritizes problems

Beyond identifying threats, your solution should also be able to assign a priority to them. An IT team faced with ten issues can quickly become overwhelmed if they don’t know which to address first. If your team guesses, they may spend their time removing collaborators from a proposed marketing campaign. At the same time, a spreadsheet that contains employee Social Security numbers is accidentally shared when an employee granted liberal permissions and included the link in an email that someone responded to with “reply all.” 

A solution that identifies threats and assigns them a priority can help your IT team address risks based on severity and decrease the chances any issue will evolve into a breach involving highly sensitive data. 

6. Points to next steps

The optimal solution will not only identify risk but will also provide you with a path to remediate it, allowing your IT team to understand and fix the problem quickly. 

An intelligent solution will provide all of the information your security team needs – it won’t require them to spend time and effort tracking down exactly what happened and the vulnerabilities that remain. A DLP solution developed for a cloud collaboration environment will intelligently provide all of the information your team needs.


Gain an Edge with Microsoft 365 Collaboration Plus Intelligent, Cloud-Based DLP

Microsoft 365 is a great choice to enable your collaborative team to work efficiently and productively. However, it can also introduce new challenges to security that didn’t exist when work was limited to a local network – maybe even threats to your organization that you didn’t anticipate. 

Altitude Networks can quickly help you identify and minimize risks to Microsoft 365 collaboration. See how in our Microsoft 365 video on Youtube and visit

See how many files are at risk in your Microsoft 365 environment with a free Risk Security Assessment.

Ready to learn more about how Altitude Networks can protect your sensitive files?

Ready to learn more about how Altitude Networks can protect your sensitive files?