Office 365 Security Challenges & How to Beat Them


With more than 200 million active users, Office 365 is one of the most popular SaaS solutions for corporate use. Enormous amounts of important information require appropriate attention to the security of corporate and personal data. In this article, we’ll take a look at three interconnected Office 365 security challenges: insider threats protection, phishing protection, and ransomware protection. 

Insider Threats Protection

Insider threats are data security threats from within an organization. Intentionally or unintentionally, an organization’s employees may cause a data loss.

The most obvious example of an insider threat is data theft. Sometimes, an employee or a contractor may abuse their access to corporate data and steal it in order to profit from it. However, insider threat is much wider than stealing the data.

The main problem with an insider threat is that employees may unknowingly initiate a cyber attack. Though no ill will is involved from an organization’s side, incaution may compromise cybersecurity and let hackers steal the data.

How exactly a human error may lead to a cyber attack? First of all, a weak password policy leaves the data exposed to cyber attacks, brute-force in particular. Secondly, hackers hide malicious code in seemingly normal digital environments like websites or apps. That’s why clicking a malicious link, downloading a wrong attachment or installing an app or extension may get a virus on a computer. And a careless user may perform such actions without understanding the potential consequences. Not all computer viruses act immediately, so the damage may be revealed only months after.

There is another type of insider threat-related to carelessness. Employees may accidentally delete important data. As a dataflow in any big organization is significant, the deletion of important files may go unnoticed until the need arises.   

Protecting data from insider threats is a huge challenge for Office 365 admins. But don’t worry. It is possible to mitigate the risks related to a human factor.

There are several practices that will decrease the risks related to insider threats. Here are these practices:

  • Arranging security training to raise awareness about cybersecurity threats among your colleagues.
  • Limiting the access to system-critical data by configuring roles and permissions in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center.
  • Having a regular Office 365 backup to recover your data in case of an emergency. For example, SpinOne backup for Office 365.
  • Developing, implementing, and ensuring all employees are following a strong password policy.
  • Setting up Mobile Device Management in Office 365 to limit risks related to employees’ phones and tablets (if they are used for work).

Tough insider threats are almost impossible to eradicate completely, following these practices will greatly reduce the chance of suffering the damage related to data loss.

Ransomware Protection

Ransomware is a malicious type of software that blocks access to your data and demands money to return it. Ransomware encrypts system-critical data and paralyzes the workflow of an organization. Ransomware strains like WannaCry or Petya are worldwide infamous, however, there are hundreds, even thousands, of other dangerous ransomware variations.

It is enough to have only one of an organization’s computers infected to get ransomware spread through the whole network. Office 365 cloud data is a common ransomware target, as its value is high and criminals expect to get a significant ransom. No industry is safe from ransomware. However, attackers tend to target healthcare, finances, and governance to bigger sums as a ransom.

Ransomware causes significant downtime costs, paralyzing the system and disrupting the workflow of an attacked organization. It is not advisable to pay a ransom, as it would encourage criminals to continue their activity. Besides, paying money is not a guarantee that the data will be returned.

Ransomware protection is a serious challenge. Ransomware authors are resourceful. They are constantly coming up with new methods of infecting systems and pressuring users to pay for decryption. Cybercriminals often use various social engineering methods to intimidate users. For example, by threatening to delete or sell the seized data.

The best practices of Office 365 ransomware protection include:

  • Educating your colleagues about the ransomware threat.
  • Configuring Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) policies.
  • Using additional anti-ransomware software. For example, SpinOne cloud apps have an anti-ransomware solution that detects ransomware by abnormal file behavior.
  • Backing up to recover it in case of a ransomware attack.

These are just a few common anti-ransomware measures, however, using them will help to boost the safety of your Office 365 cloud from ransomware.

Phishing Protection

Ransomware is often spread using phishing attacks. However, phishing is dangerous not only as a ransomware distribution method. Phishing is a method of using emails to spread malware or steal sensitive information.

Phishing may come in various forms. It may be a fake newsletter or a forged email from your HR department. Hackers use various social engineering tactics to disguise phishing attacks and make them look like ordinary emails. Employees often get tricked into clicking a malicious link in a phishing email and letting a virus infect their computer. What makes things worse, malware can continue to spread through the network and find critical information. This process is called lateral movement.

In a nutshell, phishing targets employees of an organization, as it is natural for a human being to make a mistake. And hackers exploit this. Protecting your Office 365 working environment from phishing is a huge challenge because even one careless click from just one employee is enough to get the whole system damaged.

There is a set of practices that are called to decrease the probability of a successful phishing attack. These practices include:

  • Educating your employees about the potential red flags that help to detect a phishing email (sense of urgency, abusive language, strange phrases or images, unnatural behavior of the sender, and anything else that looks out of order).
  • Ensuring the links provided in an email leads to trusted websites.
  • Avoid clicking shortened URLs.
  • Avoid sharing personal information via emails.
  • Checking the sender’s email address carefully. It shouldn’t contain any misspellings.

Of course, Office 365 spam filters will detect some suspicious emails, but it’s always good to check the content of an email for anything suspicious. Who knows, maybe it’s a phishing attack. Never forget to read each email carefully before clicking a link or downloading a file.

Concluding Thoughts

Insider threats, ransomware, and phishing are tightly interconnected. That’s why some protection measures are similar. Nevertheless, each of these threats has a significant negative impact on the security of Office 365 and should be paid attention to. Our list of security practices was just a fraction of possible measures, but we hope it was useful.