It’s no secret that technology is a valuable asset to many industries – education included. With each innovation, educators have found a new way to use it to their advantage and turn it into a teaching tool.
That’s exactly what happened when school districts started their cloud migration. What began as a gentle stroll accelerated into a full-on leap when the pandemic necessitated remote learning. Now, more than 9 in 10 K-12 schools operate in a cloud environment and make regular use of cloud apps in the classroom.
Microsoft 365 – or, as it’s more commonly called, Office 365 – is one of the most popular cloud solutions on the market. With its comprehensive suite of tools, including Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint Online, Office 365 is a major asset to students and staff members alike.
But with so much sensitive data in one cloud environment, are you sure your data loss prevention policies are up for the challenge? Let’s take a closer look at Microsoft Office 365 and everything you need to know about Microsoft cloud app security.
What is data loss prevention in Office 365?
Just as it’s easier to crawl before you run, it’s best to understand data loss prevention (DLP) in general before exploring any specific variation. To help wrap your mind around Office 365 DLP, let’s break down that term a little further.
DLP boils down to one key idea: information protection. In other words, it’s all about keeping a watchful eye over your district’s sensitive data and ensuring that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Not only does this constitute a serious violation of industry regulations, but it also puts student safety at risk.
Why? Because there’s no telling how someone might use that sensitive information once it’s in their possession. Think about the many types of data housed in your district’s cloud storage:
- Financial data
- Academic records
- Medical information
- Personally identifiable information
- Home addresses and telephone numbers
These types of data – among many others – are all available in your Microsoft Office cloud environment. As a lucrative target for cybercriminals, it’s your duty to keep confidential data under lock and key. That’s what Office 365 DLP software is specifically designed to achieve.
Advantages of Office 365 DLP
With Microsoft 365 DLP, you stand to gain a number of benefits:
- Optimized Microsoft cloud app security: With deeply integrated DLP software, your data protection efforts perform at their best.
- Automated threat detection: Cloud-based DLP software scans your cloud apps for risk and allows you to focus on other tasks.
- 24/7 monitoring: Always-on visibility allows you to mitigate risks as quickly as possible.
Preventing data loss in Office 365: Threats and challenges
Microsoft Office 365 is among the most widely used cloud applications around the world, including in education. In fact, roughly 50% of school districts use Office 365 in some capacity, according to our research in collaboration with Edweek, but few deploy an adequate level of cloud security.
Notably, Microsoft Office is equipped with its own native DLP capabilities. Although that’s a great start, there’s a number of key weaknesses and limitations that could leave your district exposed:
- Accidental data deletion: If somehow a critical or sensitive file is mistakenly deleted, it may be irrecoverable. Microsoft’s native solution allows you to create data loss prevention policies, but it can’t protect you from accidental deletion.
- There’s a lot of ways for a data leak to occur: With many sharing capabilities, there are also many channels that need to be defended, protected, and monitored in case of a data leak. Most often, accidental data loss occurs when staff use inappropriate sharing settings, such as global share, or send sensitive data through email.
- Credential theft: Office 365 credentials are a top target for cybercriminals, especially those with over-reaching permissions and privileges. If these accounts are taken over, they risk exposing a whole swarm of sensitive information.
- Cost is a barrier of entry: It’s expensive for districts to implement Office 365’s native DLP capabilities at $38 per user every month. Only the highest-tier subscription has access to these solutions.
- Difficult user experience: Microsoft’s interface is complex to set up, manage, and maintain. To make things more complicated, many districts also use Google Workspace in combination with Office 365, meaning security teams have to learn two disparate systems and switch between the two – a painful process that can delay incident response times.
All things considered, your district needs a simpler, more comprehensive data protection solution.
How does Microsoft Office 365 data loss prevention work?
In contrast to endpoint data loss prevention tools – as in, solutions that only protect the devices that access and store sensitive data – or network DLP, Office 365 DLP platforms are designed to protect the cloud.
Why? Because cloud apps don’t exist on your school network and therefore aren’t protected by other solutions. Cloud-based Office 365 DLP is designed to squeeze an additional layer of security between your sensitive information and outside forces. Here’s how it works:
Data loss prevention policies
At its core, cloud DLP boils down to policy enforcement. A data loss prevention policy is an administrative rule that dictates how data can be stored, accessed, and used throughout the school district. When a DLP policy violation occurs, such as when a sensitive file is improperly shared outside the school, administrators will automatically be sent a notification.
These DLP alerts allow cloud security teams to rapidly mitigate incidents and ensure they put a stop to any risks before they get out of hand. Whether your data is under attack by outside forces or leaked accidentally, a well-developed policy is often the difference between bad and worse.
Here’s a policy tip: When you create a rule, you can use predefined policies at first, but be sure to tweak them to your district as needed.
Data classification and automated remediation
Classification is the process of discovering data as it’s created or entered into your cloud environment and attaching a sensitivity label. By automatically categorizing data by sensitivity, you can fine-tune your DLP policy enforcement without any additional effort from the security team.
Office 365 DLP uses artificial intelligence to automatically scan the content of emails, cloud apps, and other communications for any sensitive data that might put the district at risk. Better yet, it can also automate remediation based on a predetermined set of actions, such as quarantine or user suspension.
How to choose the right solution that protects your data
When it comes to cloud security, no two solutions are the same. That’s why it’s important to identify the optimal platform for your school district’s needs. To help you narrow down your choices, here’s a few key considerations to keep in mind:
- Ease of use: You need a solution that hits the ground running and protects your data right away. Identify a service with out-of-the-box and cloud-based capabilities for rapid and simple deployment.
- Cost: Cloud security doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. The right solution will offer comprehensive protection without draining your school budget.
- Integration: Why suffer through a clunky interface, let alone two? The best choice of solution will integrate both MIcrosoft Office and Google Workspace into one user-friendly, near-native platform.
With ManagedMethods, you receive all this and more. Our cloud-based cloud security solution is built with user experience in mind so that you can focus on keeping your sensitive data safe and secure. Better yet, we let you trial the platform before making a commitment.