Reducing malware risks with the new Safe Documents feature in Microsoft 365

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Anew cyber-security feature in Microsoft 365 called Safe Documents is slowly rolling out to users. Safe Documents leverages the artificial intelligence and machine learning features of Microsoft global cloud infrastructure to automatically check Microsoft Office documents such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word against known risks and threats before users open them.

Some will read this and think “aren’t there already some cyber-security features in Microsoft Office that protects me against malware hidden in documents?” Yes, but the protection is based on how hackers would attack Office 2010 documents using Excel macros and hyperlinks to malicious websites. The new Safe Documents feature modernizes protection of your Office documents without sacrificing the cloud-powered features of Office 365.

Because of the cloud-connected nature of Office 365 apps such as Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word that come with every Microsoft 365 subscription, hackers attempt to use those connections to the internet as a method of infiltrating your corporate network. A good example of this is when an employee needs to print a physical copy of a Word document. By default, Microsoft 365 is built with powerful cyber-security features that isolate the Windows 10 Professional operating system (and the rest of your corporate network) from malicious code in a document. So, if an employee opens a malware-infected Excel spreadsheet downloaded either off the internet or sent via email from a malicious hacker, the cyber-security features in Microsoft 365 will block that malware. However, if your employee needs to take that spreadsheet out of the digital realm and print a physical copy of it, then hackers can use those few seconds the document is being sent to your printer as an opportunity to get into your corporate local area network.

It’s extremely sneaky and one more reason why printing documents on paper should be avoided. But printing a physical copy is still common in office environments—and hackers will use this and other methods for infiltrating your network via unprotected Office documents. The idea behind Safe Documents is to protect your Office documents from a broad range of hacker infiltration methods.

How Safe Documents protects your business

Safe Documents uses the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph service. Without getting too technical, Safe Documents taps into Microsoft cyber-security information in the cloud to instantly scan your Office documents against a list of millions of potential cyber-security threats. Since Microsoft 365 combines the best of Windows 10, Office 365, and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security capabilities together into one service, the Safe Documents feature works automatically. The idea is to make it easier for your employees to do their jobs without constantly worrying and second-guessing themselves when it comes to document safety. Safe Documents is meant to reduce the risk to your employees while ensuring they aren’t individually asked to decide whether a document should be trusted before opening it—a productivity killer for any business.

Most importantly, the Microsoft cloud infrastructure that makes Safe Documents possible is designed with stringent data privacy controls in mind. It is global in scale, but still adheres to the local data privacy laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). As such, you can use Safe Documents to protect your business data and customers throughout Europe, the United States, and in the United Kingdom.

Safe Documents available only on E5 plans

It should be noted that the new Safe Documents feature is only available to Microsoft 365 E5 plan subscribers. The E5 plan is geared towards large enterprise customers that typically have over 300 users and devices, but a strong case can be made for midsized businesses to go from Microsoft 365 Business Premium to the Microsoft 365 E5 plan:

  • Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) – For businesses that need end-to-end visibility for a corporate network that spans multiple cities, countries, or continents, Microsoft ATP can handle it. The detection and response capabilities of ATP provides your business with automated threat monitoring of every device that connects to your corporate network, then offers investigation and remediation of any critical threats. For midsized companies with an IT department doing “double duty” as both desktop support and cyber-security, ATP helps fill your IT security skills gap
  • Cloud App Security – This feature acts as a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), a must-have for businesses who are serious about cloud-based IT and data privacy. Cloud App Security will block the installation of unauthorized apps on your network which can be without malicious intent but ends up causing a data privacy disaster. For example, someone on the sales team is used to Dropbox rather than your corporate OneDrive cloud storage. That employee decides to install their personal Dropbox app on their work laptop, but what happens if they leave the company and have transferred your customer data to that Dropbox account? This is a scenario that wouldn’t happen if you have Cloud App Security because the CASB would automatically block the installation of Dropbox
  • Microsoft Teams with Phone System – A feature that is used daily by Amaxra consultants, Microsoft 365 E5 plans include Microsoft Teams plus Phone System that replaces your entire business phone system with a managed cloud service. We’ve written about Microsoft Teams with Phone System in a previous blog and in our experience we’ve found that clients discover it’s more cost effective with lower TCO to buy the Microsoft 365 E5 bundle with Phone System and cyber-security features built in rather than getting any “cheaper” plan then paying for add-ons

Trust Amaxra to deploy Microsoft 365 with Safe Documents features

We are a Microsoft Gold-level Partner with consultants who have real-world experience deploying Microsoft 365 solutions to small, medium, and large enterprise organizations. Connect with any of our Microsoft 365 experts to learn which plan is the best fit for your organization. Maybe it’s not the E5 plan—either way, Amaxra will never try to sell you what you don’t need.

Contact me at technology@amaxra.com or call 425 708 8841 if you have any questions or comments on this blog.

about the author

Mike Arntzen

Mike is an experienced Technology expert who is skilled in Enterprise Software and Security and Cloud Implementation. He has a strong engineering background graduated from the Royal Australian Air Force School of Radio, with postgraduate studies in Fibre Optics from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Known at Amaxra as "Mr FixIt" there isn't much Mike can't resolve. He has recently implemented Amaxra's switch to Skype for Business within the Amaxra office.

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