Office 365 Privacy Concerns

Office 365 Privacy Concerns

Microsoft Office 365 or Microsoft 365 allows resource or data sharing and integration through programs like OneDrive, SharePoint Online, MS Teams, etc.

Office 365 is among the most widely used frameworks for cloud services. About 38% of businesses utilize Office 365 worldwide. It is famous and successful as it enables simple collaboration for remote workers. It also serves as a company’s essential app and includes detailed and sensitive data. Therefore, Microsoft 365 security and strength are major considerations for IT administrators.

Microsoft’s software-as-a-service is being offered and deployed on their network. The IT administrators must protect their content, assets, resources, etc. However, Microsoft does bear the entire infrastructure security responsibility to some extent and updates the software.

Hackers frequently target platforms with convenient access to valuable data and are built to facilitate data sharing. Even when hackers have diverse objectives and skills, most security breaches still establish a predictable procedure and a fundamental pattern and proceed through various stages to get the intended results. Hence, M365 security controls are a must for organizations to protect their businesses against cyber threats and other security concerns.

Each day, almost six million data elements are lost or stolen. According to the Cost of a Data Breach Study, each data loss costs organizations $148. Compromised credibility and trust, rather than financial loss, is the most significant cost associated with a data breach. The data loss might impact the loyalty of the clients, vendors, business associates, and other parties.

Hence, Microsoft Office 365 security regarding data losses and breaches depends on business proprietors’ ability to be conscious of the preventive measures and their anticipation approach towards possible threats to keep valuable data secure.

Let’s discuss the top security concerns regarding Microsoft 365 that its users encounter.

Top Microsoft Office 365 Security Concerns 

Office 365 is widely used by companies due to its plethora of functionalities. But the application also poses several common security concerns and risks for enterprises which are as follows:

Data Loss And Exfiltration

The purpose of Microsoft Office 365 is that it allows data sharing among specific users via various applications, including Outlook, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.

This simple data sharing is undoubtedly beneficial but raises serious security concerns. Mistakenly or purposefully exchanging sensitive information with unauthorized entities results in a data breach. The power of sharing files or folders using Office 365 presents numerous chances for data breaches resulting in sensitive data loss.

If a rival confiscates corporate information, it is called data exfiltration. Threat actors can use the Power Automate feature (an integrated Microsoft tool) to steal sensitive data and emails, according to the latest studies by Varonis. Using the Power Automate feature, hackers can automate procedures to exfiltrate information from other Microsoft programs like OneDrive and SharePoint.

A secondary and highly malevolent phase of an assault is data exfiltration. An effective exfiltration could result in a significant financial impact on a business and harm its brand integrity and customer confidence.

Thus, it is crucial to recognize actions properly, like:

  • Bulk file downloads.
  • Surpassing sending limitations.
  • Data sharing via the personal email address.

To stop Office 365 data loss or theft.

Privilege Escalation

According to research, privilege escalation vulnerabilities were the most prevalent Office 365 vulnerabilities in 2021, almost thrice as much as the last year. The advanced persistent threat (APT) activist operating out of Russia and leveraging SolarWinds to infiltrate Microsoft 365 systems was disclosed by CISA in January 2021.

Privilege management is a concern for most businesses. Many organizations provide excess access authorizations to employees rather than adjusting them depending on particular requirements and responsibilities. It is a simpler implementation, guaranteeing smooth performance for an employee. However, excessive permissions pose serious security risks.

The elevated Microsoft 365 privileges might be misused by employees, exploiting them to obtain sensitive information they shouldn’t, possibly revealing it to unauthorized entities. Additionally, hackers may abuse these elevated privileges if they manage to penetrate Office 365 accounts using stolen user credentials.

Privilege escalation is a typical attack method involving an attacker escalating privileges, preferably to the domain administrator, for executing security or data breaches. Living off the land is a method of evading detection by the majority of Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and antivirus softwares that attackers might utilize to their advantage. For instance, cyber attackers can increase their privilege level using Windows’ built-in Scheduled Task feature.

Hence, it is essential to effectively spot anomalies associated with privilege escalation, like implementing external email forwarding guidelines or inbox rules.

Credential Theft

Attackers mostly target Office 365 user credentials. Hackers with Microsoft 365 user account credentials can take a lot of confidential information and further exploit that access to launch additional assaults.

Cyber attackers steal credentials in several ways. Personnels can be duped using any social engineering techniques into entering their login details on a bogus Ms login page. Conversely, spyware deployed on their computer may steal the details when users sign into a Microsoft website.

Administrative Account Breaches 

Cyber threats victimize administrator accounts to gain access to systems with elevated privileges. Office 365’s centralized administration architecture provides global credentials, enabling administrators to control user accounts and resources. Attackers acquiring a global admin account control can alter crucial commands, steal sensitive data, or leave future entry backdoors.

To minimize these crucial account breaches, leveraging Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) implementation in the Security and Compliance Center is beneficial. (MFA is deactivated by default for global administrators)

Circumventing Multi-Factor Authentication

All Microsoft 365 versions include multi-factor authentication (MFA). However, cybercriminals frequently get around such security measures. Historical authentication protocols, including IMAP/POP3, do not enable multi-factor authentication, so when targets struggle to prohibit old authentication, cybercriminals can still bypass MFA.

Alternatively, altering the target’s authorized contact number via social engineering allows hackers to obtain the verification text message. OAuth authorization mechanism enables users to log in via Facebook or Google rather than create new accounts. It is another way for attackers to circumvent MFA.

Hence, administrators must be capable of recognizing when an Office365 account’s MFA is deactivated, regardless of the intrusion technique used.

Ineffective Audit Logs

Microsoft 365 audits are not automatically activated but require manual activation by administrators. Like auditing email mailboxes, an administrator must enable mailbox auditing. Note that the audit log displays activities following the audit activation.

At most, only 90 days to a year are spent storing Office 365 audit logs. Several compliance requirements call for extended audit logs retention periods. For instance, HIPAA mandates audit logs maintenance for six years.

However, the GDPR does not outline a retention time. But it mandates that firms must be capable of analyzing data breaches, which might require months or even years to become public. The Microsoft 365 audit logs will disappear by then.

Malevolent Macros

The purpose of a macro is to automate a series of repetitive processes in Word or Office programs by mimicking mouse clicks or keystrokes.

Hackers insert malicious macros into the programs to take control of them and launch prompts automatically. For instance, an attacker could employ phishing emails in combination with malicious macros to entice users to view a Word document attachment for malware execution.

Thankfully, Microsoft revealed strategies that disable Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros by default. Microsoft users must check a disable option on a file’s properties.

Compromised Email Security 

Emails are significant for organizations of all sizes. Hence, email security is very crucial. Attackers employ ransomware, spam, and social engineering techniques like phishing to compromise email accounts and gain internal controls to compromise the system further and amplify the data breach.

Organizations’ major security concern is the Business Email Compromise. For instance, if a business email is hacked, it can be used to send emails to the company’s clients in the company’s name, compromising the brand’s credibility.

Hackers usually target finance or upper-level executives in such breaches. It results in huge financial loss for that organization as the cybercriminals can reach vendors, clients, etc., for sensitive information collection, invoice interception, and payment diversion to their accounts.

Microsoft Office 365 has integrated security elements like Microsoft Defender, email encryption, Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools, and other tools for malware protection to safeguard against cybercrimes, phishing, etc.

Possible signs of spam emails include:

  • Absurd, malicious links that lead to malware or ransomware infection.
  • Grammatical or spelling errors in the email which professional businesses do not send to their clients.
  • Irrelevant email domain other than corporate email domain.
  • Emails asking for an urgent or prompt response.
  • Emails requiring sensitive data.

Measures To Minimize Office 365 Security Concerns

Microsoft Office 365 harbors multiple integrated security features that protect its user organizations. However, they are only partially effective against malicious software.

Hence, setting up a layered defense is recommended using third-party tools for Office 365 security. Following are some effective measures that help minimize Office 365 security concerns.

Employee Awareness And Training 

Most cyber threats occur due to human error, like using the simple or same password, viewing suspicious email attachments, opening odd links, accidentally deleting sensitive data, etc.

Hence, organizations must mandate employee awareness and training sessions to help them understand Office 365 security concerns and threat vectors. They must ensure using safe attachments, a strong password, and safe links. The workforce must know the organization’s security policies and ways to deal with security risks and incidents.

Data Classification

Firms can better implement effective security measures by content classification to assist them in identifying its location and significance. For instance, users can recognize and categorize documents that should not be accessed by outside people, after which they can deactivate external sharing for those folders or files. Several classification characteristics are offered by the Admin Center’s Data classification unit.

Yet, third-party solutions offer approvingly precise outcomes, pre-built classification taxonomies, thoroughly automated classification, discovery processes, remediation workflows, and numerous cloud content and on-premises repository support.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Individuals must give two or more verification types for resource access using multi-factor authentication (MFA). It includes a password and a one-time pin (OTP) issued to their smartphone. The most appropriate preventive strategy against credential theft is to enable multi-factor authentication in Microsoft 365 Admin Center.

Establish Automated Data Remediation Processes

Automate data protection and management processes to save the workflow and boost security. Users can establish automatic workflows using third-party data classification tools to transfer files to secure locations and censor private information from files. The potential threat of security breaches and non-compliance penalties are minimized using data remediation.

Activate Unified Audit Log 

Third-party tools allow visibility into activities throughout the Microsoft 365 infrastructure, encompassing crucial modifications such as privilege escalation and login activities such as accessing SharePoint information. Follow routine examination of individuals who gain access to documents to monitor the activity of any unauthorized user from evading detection.

Restrict Privileges

Adopt the least privilege principle for all Office 365 accounts to minimize the chances of privilege abuse and reduce hacked accounts’ range. Additionally,

  • Implement routine evaluation and modification of unduly excessive permissions.
  • Limit global administrator account usage for crucial current tasks.
  • Specify the link expiry period.
  • Block external storage solutions.

Activate Mailbox Auditing

Mailbox auditing allows tracking of Exchange Online activities. Pay close attention to ‘settings and permissions’ alterations and non-owner mailbox access. However, the native logs in Office 365 can be kept for a short period (90-365 days). Also, Office 365 generates a single audit pathway which is challenging to scan and examine for specific occurrences.

Office 365 users with installations before January 2019 do not have mailbox auditing enabled by default, but they can activate it using the following steps:

  • Go to Security & Compliance Center.
  • Select “Search & investigation.”
  • Select “Audit log search.”
  • Select “start capturing admin and user activity.”

Microsoft 365 Email Encryption

Office 365 has default-enabled message encryption that offers secure email communications inside and outside the company. Message Encryption is compatible with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and other email systems.

The email content access is restricted to authorized users only using encryption. It offers multiple options to users for deciding when and how an email is accessed, categorized, or forwarded.


Businesses must establish a thorough approach for crucial vulnerability mitigation to resolve Office 365 security issues. Many organizations also use additional third-party services besides Office 365 security tools like Cloud App Security, disable legacy email protocols, Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), etc.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.
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