What is Microsoft 365 & Why Does It Provide Inadequate Email Security?

Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) is an all-inclusive productivity suite created by Microsoft that integrates applications, cloud services and collaboration tools into one comprehensive solution designed to meet the needs of individuals, businesses and organizations of any size - offering increased productivity through streamlining workflows and fostering effective collaboration between team members. Microsoft 365's benefits make it a popular option among both individuals and companies alike. However, it also has a few drawbacks that are worth considering. While it offers an accessible and collaborative space, there are also concerns about user privacy. As Microsoft 365 operates in the cloud, users' data is stored on Microsoft's servers. While Microsoft has implemented security measures, some individuals or organizations may have concerns about data privacy and control, particularly regarding sensitive or confidential information and inadequate built-in email protection. Despite the existing email protection provided by Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) in Microsoft 365, 83% of users have experienced an email data breach over the past year. This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using Microsoft 365 for business, why it provides inadequate email security, and how Guardian Digital closes critical gaps in built-in cloud email protection to secure organizations using Microsoft against cyberattacks and data breach.

What Is Microsoft 365?

Microsoft 365 is a productivity suite offered by Microsoft. It combines several popular applications and services, including the well-known Microsoft Office suite, with cloud-based services and collaboration tools. It is catered to the individual’s or organization's needs on cloud services, applications, an email service, and more. At its core, Microsoft 365 includes Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. These applications provide tools for word processing, spreadsheet management, presentation creation, and email management, respectively. These familiar and feature-rich applications allow users to create, edit, and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and emails efficiently. As of 2022, Microsoft Office 365 commands a market share of approximately 47.9%.

Key Benefits & Drawbacks of Using Microsoft 365 for Business

Microsoft 365 offers several benefits that make it a popular choice for individuals and organizations. Some of the key benefits of Microsoft 365 include:

  • Flexible & Cost-Effective: Microsoft 365 offers various subscription plans tailored to different needs and budgets. This allows businesses to choose the appropriate plan and scale up or down as their requirements change. It also offers the flexibility to add or remove users as needed.
  • Increased Availability & Operational Efficiency: Microsoft 365 is designed to work across different devices and platforms. It offers desktop applications for Windows and Mac, as well as web-based versions that can be accessed from any browser. This accessibility allows users to work on their preferred devices and collaborate with others easily.
  • Enhanced Security - With Critical Supplementary Defenses in Place: Microsoft 365 can be enhanced with critical supplementary defenses to bolster its overall security posture. Some security features include Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), Email Encryption, and Data Loss Prevention (DLP).

Some key drawbacks of Microsoft 365 that users and businesses should take into consideration include:

  • Highly Vulnerable to Attack Without the Implementation of Additional Security Defenses: As Microsoft 365 operates in the cloud, users' data is stored on Microsoft's servers. While Microsoft has implemented security measures, some individuals or organizations may have concerns about data privacy and control, particularly regarding sensitive or confidential information.
  • Ongoing Costs Can Add Up Over Time: Microsoft 365 operates on a subscription model, meaning users must pay ongoing fees to access the services. While the subscription provides regular updates and support, it can be costly, especially for individuals or small businesses with limited budgets.
  • No Email Service (External or Internal) Without Internet: Although Microsoft 365 provides offline access to some applications, certain features and collaboration capabilities require an Internet connection. This dependency on the Internet can be a limitation in areas with poor connectivity or during network outages.

Critical Microsoft 365 Email Security Shortcomings 

While Microsoft 365 provides a set of built-in email protection features, there are certain "gaps" or limitations that organizations should be aware of. These gaps primarily arise from the evolving nature of cybersecurity threats and the need for additional layers of protection. 

Protection Is Static, Single-Layered, and Unable to Anticipate Emerging Attacks

Microsoft 365 email protection, in its default configuration, can be described as static, single-layered, and unable to anticipate emerging attacks. Microsoft 365's built-in email security measures, such as spam filtering and basic malware detection, operate based on predefined rules and signatures. These rules are static and require regular updates to keep up with evolving and new threats such as zero-day attacks, which exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities or attack techniques. These attacks are designed to bypass signature-based detection mechanisms, making it challenging for static security measures to detect and mitigate them proactively.  

Built-in Microsoft 365 email security primarily relies on a single layer of defense, often referred to as perimeter-based security. The security measures primarily focus on preventing threats at the entry point, such as the email gateway. While this layer helps filter out a significant portion of known threats, it does not provide sufficient protection against sophisticated attacks. Multi-layered security, on the other hand, involves combining multiple security solutions and strategies at different points along the attack chain to provide more comprehensive protection.

Lack of Customization to Meet Businesses’ Varying Security Needs

Microsoft 365's built-in security features often have predefined configurations and settings that may not align with the unique security needs of each organization. Businesses may require granular control over security policies, access controls, and threat detection settings to meet their specific compliance requirements or risk profiles. While Microsoft 365 offers some security add-ons and premium plans with additional features, these may not fully address the diverse and evolving security needs of all businesses. The security features are designed to cater to a broad user base and offer a standard level of protection across organizations. While this approach provides a baseline level of security, it may not address the specific security needs or industry-specific compliance requirements of individual businesses.

Homogeneous Architecture Makes it Easier for Attackers to Bypass Security Defenses

Microsoft 365's homogeneous architecture refers to the fact that it’s a widely used and standardized platform across organizations. While this offers benefits in terms of ease of deployment and integration, it can also make it easier for attackers to bypass security defenses

A homogeneous architecture means all organizations using Microsoft 365 share similar underlying software components and configurations. If a vulnerability or weakness is discovered in one part of the architecture, it may affect multiple organizations simultaneously. A homogeneous architecture also means that organizations using Microsoft 365 generally have a uniform set of applications, services, and configurations. Attackers can study and understand the common attack surface across these organizations, making it easier for them to identify and exploit vulnerabilities or weaknesses. 

To mitigate the risk posed by a homogeneous architecture, organizations should take additional security measures beyond the built-in security features of Microsoft 365 by implementing a comprehensive, adaptive cloud-based email security solution.

Complex to Configure Securely 

Configuring Microsoft 365 can be complex due to a variety of factors. Microsoft 365 offers a diverse set of services such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Teams, OneDrive, and more. Each service has its own configuration settings and options, making it challenging to understand and configure them correctly.

Microsoft 365 provides an excess of configuration options to customize the environment based on organizational needs. These settings cover areas such as security, access controls, collaboration, compliance, and more. Understanding and correctly configuring these settings requires a deep understanding of the platform, its capabilities, and its implications. Configuring these integrations, ensuring compatibility, and managing access controls between different systems can be complex and time-consuming. 

Security is also a crucial aspect of configuring Microsoft 365. It involves defining and implementing strong authentication methods, access controls, data protection mechanisms, compliance measures, and more. Ensuring a secure configuration requires a comprehensive understanding of security best practices and the ability to navigate through various security settings.

Overall, the complexity of configuring Microsoft 365 arises from the need to navigate through a vast array of services, understand and apply various configuration settings, integrate with other systems, address security considerations, meet customization requirements, manage user identities, and keep up with ongoing updates. It often requires specialized knowledge, expertise, and experience to configure Microsoft 365 effectively and securely, which many organizations do not have.

Beef Up Microsoft 365 Email Security with Guardian Digital

To bolster built-in email protection and reap the benefits of Microsoft 365 without sacrificing security, businesses should implement an adaptive supplementary email security solution like Guardian Digital Engarde Cloud Email Security. EnGarde is designed specifically to close the critical gaps that exist in built-in Microsoft 365 email protection with the following key characteristics and capabilities:

  • Phishing & Malware Protection: EnGarde’s intelligent auto-learn system leverages the vast resources of the open source community to anticipate and block advanced and emerging threats in real-time. The intuitive platform conducts a dynamic analysis of all URLs and files to protect against targeted spear phishing, ransomware and other dangerous attacks that often leverage malicious links and attachments. 
  • Account Takeover Protection: EnGarde leverages advanced AI-based technology to detect the conversation-style anomalies that are characteristic of email account compromise (EAC) and business email compromise (BEC) scams. Guardian Digital anticipates the threats specific to your users, and stops them using a collection of flexible filters that adapt to your environment.
  • Around-the-Clock System Monitoring, Maintenance & Support: Our experts work with you to understand your security needs, identifying individuals within your organization who are most likely to be targeted in an attack and closely monitoring them to watch for targeted threats. This ongoing expert system monitoring, maintenance and support can simplify administration, improve security and reduce costs, delivering a rapid return on investment (ROI).

Keep Reading About Overcoming Microsoft 365 Email Security Limitations

While Microsoft 365 offers a range of built-in email security features, it is important for organizations to be aware of its limitations. These limitations include gaps in advanced threat protection, the static and single-layered nature of its security measures, the inability to anticipate emerging attacks, the lack of customization to meet varying security needs, and the potential for attackers to bypass defenses due to the platform's homogeneous architecture. To overcome these limitations, organizations should consider augmenting Microsoft 365's native security with additional layers of protection, such as advanced threat protection solutions, email encryption tools, and supplementary email security services. By implementing a multi-layered security approach, organizations can better defend against evolving threats, tailor security measures to their specific needs, and enhance the overall protection of their email communications within the Microsoft 365 environment.

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