How to protect your data in Office 365

By Stefan Schachinger

Making the move to cloud-based services like Office 365 provides organisations with many benefits; from an increase in end user productivity to reduced cost and complexity of maintaining on-site hardware. The risk of downtime is also substantially reduced because the applications are run across highly available architectures spread over different regions. These benefits have made Office 365 an attractive prospect to businesses of all sizes and industries. 

But cloud service providers have made it easy for IT departments to think that when it comes to disaster recovery, their work has been done. While application downtime is certainly reduced in Office 365, Microsoft cannot protect businesses from themselves.

There is no way for Office 365 to distinguish between a malicious employee deleting critical files and another deleting some unneeded items. This means that if data is lost because of human error, there’s often very little that businesses can do to get the files back. 

What’s worrying is that data loss through human error isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Recent research from Cloudwards found that 32 percent of data loss is caused by human error. And there are plenty of ways this can occur, for instance: 

  • Data is deleted accidentally: If a user accidentally deletes an email, file, record, or even entire mailbox, Office 365 is obligated to carry out the request. 
  • Data is deleted, or held to ransom, by a malicious party: Whether it’s from an attack on the network that erases vital data, a machine that becomes infected with ransomware, or a disgruntled employee deleting important files and emails, essential data can become inaccessible or be permanently removed. 
  • An account containing critical data is wiped from the system: Employee accounts may be deleted whilst still containing critical data. With no way to recover the deleted account, any data that was stored on it becomes irretrievable.
  • Mistakes have been made on a collaborative document: SaaS solutions are perfect for collaboration, especially when teams are working from dispersed locations. However, previous versions of documents may be made unavailable after a certain time period. 
  • Document sync errors: An error made by the IT team could cause files to become corrupted when being moved between on and off premise. 

While Office 365 does provide customers with some protection against loss of data, often the window for data recovery is short and the recovery options limited. For example, in Exchange Online, individual emails that are deleted will remain in the user’s deleted items folder for 30 days by default.

While the deleted items folder does provide a layer of protection against end-user errors, if the user chooses to empty the folder, the data will be held for a further 14 days by default, after which it will be gone forever. 

Businesses looking to adopt a Cloud solution for business-critical activities need some additional support to eliminate the risk of items lost due to human error or malicious deletion, as well as retain emails and files indefinitely if users leave the organisation. Here are four tips to ensure that important data is accessible, recoverable and protected:

  1. Automate your Cloud backup: By employing an automated backup service, IT departments can save an enormous amount of time compared to running manual backups. This will also minimise the risk of out-of-date backups. Some services include on-demand backups and backup schedules, so the IT team has peace of mind. 
  2. Keep data retrievable: Making sure that businesses are meeting the compliance demands of their industry is essential. All Office 365 data should be retrievable from anywhere with an internet connection and restores should be fully flexible, allowing point-in-time recovery as well as restores to both the original or any other user account. Keeping data retrievable is also essential for compliance. If an organisation is placed under legal hold, it must have its records readily available. 
  3. Fool-proof your data: Mistakes will happen. By implementing a solution that can recover previously edited versions of documents, businesses can ensure that edited documents can be recovered and mistakes rectified.
  4. Prepare for the worst: Businesses need to be confident their data is secure in the event of a hack. Make sure that your Office 365 data is encrypted when at rest and in transit. Businesses might also want to assess multi-factor authentication technologies and role-based administration to ensure that cyber attacks don’t hinder productivity.

Most SaaS vendors back up their customers' data to protect against application downtime, but they cannot protect customers from themselves; if data within the application is changed, either accidentally or on purpose, the overwritten data can be lost forever. Companies must implement the same level of data protection for their Cloud services as they have for their existing on-premise applications, so they can rest assured that their business won’t be damaged by data loss.

By Stefan Schachinger, Consulting System Engineer – Data Protection, Barracuda Networks

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Read the May 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine.


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