Information Protection: The What – Office 365 DLP

As mentioned the other day, Microsoft uses two specific products to deal with the what of information protection: Office 365 DLP and Azure Information Protection. There are similarities between the two, but some fundamental differences as well. Let’s focus on Office 365 DLP today.

DLP is all about know and flow. Both are done specifically within the context of the DLP policies you have configured. Know is about the what – the specific sensitive information types or labeled content that exist within an email being written, a document attached to an email being written, or a document being shared from SharePoint or OneDrive.

But the know is only enacted at the point of flow, such as when the user is writing an email that has been addressed to someone not authorised to receive it (e.g., an external recipient), or a document sharing action that would share the document with someone not authorised to view or edit it.

This core idea – know and flow – aligns with the specific protection mandate of Office 365 DLP – to “prevent loss” by stopping an unauthorised someone from gaining access.

Thus DLP policies – as set up in the Security & Compliance Centre – are intended for:
– preventing an internal user from sending content in an email or attached document to a recipient who should not receive it.
– preventing the sharing of a document with someone who should not receive it.
– these actions must be taken within and through Office 365.

DLP will not prevent loss in all situations, unless there are other parts of the Information Protection portfolio in use. For example, if a user downloads a file with sensitive data and then syncs it with Dropbox (or some other cloud sharing service), that content has just disappeared. It has been taken out of the boundary of Office 365, and loss prevention capabilities are blind to what happens. Ditto if it is put onto a USB thumbdrive. There are other solutions in the portfolio – Microsoft Cloud App Security and Windows Information Protection for example – that can address most of these challenges, and Azure Information Protection to a degree as well (in conjunction with those other two). We’ll leave that complexity for another day.

But for now – DLP is all about know and flow.

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