This is a guest post by Paul Stringfellow from Gardner Systems and was originally posted at “Building a modern data platform – Prevention (Office365)” where you can also find Paul’s “Tech Interviews” podcast.

In this series so far, we have looked at getting our initial foundations right and ensuring we have insight and control of our data and have looked at components that I use to help achieve this. However, this time we are looking at something that many organisations are already using which has a wide range of capabilities that can help to manage and control data but which are often underutilised.

For ever-increasing numbers of us Office365 has become the primary data and communications repository. However, I often find organisations are unaware of many powerful capabilities within their subscription which can greatly reduce the risks of data breach.

Tucked away with Office365 is the Security and Compliance Section (protection.office.com) and is the gateway to several powerful features that should be part of your modern data strategy.

In this article we are going to focus on two such features “Data Loss Prevention” and “Data Governance”, both offer powerful capabilities that can be deployed quickly across your organisation and can help to significantly mitigate against the risks of data breach.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

DLP is an important weapon in our data management arsenal, DLP policies are designed to ensure sensitive information does not leave our organisation in ways that it shouldn’t and Office365 makes this straightforward for us to get started.

We can quickly create policies that we can apply across our organisation to help identify types of data that we hold, several predefined options already exist including ones that identify financial data, personally identifiable information (PII), social security numbers, health records, passport numbers etc. with templates for a number of countries and regions across the world.

Once our policies which identify our data types are created we can apply rules to that data on how it can be used, we can apply several rules and, depending on requirement, make them increasingly stringent.

The importance of DLP rules should not be underestimated, while it’s important we understand who has access to and uses our data, too many times we feel this is enough and don’t take that next crucial step of controlling the use and movement of that data.

We shouldn’t forget that those with the right access to the right data, may accidentally or maliciously do the wrong thing with it!

Data Governance

Governance should be a cornerstone of a modern data platform it is what defines the way we use, manage, secure, classify and retain our data and can impact the cost of our data storage, it’s security and our ability to deliver compliance to our organisations.

Office365 provides two key governance capabilities.

Labels

Labels allow us to apply classifications to our data so we can start to understand what is important and what isn’t. We can highlight what is for public consumption, what is private, sensitive, commercial in confidence or any other range of potential classifications that you have within your organisation.

Classification is crucial part of delivering a successful data compliance capability, giving us granular control on exactly how we handle data of all types.

Labels can be applied automatically based on the contents of the data we have stored, they can be applied by users as they create content or in conjunction with the DLP rules we discussed earlier.

For example a DLP policy can identify a document with credit card details in, then automatically apply a rule that labels it as sensitive information.

Retention

Once we have classified our data into what is important and what isn’t we can then, with retention policies, define what we keep and for how long.

These policies allow us to effectively manage and govern our information and subsequently allows us to reduce the risk of litigation or security breach by either retaining data for a period, as defined by a regulatory requirement, or, importantly, permanently deleting old content that you’re no longer required to keep.

The policies can be assigned automatically based on classifications or can be applied manually by a user as they generate new data.

For example, a user creates a new document containing financial data which must be retained for 7 years, that user can classify the data accordingly, ensuring that both our DLP and retention rules are applied as needed

Management

Alongside these capabilities Office365 provides us with two management tools, disposition and supervision.

Disposition is our holding pen for data to be deleted so we can review any deletions before actioning.

Supervision is a powerful capability allowing us to capture employee communications for examination by internal or external reviewers.

These tools are important in allowing us to show we have auditable processes and control within our platform and are taking the steps necessary to protect our data assets as we should.

Summary

The ability to govern and control our data wherever we hold it is a critical part of a modern data platform. If you use Office365 and are not using these capabilities then you are missing out.

The importance of governance is only going to continue to grow as ever more stringent data privacy and security regulations develop, governance can allow us to greatly reduce many of the risks associated with data breach and services such as Office365 have taken things that have been traditionally difficult to achieve and made them a whole lot easier.

If you are building a modern data platform then compliance and governance should be at the heart of your strategy.

This is part 4 in a series of posts on building a modern data platform, the previous parts of the series can be found below.

This is a guest post by Paul Stringfellow and was originally posted at

Building a modern data platform – Prevention (Office365)

reprinted with permission.

Written by Paul Stringfellow

Paul is Technical Director at a long established UK based IT consultancy Gardner Systems. A technology enthusiast who likes to understand how technology impacts organisations of all types. He shares his enthusiasm via his BLOG at techstringy.com as well as the Tech Interviews Podcast which can be found at podcast.techstringy.com...
Read more