SharePoint Security: How to Protect Your Sensitive Data

Keeping sensitive information safe is more important than ever, especially for businesses using SharePoint for collaboration and content management. Whether you’re new to SharePoint or have been using it for a while, understanding how to protect your data from potential threats should be a top priority.

This blog post offers straightforward and practical advice on securing your SharePoint environment, covering everything you need to know to keep your data safe and your business running smoothly.

How Does SharePoint Secure Data?

SharePoint secures data through a combination of permission settings, encryption, and regular security updates. It allows a SharePoint admin to set specific access rights for different users, ensuring only authorized individuals can view or edit certain documents. This level of control helps prevent unauthorized access and data breaches.

SharePoint also encrypts data during storage and transmission, protecting sensitive information from interception. Regular security updates from Microsoft address any new vulnerabilities, keeping the system secure against potential threats. This straightforward approach to security helps businesses keep their critical information safe.

Why Should Security For SharePoint be Your Priority?

Since SharePoint allows for easy sharing and editing of data among team members, there’s a higher chance that sensitive information could fall into the wrong hands if not properly managed. Simple mistakes like setting permissions incorrectly or not keeping a close eye on who has access to what can lead to big problems, including data breaches or violations of privacy laws. Regularly checking who can see and change your SharePoint content helps keep your data safe and ensures your business meets legal requirements.

8 Best Methods for Securing SharePoint

Here are some useful tips to help you improve the overall security of your Microsoft SharePoint environment.

1. Share Permissions

  • Protect Content Shared with External Users: External sharing should be blocked where possible and allowed only when there is a legitimate business requirement. All external sharing sites should be isolated into a single site collection to provide more visibility and control over what is being shared externally. Doing this will help prevent privilege abuse or allow unknown third parties to access your sensitive data. Sharing externally using separate site collections and educating your employees about the best practices of sharing sensitive content externally will help you mitigate the associated risks.
  • Disable Anonymous Sharing: SharePoint’s anonymous sharing functionality can be disabled. This is recommended for several reasons, including limiting what your users can share without you being able to see it and being able to gather all required data-sharing information in the event of a data breach investigation.

2. Groups for User Management

Permissions can be assigned individually or through security groups. Individually assigning permissions can provide more control and often more appropriate levels of privileges, but it is more difficult to manage. Assigning permissions through security groups is far easier to control, although it could potentially lead to over-privileged users if not managed correctly.

Groups allow permissions to be assigned in a way that ensures you are adhering to the principle of least privilege. Users who change roles within the organization or move on can have their permissions revoked easily by simply removing them from the security groups. Permissions assigned at a user level, on the other hand, can be forgotten about and so are rarely revoked in these cases.

3. Stop Using Item Level Permissions

SharePoint does not provide an easy method to identify unique permissions and address them in the same way that File Server does. Assigning permissions at the item level may seem like a good way to speedily get permissions to that item, but it will create an unsecured environment in the long run.

For this reason, it’s better to use it sparingly. Instead, try to use libraries or folders to assign permissions. This will help you control access rights, reduce the chances of broken inheritance, and lower the possibility of an increased attack surface.

site administrator

4. One Administrator Per Site or Site Group

As discussed previously, groups can be created, and administrators can be assigned to each group to oversee all activity within their particular group. Ensuring that there is only one administrator makes it easier to hold that administrator accountable for all the sharing that goes on in the group.

5. Use Inbuilt Microsoft’s Security Features

Microsoft has some built-in security features that can help you improve the security of your account. Two of the most widely known and used features are encryption and virus detection.

  • Encryption: The Microsoft environment offers many levels of protection, including access security, data security, application security, physical data center security, and network security.
    Encryption is divided into In-Transit encryption and At-Rest encryption. In-transit encryption is used when data enters and leaves data centers. For data encryption at rest, two components are involved: encrypting customer content with per-file encryption and the BitLocker disk-level encryption. Both forms of encryption are available on the SharePoint online platform.
  • Virus detection: The virus detection feature checks all content within a site. It’s usually automated and uses a highly sophisticated anti-virus engine to scan for malware and viruses. Although the virus detection feature is effective, it is often limited. For example, it does not check files larger than 25MB, so it is important to have separate anti-virus detection software that can check larger files and is available offline.

6. Regularly Review Access Rights

As a collaboration tool, SharePoint often works in the background, and problems are often only spotted when data breaches occur. That’s why it is important to continually audit and monitor SharePoint changes to detect anything that could lead to downtime or a data breach. If you can easily report on the state of your SharePoint environment, it will be a straightforward process to remain secure and in compliance with regulatory standards. You must carefully monitor configuration changes, permission changes, and user profile changes.

7. Audit SharePoint for Changes and Access Events

It’s very important to audit all activity, including changes to services, server hardware, virtual hardware, and security settings, so that you can quickly spot issues that could lead to breaches and business disruption. If you want the best threat detection and response, supplement the built-in features with a third-party monitoring tool.

8. Classify the Data you Store in SharePoint

Most organizations understand the need to classify their data to control the use of sensitive and confidential content following internal security policies and industry or government mandates. Data loss prevention (DLP) technology can identify sensitive data and block or allow access to it according to your policies.

DLP is integrated into all Microsoft 365 services, particularly SharePoint, and it enables you to inspect the content, metadata, and location of data and then apply security policies you have created to protect it.

Best Practices to Train Users on SharePoint Security

As with any online platform, it is important to ensure that the information stored in SharePoint is secure. Here are some of the best practices for securing SharePoint Online.

Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one of the most effective ways to protect your SharePoint Online environment. MFA requires users to provide two or more forms of authentication, such as a password and a code sent to a mobile device, before they can access SharePoint. This can prevent unauthorized access to your environment, even if someone obtains a user’s password.

Limit access to SharePoint Online

Limiting access to SharePoint Online to only those who need it can be done by creating security groups in Azure Active Directory and assigning permissions to those groups through the SharePoint admin center. Use the admin center to review these permissions regularly to ensure only the necessary users can access SharePoint.

Use strong passwords

Ensure that users are using strong passwords. Consider implementing a password policy requiring passwords to be a certain length, include a mix of characters, and be changed regularly.

Implement conditional access

Implement conditional access

Conditional access is a feature in Azure Active Directory that allows you to configure access to SharePoint Online based on certain conditions, such as the user’s location, device, or network. This can help prevent unauthorized access to SharePoint if a user attempts to access it from an unfamiliar location or device.

Keep SharePoint Online up to date

Microsoft regularly releases updates and patches for SharePoint Online to address security vulnerabilities. It’s important to keep your environment updated with these patches to ensure you are protected against the latest threats.

Use data loss prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a feature in SharePoint Online that allows you to identify and protect sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers. DLP can help prevent this information from being shared with unauthorized users or leaving your environment.

Train users on security best practices

Train your users in security best practices, such as not sharing passwords and being aware of phishing scams. Well-informed users are less likely to compromise your SharePoint Online environment’s security.

The Future of SharePoint Security

The future of SharePoint online security focuses on ensuring data is safer and more secure against online threats. With more businesses moving their work online, the need for security has never been higher. SharePoint is set to include easier ways for everyone to keep their data safe, from small businesses to big corporations.

Expect security updates that are simple to use but powerful against threats. This means even if you’re not a tech expert, you’ll find it straightforward to protect your business’s valuable information.

FAQs

What are the risks of SharePoint?

The main risks of using SharePoint include data breaches, unauthorized access, and data loss. Data breaches can happen when hackers find a way into your system and get to your sensitive information. Unauthorized access is when people who shouldn’t see certain information are able to access it, maybe because of weak passwords or not having enough control over who gets access.

Also, if you don’t back up your data correctly, you could risk losing important information. However, with the right security practices, you can reduce them and keep your data safe.

Are my documents safe in SharePoint?

Yes, your documents are safe in SharePoint. SharePoint includes strong security features designed to protect your documents from online threats. It offers tools for managing who can access your data, ensuring that only authorized users can see sensitive information.

With regular security updates, SharePoint works hard to guard against data breaches and unauthorized access. While no online platform can promise 365 security, following recommended security practices in SharePoint significantly reduces the risks to your data. It’s also important to use strong passwords and regularly back up your documents to help keep your information secure.

At what three levels is security handled in SharePoint?

Security in SharePoint is managed at three main levels to keep your data as safe as possible. First is site-level security, which includes permission levels and controls on who can enter and use the site. You decide who gets to see and do certain things on your SharePoint site at this level, effectively managing user and group permissions to align with your organizational security requirements. Second, there’s the item or document level.

This deals with specific documents or items within the site. Here, you can set SharePoint permissions for individual files, allowing you to control who can view or edit them. Lastly, there’s data protection, which includes measures to prevent data loss, such as regular backups and protection against cyber threats. These three levels work together to help keep your information secure in SharePoint.

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