Microsoft Beefs Up Office 365 Security

By Pedro Hernandez

Microsoft is signaling to businesses at the TechEd 2014 conference in Houston that their Office 365 data will be subject to even stronger security in the coming months.

Office 365, a pillar of Microsoft's new mobile and cloud strategy, has emerged as a big money maker for the company. At last count, Office 365 "is now on a $2.5 billion annual run rate," said Microsoft Office Corporate Vice President John Case recently as he announced a massive OneDrive for Business cloud storage upgrade.

In March, Microsoft finally launched native Office apps for Apple's best-selling iPad tablet. While free to download and use as Office file viewers, the apps require an Office 365 account to unlock their full functionality.

Now during TechEd 2014, the company turns its attention to file security.

Microsoft is moving "beyond a single encryption key per disk to deliver a unique encryption key per file," announced Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office Services and Servers, in a statement. Envisioned as a way to turn SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business into highly secure content repositories, every file stored in those services "is encrypted with its own key, and subsequent updates to a file are encrypted with their own unique key as well."

Jha added that the new, per-file Office 365 encryption technology "will start to deploy to Office 365 business customers beginning in July."

Secure Office 365 access on mobile devices is getting a boost courtesy of new features in Windows Intune, Microsoft's cloud-based PC and mobile management product. "With Office and OWA [Outlook Web App] for mobile devices, users soon will be able to access corporate data from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive for Business, and OWA mobile in a protected manner based on IT policy defined through Windows Intune," Jha said.

Administrators will be able to restrict the viewing, creation, editing and sharing of content to managed applications, said Jha. Microsoft plans to release managed Office apps for iOS and Android smartphones this year.

For Business for Office 365 Enterprise E3 customers, Exchange's data loss prevention (DLP) feature will encompass documents stored in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business in June. "DLP prevents the sharing of sensitive content either inside or outside an organization by automatically classifying and identifying a customer’s data at rest using deep content analysis," according to Jha.

Microsoft is also revamping how it provides Office 365 security guidance. The newly relaunched Office 365 Trust Center Website offers whitepapers, blogs and videos to help administrators lock down their environments.

Moreover, the Redmond, Wash.-based tech titan is conveying to customers that built-in security is the way forward for Office.

"Security and compliance technology shouldn't be bolted on, after the fact, to an expensive and often fragile system; it should be built right into the productivity technologies themselves," said Jha. He described security and compliance as "a fundamental part of Office 365," leaving customers with "nothing to bolt on to your system later."

This article was originally published on 2014-05-13