Sunday, August 21, 2016

Azure Information Protection with Office 365

If you are a reader of my blog, you know for the past few years I have been very focused on discussing Office 365 services.  I recently decided to some catching-up on EMS and how it relates to Office 365.  Well as it turns out there have been several recent changes.  One thing that caught my attention very quickly was Azure Information Protection.  In this blog I will explore this solution.

I will say I am super excited to see the vision of this feature given I work with customers who have the most complex security and information protection policies out there.

Note that Azure Information Protection services is currently in Public Preview.

What is the new Azure Information Protection solution?A major challenge that organizations face is protection of their data.  Data loss prevention is constantly on customers’ minds.

With Azure Information Protection we can protect data at the lowest common denominator.  Instead of solely relying on the data storage systems to classify and protect data, we now protect the data directly at the source as email and documents move from place-to-place.

With Azure Information Protection:

  • Classify, label and protect data at the time of creation or modification.
  • Persistent protection travels with the data with rights management.
  • Provide users simple intuitive controls help users make the right decisions and stay productive.
  • Enable safe sharing of data both internally and externally.
  • Ability to create organizational enforceable policies to protect data.
  • Visibility and control over the shared data.
  • Deployment and management flexibility through the cloud.

What is the difference between Azure Information Protection and Azure RMS?
Simply put, Azure Rights Management Services (RMS) got a bunch of new features added to it.  Azure Information Protection building upon RMS with several new capabilities that have been introduced as part of the Secure Islands acquisition.

The new capability that should catch your attention is the intelligent classification and labeling solution that has been integrated with Azure RMS.  This is super exciting capability.

With the new labeling capability in Azure Information Protection services, you have the ability to be able to create enforceable policy to classify and protect your more important critical data.  You have the ability to create labels (classifications) like Personal, Public, Internal, Confidential, Secret, etc.  Then you have the ability to create policies define how data should be tagged with these classifications.  Once data is classified, that data can visual indicators applied to it, RMS protection policies pro-actively applied to the data, and DLP rules (like Exchange transport rules) can watch for this data and take action.

Additionally, there are new reports available to you that allow you to see how the most critical data in your organization is being accessed and managed.  This provides an audit trail for your most critical data.

How can an organization use Azure Information Protection?
Let’s look at Azure Information Protection a little closer.

When a user is in Office, they will see a new ribbon item (Protect) along with new labeling mechanism in the ribbon.  Users have the ability to tag any document or email on the spot.

Administrators have the ability to create the labels that customers see.

Within each label you can:

  • Associate RMS policies you want to apply (if any) to a specific label.  For instance, if you have a Confidential or Secret label, you may want to associate that label to an RMS policy.
  • Create visual markings that would be applied to the email or document once the label is applied.  For instance, add headers, footers, watermarks, etc.
  • Define conditions that could automatically label email and documents.  For instance, if you see data patterns within the content, a label can be auto applied.
There are numerous ways these labels can actually be applied.
  • Automatic – Labels can be applied by IT based on information it can see in the documents and emails.  This means as the user is creating the content, the label can be applied for them. 
  • User Drive – Users have the ability to choose to apply sensitive labels to email or file as they work on it.
  • Recommendation – Instead of automatically applied the label, you can make recommendations to the user on how classify/label.
  • Reclassification – Depending on your policy, you can allow users the ability to re-classify email and documents.  You can even require them to enter a justification which will be logged.
I see endless opportunity for organizations to use Azure Information Protection services to protect their data.  For instance:
  • An organization could create a policy that all documents are automatically classified as Internal.  The Internal does not have to have a RMS policies associated to it, but doing this will set a baseline that all content in the organization has been tagged.
  • As data needs to be become public, the data can be re-classified (labeled) as public by the end user.
  • For documents as classified as Secret or Confidential, an RMS policy could automatically be applied.
  • Re-classification can be allowed without justification for Internal and Public, but for any re-classifications of Secret or Confidential a justification must be provided.
  • I really think there are endless opportunities here with Azure Information Protection services.
How does this relate to Office 365?
As part of the Preview, Azure Information Protection services can be integrated with Office 365 ProPlus.  This means files that you author in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. as well as emails in Outlook will have this user experience.  This will expand with time.

I thought Office 365 already had DLP, where does this play in?
Yes, Office 365 already has DLP capabilities within Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business.  Azure Information Protection services provides another layer of protection to data protection along with labeling solution.

For instance, SharePoint Online DLP will identify sensitive documents that were put in a location that has too broad access.  That file can be locked down and then remediated with SharePoint Online DLP by the user or an administrator.  However, what if the end user made a mistake (or worse was malicious) and then tried to send a file tagged as secret outside of the organization?  Azure Information Protection could protect that data tagged as Secret based on your policies.  For instance, you can automatically apply an RMS policy to Secret data and not allow users to re-classify that data.  There are several other mitigations you can take such as watch for documents tagged as secret being emailed externally.

From what I have observed, a challenge customers have had with RMS is educating users on how they should use it.  With Azure Information Protection services classification and labeling solution, the decision has just been super simple for end users.  End users do not need to know complex RMS policies and rule sets; all they need to know are organization contextual tags and the RMS policy is applied for them.

How is Azure Information Protection related to the EMS Suite?
There are two plans, there is Azure Information Protection Plan 1 and Plan 2. 

Plan 1 provides the encryption for files and cloud based file tracking.  From a legacy perspective, this is what you know of as Azure RMS as part of the EMS suite.

Plan 2 adds the new intelligent classification and labeling policies.

There are as well EMS Suites (E3 and E5).  Azure Information Protection Plan 2 is part of the EMS Suite 5.

If you are an Office 365 E3 suite customer, you already get access to Azure RMS service.  However, having Office 365 E3 does not give you access to all the EMS E3 or E5 capabilities.  So to get access to Azure Information Protection Plan 2, to get this new classification and labeling solution, you will need acquire some additional EMS plans.

Announcing Azure Information Protection -
Azure Information Protection Public Review Announcement-
Introducing Enterprise Mobility + Security -
Acquisition of Secure Islands -
Azure Information Protection product page -
What is Azure Information Protection (good video) - 
Azure Information Protection FAQs -
Azure Information Protection Quick Start for Preview -

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