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Enforce Best Practices for Secure Office 365 External Sharing

Posted by Asif Rehmani on May 6, 2019 12:42:28 PM

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Let's suppose that you want certain documents to be shared only with trusted, authenticated external users, in a way that protects sensitive data. After you upload the documents in a dedicated document library, what if you could display a warning dialogue box every time someone visits that library? What if you could automatically instruct end users not to choose the "Share anonymously" option, for example?

You can easily make sure that end users are always aware of this policy every time they are about to share a document with guests or external users. A contextual help system will help.

Enable external Office 365 and SharePoint sharing and enforce best practices for secure exchange of documents with suppliers, contractors, and clients. Following the right steps will remove another barrier to collaboration, productivity, and user adoption of the platform.

Disabling external sharing is not the better solution

Many organizations tend to disable external sharing altogether. It is helpful to avoid risks but, in this case, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Keeping the features on and concentrating on managing the risks is much more beneficial to your digital workplace.

Among the disadvantages are the limitations put on collaboration and the tendency for employees to use third-party tools for the task.

If you don't want your team to use emails, Google Drive, or DropBox for sharing documents with guests or external users, you have to switch the Office 365 external sharing features on; and then, to ensure data security, choose the right settings, create smart governance policies, and educate end users on the best practices.

Liberate more collaboration opportunities

In order to enforce the best practices for external sharing, displaying warning dialogs or reminders should serve as a starting point. They keep end users aware of the right course of action: every time anyone lands on a group, a site, a page, a folder, or a library where external sharing happens, a warning dialog displays automatically, prompting the user to follow the rules. You can use the VisualSP walkthrough feature to create simple and flexible warning dialogs.

warning_dialog_box

You can provide guidance on sharing OneDrive for Business documents, SharePoint sites, adding guest users to Office 365 groups, adding contributors to Teams projects, etc.

Here is an example: how to add a warning dialog to a library.

However, before you start creating a warning dialog, focus first on configuring all the external sharing features in the Office 365 applications. Some of the most common options may include the following.

  • Limit the external sharing to authenticated users with email accounts from unique domains only. Blacklist email addresses from public providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.
  • Prevent shared documents from being forwarded to other unauthorized recipients. Make sure that only an email address that has actually received the invitation can sign in and access the shared document.
  • Add a default expiration date to all links shared anonymously.
  • Modify governance policies to accommodate external sharing options.
  • Review your permission settings to make sure that external users are not given inherited permissions.

There are other important settings that may be applicable to your organization. Take time to dive into other configurations options that may apply to your company's document management policies and ensure that you set the right foundation.

After configurations are done, move to create warning dialogs that not only communicate the setting options but also enforce the best practices.

Also, run a few training sessions and use VisualSP ongoing contextual help items to educate end users on how to use external sharing in a way that protects sensitive data. You can actually use VisualSP built-in analytics capabilities to see who has seen a warning dialog box and who hasn’t.

Finally, as you should, whether external sharing is enabled or not, maintain the habit of checking data security reports, daily. Successful data security management depends on it.

Focus on enforcing the best practices

Disabling the external sharing features is detrimental to collaboration, productivity, and long-term data security. With features disabled, data security is especially comprised given that when confronted with no option, employees tend to fall back to third-party cloud platforms, making it impossible for you to know which documents were shared externally, with whom, and how.

It is far more beneficial to take the time to manage external sharing activities than to prohibit them entirely. Allow information exchange with outside contributors and focus on making optimal configurations, creating the right governance policies, providing ongoing training, and communicating the best practices.

This step will liberate collaboration opportunities, expand user adoption, and maximize your team's productive output.

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Topics: VisualSP Online Help System, SharePoint User Adoption, Compliance, Onboarding, Digital Adoption

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