SharePoint Online security has always been a topic of hot debate, and since the Edward Snowden incident in 2013, SharePoint seems to have a permanent stain on its security reputation. 

Is SharePoint Online truly a secure platform? How can users strengthen their SharePoint security? If you’re considering SharePoint training for beginners and have these questions in mind, read ahead to find out the answers.


Is Sharepoint Online Secure? 

The simple answer to this question is that no web platform is completely secure. As a platform that hosts significant volumes of corporate content and sensitive information, SharePoint is prone to web-specific cyberattacks. 

However, when evaluating whether SharePoint Online is secure, there seems to be a particular bias against Office 365 security. Yes, the SharePoint environment is vulnerable to web attacks, but other popular enterprise systems are, too. SharePoint is not one of the most unprotected web solutions out there. 

SharePoint security meets a variety of standards and regulatory requirements, including, but not limited to:

  • Federal Information Security Management Act 
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act 
  • E.U. and U.S. Privacy Shield Framework
  • Data Processing Agreements (DPAs)
  • Federal Risk and Authorization Program 

While organizations tend to blame Microsoft for the cyberattacks they fall victim to, these criticisms often come from organizations that are not familiar with Microsoft’s safety and compliance features. Many built-in security features of the Microsoft collaboration suite are often neglected and underutilized.

If organizations fully understand and implement the capabilities of these security features, they can protect themselves against a wide range of common SharePoint Online security breaches. 

It’s important to remember that security is never a one-time effort, and the responsibility to stay aware and update platform security falls on users.


Three Levels of SharePoint Security

The first step to building a secure SharePoint system is understanding the three levels of security it offers. These levels include users, infrastructure, and content. 


Infrastructure Level Security 

Once you purchase the SharePoint server, SharePoint will recommend security settings to guarantee safe SharePoint deployment, and you must adhere to these guidelines. The recommendations typically include:

  • Hardening of SharePoint servers 
  • Optimal configuration of Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols 
  • Proper configuration of SharePoint-connected network devices 

While SharePoint Online and Office 365 tenants don’t have physical server access, organizations are still responsible for correctly configuring their internal network. This includes firewall setup, internet proxy settings, and network capacity support, which are the first steps to ensuring the cloud site functions properly and your data is fully protected.


User Level Security 

User-level security in SharePoint falls into two categories—ensuring users work securely within the application and controlling what users do in the application to prevent unauthorized access. 

To ensure protection from both angles, there are two core domains of user-level security in SharePoint:

  1. User Authentication: This is a digital barrier that prevents unauthorized users from accessing the functionality and content of an application. There are three types of user authentication in SharePoint: Windows, Claim-based, and Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) token-based applications. There is also anonymous access that does not require user credentials.

  2. User Permissions: This mechanism enables admins to control specific user access to SharePoint sites and content. For the safety of your data, stick to the best practices of distributing SharePoint permissions. These include:

  • Avoid granting owner-level permissions to many users. 
  • Do not replace out-of-the-box permission levels with custom ones. Instead, create proprietary permissions from scratch and add them to existing ones. 
  • Avoid item-level permissions. These tend to complicate your SharePoint management. 
  • Refer to SharePoint consulting. Getting assistance from professional developers who know the tricks to safe SharePoint permissions is always helpful.


Content Level Security 

Typically, corporate content is protected through the user-permission system described above. Without relevant permissions granted by the admin, no user should be able to access a SharePoint site and its content. 


In Summary

SharePoint Online’s security is variable, but a portion of it is dependent on the user. Follow the above processes to protect yourself and your data. You might also consider disabling the default external sharing feature or connecting external databases in SharePoint Online to prevent employees from sharing content with users outside your organization–you can always grant individual external-sharing permission later if the need arises. 

Finally, be sure to read our post on what’s new in SharePoint 365 Online to learn about the platform’s latest security measures!

About The Author

Microsoft Certified Trainer and Consultant specializing in Office 365, Microsoft SharePoint, Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Visio, Microsoft Office Development, and Crystal Reports

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