5 Microsoft Teams security best practices for better collaboration

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The rise of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of Microsoft Teams. The chat-based workspace app is the keystone of the Microsoft 365 portfolio. It brings all other products together and enables team collaboration, and also stores important files, member details of the team and personal calendars, all from a single interface.

However, the unprecedented adoption of Teams has become a security nightmare for IT pros. This high-speed collaboration resulted in poor security practices such as accidental sharing and data leakage.

IT pros are burdened with the challenge of tightening security holes in a way that secures sensitive information without compromising users’ freedom to collaborate, which is why Teams is in the first place.

In this article, we discuss the five Microsoft Teams security best practices that can help keep IT teams and end users alert and prevent data loss, making the collaboration platform seamless and secure.

Microsoft Teams Security Best Practices

Team governance policies are the most reliable way to enforce security. These policies determine how the organization will use the app, who can create Teams accounts, and what information people can share. Appointing a Teams administrator will be critical to the implementation of Microsoft Teams security best practices across the organization.

Use sensitivity labels

Built-in Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) sensitivity labels let you organize and protect your Teams data without impacting user productivity and collaboration. Once a label is applied, the protection settings come into play.

For example, if you tag a Teams group as “secret,” it’s encrypted. This means that people outside your organization cannot access this part of the teams.

Sensitivity labels can help you expand your security capabilities in the following ways:

  • Apply protection settings with encryption or watermarks
  • Protect content from supported Microsoft 365 apps on multiple platforms and devices
  • Protect Teams from third-party apps

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Configure DLP

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) prevents accidental exposure of critical information, reducing the risk of a data breach. Set up DLP controls based on sensitivity labels, instantly preventing unauthorized users from accessing or sharing data in a Teams channel or private chat.

In a way, DLP policies help moderate user behavior within teams. You can even test these policies before putting them into practice. It helps you determine if the policies are producing desirable results and helps you refine them until you hit the sweet spot.

DLP supports a content crawl engine: files and chats are crawled and any attempt to share sensitive content is blocked. These policies can be applied to guest and external users and work well on the Teams desktop and web app.

An image showing the Data Loss Prevention feature within Microsoft Teams.

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Data access control for teams

Data access control is central when it comes to securing file sharing outside the organization. You can give external access and / or guest access to the Teams channel. These access controls may look similar, but they are quite different.

External access allows you to provide access permission to an entire domain, allowing teams or Skype users from other domains to call, chat, and schedule meetings with users within the ‘organization. It’s like when [email protected] and [email protected] must work together on teams without neglecting safety.

Guest access allows you to provide access permission – allowing an external user to be a member to participate in channels, chats, and file sharing. These guests don’t need to have a Microsoft 365 account in your organization. Instead, they can use their existing business email accounts.

Here are some ways to control external and guest access to your team channels:

1. Prevent “anyone” linking with DLP

The DLP policy also covers conversations with guest users. This ensures that you can protect, monitor, and control data right within your Microsoft 365 tenant. This way people won’t get carried away by carelessly sharing data within the Teams ecosystem.

2. Use the Lobby function

To prevent external users from blocking your Teams meetings, use the Lobby feature. External users who attempt to access your meetings will be redirected to a virtual lobby where they will have to wait for admission. It allows you to screen individuals before they can enter the meeting.

3. Activate private channels within a team

Drive targeted team collaboration between a specific batch of individuals based on need-to-know with private channels. All team members, including guests, can be added to a private channel, but only channel owners / members are allowed to access it.

4. Create security groups

The default settings allow any user with an Exchange Online mailbox to create a team and become a team owner. The easiest way to limit the number of users with this privilege is to create a Microsoft 365 group. Users in this group will have exclusive permission to create new groups and, by extension, new teams.

5. Configure access settings

To configure external access settings in the Teams admin center, go to Organization-wide settings> Select external access. Administrators can allow users to communicate with other teams or Skype users. You can also set the level of access granted to guest users using the admin center.

An image showing how to configure access permissions in Microsoft Teams.

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Regularly monitor user activity

Monitoring shows how users adopt and interact with Teams. Use the information to understand which set of user behaviors to change to improve team safety.

The teams also offer limited monitoring capabilities to avoid blanket authorization of third-party applications that require access to user and company data. Administrators can pre-create an exclusive list of authorized third-party applications. If a team submits a request for an unlisted app, admins must manually go through the permission policy with a fine comb.

The process may seem cumbersome, but it’s better than being compromised. Marriott learned this the hard way when hackers abused a third-party app the hospitality giant was using for its guest services, resulting in the violation of 5.2 million guest records.

To monitor Teams activity in your admin center, go to Analytics and Reports> View Reports> Usage. You can see various built-in reports and features and draw conclusions about user activities, and with the help of technology and education, motivate users to apply security best practices.

A screenshot showing the Analtics & Reports dashboard in Goolge Analytics.

Implement data management policies

Sensitive information stored in Teams poses a security risk, especially if the team has exceeded its target and the data is just there. Apply these three strategies to manage data.

  • Retention: Configure Teams retention policies for chat and channel messages and move them to OneDrive and SharePoint after the period is over to free up space in Teams. It ensures built-in compliance while retaining stale data within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.
  • eDiscovery: A Microsoft 365 tool that allows you to identify and return electronic information to use as evidence in legal matters. With eDiscovery, you can recreate Teams conversations for the legal team to get the full context of the conversations.
  • Expiration dates: Manage the lifecycle of Office 365 groups by setting an expiration date. Owners of expired groups will be prompted to renew their groups. Any group not renewed will be temporarily deleted. The group can be restored within 30 days by the group owners or the administrator.



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