Data loss prevention (DLP) is a critical concern for organizations that rely heavily on email communication for their business operations. The extensive use of email for transmitting sensitive information, enforcing compliance requirements, and managing data securely while ensuring productivity can be challenging. This comprehensive guide will provide you with a deep understanding of DLP policies in Exchange Online, including their composition, testing procedures, and an overview of a new feature in Exchange DLP. Following the guidelines presented here will equip you with the knowledge to implement effective DLP strategies that protect your organization’s sensitive data.

DLP is a technology that enables organizations to detect and protect against data leaks, which can result in significant financial and legal penalties. DLP aims to identify sensitive information as it’s being transmitted or stored so that you can take action accordingly. There are several ways that Exchange Online uses DLP policies to protect your organization’s sensitive data. For example, email messages containing personally identifiable information (PII) must be encrypted before they’re sent over the Internet.

Understanding DLP Policies

DLP policies in Exchange Online are packages containing conditions, exceptions, and actions encapsulated within mail flow rules. These policies are created and activated in the Exchange admin center (EAC) to filter email messages and attachments based on specific criteria. One notable advantage of DLP policies is the ability to create and test them without affecting the normal flow of email communications. This allows you to ensure the effectiveness of your policies before implementation.

To achieve enhanced DLP capabilities, Exchange Online introduces new types of mail flow rules designed explicitly for DLP purposes. These rules facilitate deep content analysis, including keyword matches, dictionary matches, regular expression evaluation, and other content examination techniques to identify and flag content that violates your organization’s DLP policies.

Activating DLP Policies and Policy Tips

Upon creating a DLP policy, you can activate it, allowing it to filter and monitor email messages actively. Additionally, you can configure Policy Tips to notify email senders about possible policy violations even before they send a message. Policy Tips provide brief notifications within the Microsoft Outlook 2013 client, Outlook on the web, and OWA for Devices, effectively informing users about potential compliance issues and promoting adherence to organizational policies.

When a policy is activated, the DLP tool will look for content that matches your created rules. If there are no matches, then the DLP tool does not take any action on email messages. However, if there are multiple matches or violations in an email message, the DLP tool may act on those messages.

Getting Started with DLP

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Photo by Manuel Geissinger on, data loss prevention

There are three primary methods to initiate DLP implementation in your organization:

1. Apply an Out-of-the-Box Template: The quickest way to begin using DLP policies is by leveraging pre-defined templates provided by Microsoft. These templates include a range of conditions, rules, and actions tailored to address standard compliance-related requirements. By selecting an appropriate template, you can expedite the creation of a new policy without starting from scratch. When choosing a template, consider the type of data you want to monitor and your organization’s compliance obligations.

2. Import a Pre-Built Policy File: External software vendors offer pre-built policies that can be imported into your messaging environment. This approach allows you to extend the functionality of DLP solutions to align with your specific business requirements.

3. Create a Custom Policy: Your organization may have unique monitoring requirements for specific data types within your messaging system. Creating a custom policy tailored to your organization’s needs is recommended in such cases. This process involves understanding the environment where the DLP policy will be enforced and defining the rules accordingly.

After adding a policy, you can review and modify its rules, deactivate it temporarily, or remove it entirely as needed.

Sensitive Information Types in DLP Policies

When crafting DLP policies, you can include rules that check for sensitive information within messages. Exchange Online provides a wide range of sensitive information types that can be utilized in your policies. These types are defined in the Sensitive information type entity definitions, enabling you to specify conditions based on your organization’s requirements and compliance regulations. It is essential to balance adequate protection against data loss and minimize false positives and negatives that may disrupt mail flow.

While Microsoft supplies policy templates containing sensitive information types, you can create custom DLP policies with additional conditions that suit your organization’s unique needs. By leveraging the power of sensitive information detection and mail flow rules, you can configure DLP policies to act automatically on messages that contain sensitive information. This allows you to create an effective data loss prevention solution that protects your organization’s intellectual property and keeps employees compliant with regulations.

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