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How Can Microsoft 365 Defender Prevent Insider Threats?

Microsoft 365 Defender can help organizations protect endpoints, Office 365 deployments, identities, and cloud applications.

What is Microsoft 365 Defender?

Microsoft 365 Defender performs threat prevention, detection, investigation, and response for endpoints, identities, email systems, and applications. It unifies threat signals from multiple Microsoft security products to determine the full scope and impact of threats. 

With the Microsoft 365 Defender security suite, security analysts can easily determine how a threat got into the environment, how the environment was affected, and what steps to take to eradicate the threat. The solution also takes automated actions to prevent or block attacks and self-heal affected mailboxes, endpoints, and user identities.

Microsoft 365 Defender Services

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is an endpoint security platform that helps prevent, detect, and respond to advanced threats. It provides various functionalities built into Microsoft Azure and Windows 10. 

Defender’s endpoint behavioral sensors are embedded into Windows 10, collecting, processing, and sending operating system behavioral signals to a private cloud instance of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. The solution employs big data to provide cloud security analytics supplemented by threat intelligence provided by Microsoft and various partners.

Microsoft Defender for Office 365

Microsoft Defender for Office 365 offers cloud-based email filtering to protect against advanced threats targeting collaboration tools and email. It can detect and block various attacks, including phishing and malware. 

The solution provides hunting, remediation, and investigation capabilities to support security teams in their efforts to identify, investigate, prioritize, and respond to cyber threats. You can employ it to protect on-premises SMTP email solutions, Exchange Online cloud-hosted mailboxes, and control mail routing across hybrid email environments.

Microsoft Defender for Identity

Microsoft Defender for Identity, formerly Azure Advanced Threat Protection (Azure ATP), provides cloud-based protection against various identity threats, including malicious insiders and compromised identities. It helps protect credentials and user identities stored in Active Directory (AD), providing incident information for rapid triage.

The solution uses on-premises AD signals to detect and investigate advanced threats across the organization. It is particularly useful for hybrid environments, providing the capabilities needed to monitor entity behavior, activities, and users. It includes learning-based analytics and advanced technologies to help identify and investigate suspicious user activity.

Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps

Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps provides visibility into all Microsoft and third-party cloud services. It is a cloud access security broker (CASB) that provides control over data travel and analytics to help identify and defend against cyber threats across the ecosystem. 

It supports several deployment modes, such as log collection, reverse proxy, and API connectors, and integrates natively with supported Microsoft solutions. The solution offers centralized management and automation capabilities.

Preventing Insider Threats with Microsoft Defender and Microsoft Purview

Insider threats are a risk posed to an organization by people who have access to its physical or digital assets. These insiders might be current employees, former employees, contractors, suppliers, or business partners. 

Insider threats can carry out data breaches, fraud, theft of trade secrets and intellectual property, and breach of security measures. Insider threats can be amplified by factors like employee turnover, accidental data sharing in the cloud, and remote work.

Microsoft provides a dedicated solution for insider threats, called Purview Insider Risk Management. This solution is part of the Microsoft E5 Compliance license, which integrates with Microsoft 365 Defender. 

Microsoft Purview Insider Risk Management uses a variety of services and third-party metrics, including Microsoft Defender of Endpoint alerts, Microsoft 365 logs, and the Microsoft Security Graph data lake. It allows you to define specific strategies for identifying risk indicators, and once you identify a risk, take action to reduce it.

Microsoft Purview Insider Risk Management is a compliance solution that helps detect, investigate, and remediate malicious and unintended activity within your organization to minimize internal risk. 

Internal risk policies let you define the types of risks you want to identify and mitigate within your organization. Security analysts within an organization can quickly take action to ensure that users comply with the organization’s compliance standards.

Internal risk management focuses on the following principles:

  • Transparency—balance user privacy with organizational risk using a privacy-designed architecture.
  • Configurability—configurable policies based on industry, region and business group.
  • Integration—unified workflows across Microsoft Purview solutions.
  • Usability—allows users to easily receive notifications and perform investigations.

Internal risk analysis allows you to assess potential internal risks within your organization without having to configure an internal risk policy. This assessment helps organizations identify areas of potential user risk and determine the type and scope of internal risk management strategies they can configure. 

Internal risk management workflows help organizations take action to identify, investigate, and address internal risks. Comprehensive activity signals across centralized policy templates, Microsoft 365 services, alerts, and case management tools help you quickly identify and address risky behaviors with actionable insights.

The image below shows the workflow used by Microsoft Purview to identify and address internal risks.

Image Source: Microsoft


In this article, I explained the basics of Microsoft 365 Defender, a Microsoft security suite that can help organizations protect endpoints, Office 365 deployments, identities, and cloud applications. 

I explored the major security risk posed by insider threats, and showed how Microsoft Purview, which integrates with Microsoft Defender solutions, can identify and mitigate insider threats. The solution uses the following workflow:

  1. Define policies for risks that violate the organization’s compliance and security policies.
  2. Receive alerts based on data from Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph, and other sources.
  3. Triage alerts to identify real insider threats.
  4. Investigate the threat.
  5. Take action based on actionable recommendations from Microsoft Purview.

I hope this will be helpful as you improve your organization’s ability to defend against the major risk of malicious insiders.

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