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How Microsoft 365 Defender Protects Against Phishing

by | Dec 27, 2021 | Cloud, Managed Services, Microsoft 365, Security

Phishing is still a big problem.

Phishing attacks continue to be one of the largest technology threats facing small and medium sized businesses.

Hermetic Networks uses Microsoft 365 Defender to dramatically mitigate this risk with several features. 

Phishing attacks are a severe threat to businesses of all sizes. These fraudulent emails can cause your team members to accidentally share financial, customer, and account information with cyber-criminals.

How does phishing work?

Phishing works because attackers appear as credible senders since they’re impersonating trusted sources and high-level executives. As a result, your team members may not even have second thoughts about distributing sensitive personnel or corporate data.

Despite the attempts to raise user awareness of this fraud, phishing emails are still widespread. According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing is still the top social engineering attack by a large margin and businesses continue to see increased phishing volumes over 2020.

They’re the starting point of most hacking activities and can make organizations lose millions of dollars. In addition, the victim may face legal action, diminished reputation, reduced customer confidence, and business disruption. That’s why protecting your business from phishing attacks is paramount.

Numerous safety mechanisms are available, but Microsoft 365 Defender might be your best option. It comes with various security layers to safeguard against successful phishing attempts.

This article will list the seven key features of Microsoft 365 Defender that can help protect your business from phishing.

The Seven Key Features

#1 – Safe Links and Safe Attachments

Phishing emails don’t only contain attachments. They can also include URLs to lead your team members to a fraudulent website. These web pages often look legitimate, but they generally require the victim to provide some information. Furthermore, they can lead to websites that install or download malware on your computers.

One of the key protection technologies within Defender for Office 365 is Safe Links and Safe Attachments. These technologies enhance protection levels against zero-day threats as they can analyze links in emails and office documents. They also open attachments in emails to find any potential threats hidden inside.

Both Safe Links and Safe Attachment policies apply to internal and external emails in real-time. This is a capability unique to Defender for 365 and one that no third party has been able to match.

Safe Links shield your system from malware transmissions using URL detonation. It scans email links and checks for suspicious behavior before you click on the links and again when you do.

Microsoft Defender 365 warns you not to visit links that open malicious websites. Otherwise, you can open your destination URLs normally. It’ll also rescan the service sometime later and look for any security problems.

Moreover, it works great on documents uploaded to SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.

Safe Links

When a user clicks a link in an email or document, Safe Links checks if the link is malicious by redirecting the link to a secure server in the Microsoft 365 environment.

This server then checks the link against a list of known malicious web sites.

If the site is deemed safe, the browser is redirected to the original link destination. If the site is on a block list, the user is prevented from following the link, and the web browser displays a warning page to the user.

The Safe Links URL wrapping service processes links and encapsulates them within the email or document permanently.

This protection persists for the life of the message, meaning the link will be re-processed and evaluated at every click.

It doesn’t matter if this is a few hours, days, or even years later – the protection still applies.

This defends against attackers who hide malicious URLs with seemingly safe links that are subsequently redirected to unsafe sites after the message has been delivered – an attack method commonly referred to as “rug-pulling”.

Should a link point to a downloadable file, Safe Links can be configured to execute and scan the file within the sandbox.

Within this sandbox area, Microsoft Defender will evaluate the content and provide a verdict on whether to allow the end-user to access the file.

This protection extends to links contained in Office applications (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and to Teams.

Safe Attachments

Office 365 Safe Attachment policies also route any attachments that do not have a known virus or malware signature to a special hypervisor environment for behavioural analysis.

This additional sandbox environment uses a variety of machine learning and analysis techniques to detect malicious intent. Only if no suspicious activity is detected is the attachment released for delivery to the user’s mailbox.

This protection from malware-infected content in Defender for Office 365 also applies beyond email.

If malicious files or links are uploaded to SharePoint or OneDrive for Business and shared, even via Microsoft Teams, Defender for Office 365 will detect it, block it, and prevent the file from being opened or shared in the future.

#2 – Better Phishing Email Detection

The most dangerous type of phishing scam involves emails whose sender seems to be an actual entity. The attacker often uses cunning tactics, like referring to the victim by their name or nickname. Sometimes, they can even use real accounts and use them to trick businesses.

Using machine learning, Microsoft Defender 365 lists the contacts you regularly communicate with. Then, it uses advanced tools to differentiate suspicious from acceptable behavior. The result is more accurate detection of phishing emails.

#3 – Malware Defenses

Different types of malware can spread through phishing emails. For example, cryptomalware will lock your files and systems until the attacker receives a ransom. Spyware can be even more dangerous. It steals your information by copying clipboards, taking screenshots, or recording keystrokes.

Microsoft Defender 365 addresses such malware with robust safety mechanisms, namely:

  • Layered malware defense – The platform comes with multiple malware scan engines to help diagnose potential threats. They provide a robust heuristic inspection to shield your system even in the earliest stages of an outbreak. This type of protection is superior to using just one anti-malware program.
  • Real-time response – During outbreaks, the platform provides your team with instant access to devices, allowing you to investigate and contain threats in real-time. It also enables your team to collect data and proactively tackle malware.
  • Rapid definition deployment – The Microsoft 365 Defender team maintains a close relationship with anti-malware engine developers. Consequently, users of the platform receive malware definitions on time. Plus, the company checks for definition updates every hour to help protect you against the latest malware.
  • Common attachments filter – Some file types aren’t meant for emails, such as executable documents. With that in mind, the common attachment filter lets you automatically block them without any scanning. Some of the file types it can remove include .ace, .exe, .app, .ani, and .scr.

#4 – Improved Spam Blocking

Another common culprit for phishing campaigns is spam emails. Blocking them is an excellent way to shield your organization from attacks.

Defender boasts powerful anti-spam technology to address spam emails by examining the source of the message and the contents. If the email comes from untrustworthy sources or contains suspicious information, it automatically goes to your spam folder.

On top of that, this feature examines your team members’ activity to help make sure they don’t send spam emails to other users.

#5 – Sandbox Isolation

Some users, especially if they’re reckless, commonly open malicious email attachments without second thoughts. They can expose company data to prying eyes as a result, which can ruin your reputation and give your competitors the edge.

Defender can reduce this risk by opening all email attachments in a sandbox. It serves as isolation, meaning that malicious files can only affect the sandbox rather than your system.

Once the program isolates malware, it’ll warn you not to open it. But if the attachment is safe, you’ll be able to use it normally.

#6 – Enhanced Filtering

Enhanced Filtering is perfect for enterprises that route emails to on-premises environments with third-party services before sending them to Microsoft 365.

The platform comes with inbound connectors that verify whether your email sources are trustworthy. The higher the complexity of the routing scenario, the higher the chances are that email connectors don’t reflect their real source.

What’s more, this feature preserves the authentication signals that may have disappeared while routing emails. It enhances the filtering capabilities of Microsoft 365, allowing it to detect phishing and spam emails more effectively.

#7 – User Submissions

Microsoft Defender lets you set specific mailboxes where you can send any threatening emails.

This feature allows you to determine the criteria for safe and malicious email while identifying the mailboxes that will store these messages. Thus, your administrators have more control over flagging emails and reporting them to Microsoft.

Microsoft Defender for 365 is a sure-fire solution

Phishing attacks can spell disaster for your company. To neutralize the threat, we integrate Microsoft 365 Defender into all of our Hermetic Networks Managed Services plans.

This platform can keep your system intact with dependable security measures. It can also detect malicious activity on time, enabling you to address it before it spreads and compromises your privacy.

Using Microsoft 365 Defender is just one part of your cybersecurity. If you’d like a non-salesy chat to help determine other potential risks in your network, reach out to us today.