How to Encrypt Your Office 365 Emails and Documents

There is a good reason why you hear so much about cyberattacks these days. They are not a matter of if, but when. That is why it is vital to be doing everything you can to reduce the chances of your business being attacked. One thing you can do is encrypt your Office 365 emails and documents.

When you encrypt something, you are scrambling the data so that nobody can see it. The only way it can be seen is with a password that you or your organisation’s IT administrator has set. Alternatively, the person who wants to access the data must pass a set of protocols.

With the increasing frequency of data breaches and the severe financial costs associated with them, it easy to see why encryption is such a highly recommended defense mechanism. That’s why we are going to tell you about how to encrypt your emails and documents. We will also tell you about a couple of other actions you can take to enhance your security prospects.

Why is Encryption Important?

Encryption is a way of protecting the data in your company’s network. It scrambles your data and locks this with a password. The only way anyone can then access it is by knowing the password. With so much data stored in the cloud or on internet-connected servers, it has never been more important to know how to keep your information secure.

Internet privacy is a real concern

Encryption helps personal information stay personal. It ensures that the messages and files you share are seen only by the people you want them to be seen by, and vice versa. When using an email client in a web browser, you should check that your connection is encrypted. Look out for a secret sockets layer (SSL). This prevents data from being seen while it is on the move. Make sure there is a green padlock icon to the left of the domain you’re using and an S in the ‘https://’.

Hacking has become a huge industry

Cybercrime has become a big market. The lists of businesses to target have gotten longer and hackers no longer need to be technical geniuses in order to carry out a data breach. So for your organisation, being targeted is no longer a matter of if, but when. That is why you need to take steps to prevent the worst case scenario. Encryption can help with that.

Read more: how to stop an email spoofing attack with non-technical solutions

Data breaches have serious legal consequences

With the roll out of GDPR in May 2018, businesses can face serious financial penalties if they fail to disclose or act effectively in the event of a data breach. You could be fined up to £18 million or 4% of your annual turnover, whichever is higher. For a small-to-medium sized business (SMB), this may be unaffordable. So cyber security and encryption must be taken seriously.

Read more: how GDPR compliance can benefit small business IT infrastructure

Encrypted emails in Office 365

How to send encrypted messages

You can send encrypted messaging from Outlook in one of two ways. The first is to have your IT administrator encrypt messages that meet certain criteria by default. For example, they could encrypt all messages being sent to recipients outside of your organisation. Or they could encrypt emails that contain certain word and phrases.

If you want to set a level of encryption yourself that doesn't fit with your admin’s rules, you can do that too. Or you can do this if there are currently no rules for encryption within your business. To send an encrypted message in Outlook, open the application and then go to Options > Permissions. From here, you can select the permissions you want. To encrypt messages sent from the web version of Outlook, click on the Protect button.

Reading and replying to encrypted messages

Any company that uses Office 365 can read messages that are encrypted with the do-not-forward policy or custom protection templates. These are found in Outlook 2013 and 2016 for PC, Outlook 2016 for Mac, Outlook for the web, iOS and Android, and Outlook for PC on the Monthly Targeted and Semi Annual Channels.

If you’re using the latter, you’ll be taken to Outlook for the web to read the message. If you have an email account, you’ll be asked to obtain a one-time password to view the message in your browser window. To reply to an encrypted message, choose Reply or Reply All. Then write your reply and choose Send. You’ll receive a copy of your encrypted message.

Encrypting Office 365 Documents

It is very easy to encrypt files in Office 365 programmes such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. When documents in these programmes are encrypted, they can only be accessed with a password that you have set. It is a good idea to not send this password in the same email as the encrypted document. Always do this separately. If you lose the password, it cannot be recovered.

Here’s how you encrypt files:

  1. In Word, PowerPoint or Excel, click File.
  2. Click Info.
  3. Click Protect Document. Then choose Encrypt with Password.
  4. In the Encrypt Document box, type your password.
  5. In the Confirm Password box, type your password again. Then click OK.

Your document is now encrypted. If you share this with anyone, they’ll have to use the password you created in order to view the document.

Some Other Encryption Tips

Encrypt everything

You may think that some of your files are worth encrypting more than others. However, it is worth considering encrypting all the files you store and all the messages you send. When you encrypt some, but not all files and emails, this is a big indicator of what is and what isn’t valuable in your organisation. So you should treat everything with the same level of importance.

Use a VPN

If you are using files and email from a public location, that also you means you will be using a public Wi-Fi network. These are not always secure and in some cases, they are set up by hackers in order to access your data. But you can make yourself safer by using a virtual private network (VPN). This offers you an additional layer of encryption.

Boost Your Security

With all of today’s IT security concerns, there is no such thing as being too safe. But there is such a thing as not being safe enough. You will always find that there is something else you can do in order to boost your organisation’s online security levels. One of those things is encrypting your emails and documents.

Encryption scrambles your data and helps to prevent any unauthorised users from seeing it. It is always worth ensuring your data is encrypted before you share it with anyone. And with the risk of cyberattacks and serious financial consequences linked to data breaches, it is even more worth it.

In Office 365, it is very easy to send and receive encrypted emails and set up password encryption for your Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. For emails, you can follow your admin’s rules or make your own. And for documents, you can make it so no one who doesn’t have the password for the file can read these.

You should also consider:

  • Encrypting all of your files by default, as only encrypting a few shows what is valuable and what isn’t.
  • Using a VPN when on a public Wi-FI network, as these are not always secure.

A quick guide to cyber security

For more tips on how to protect your network, download our quick guide to cyber security. You will learn about how to make your business safer in minutes.

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