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Mastering Guardrails for Microsoft 365 Copilot




In the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, businesses are increasingly leveraging advanced tools to enhance productivity, streamline operations, and make data-driven decisions. Microsoft 365 Copilot represents a significant leap forward, empowering users with AI-driven insights and capabilities. However, as with any powerful technology, its use comes with risks and challenges. Understanding and implementing guardrails around Microsoft 365 Copilot is crucial to ensure that its benefits are harnessed effectively while minimising potential risks. In this article, we will provide practical advice on securing your digital environment from lessons learned during implementation. 


Understanding Access and Data Sources 

The first step in building guardrails is understanding what Microsoft 365 Copilot can access. It operates within the bounds of user permissions, accessing content stored in Exchange, Teams, SharePoint, and OneDrive via the Microsoft Graph. This ensures that Copilot's insights and actions are based on data you're already permitted to see, maintaining the integrity of access controls. However, the system's reach can extend to additional  repositories, including on-premise locations, which may harbour 'dark data' - unused information accumulated over standard business activities. This data could potentially offer misleading or outdated information. (Visit Microsoft Learn for more information). 


Tackling Dark Data 

To mitigate the risks associated with dark data, employing Microsoft Purview's retention labels and policies is recommended. Microsoft Purview offers a sophisticated framework for data governance, enabling organisations to classify, manage, and protect their data throughout its lifecycle. By applying retention labels, companies can specify how long each type of data should be kept and what actions should be taken when it reaches the end of its retention period, such as deletion or archiving. This not only helps in complying with legal and regulatory requirements but also in maintaining a clean and efficient information environment. 


By keeping only the data that is relevant and useful, organisations are able to refine their operational processes and concentrate on accurate and relevant insights. This strategic approach acts as a safeguard, preventing the degradation of valuable data by outdated or inaccurate information. 


Mitigating Oversharing Risks 

Oversharing represents another significant concern, where information might inadvertently become accessible to those without appropriate authorisation. This issue often stems from misconfigured access permissions across team sites, SharePoint sites, or network folders. The concept of 'security through obscurity' - relying on the obscurity of data locations for security - has proven insufficient. Ironically, as AI technologies like Copilot become integral to business processes, the challenge of maintaining strict access controls while leveraging AI's capabilities has resurfaced. The solution lies not in shunning AI technology but in harnessing it as an ally. 


Copilot as an Ally 

An innovative approach to this challenge is the use of 'red teams', such as the Free Pilot Canary Group at Increment. These teams, composed of individuals with standard access levels, proactively search for sensitive information that should be inaccessible, leveraging Copilot itself to identify and address security gaps. This method has proven effective, underscoring the potential of Copilot to enhance security by identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. 


Sensitivity Labels and Data Protection 

The synergy between Microsoft 365 Copilot and Microsoft Purview highlights the importance of sensitivity labels in data protection strategies. Purview integrates natively with Copilot, ensuring that sensitivity labels - and the protections they entail - are retained as data is processed. This is crucial for maintaining data loss prevention policies and information protection strategies without compromising the integrity of sensitive data. 


Enhancing Security and Productivity 

Implementing guardrails around Microsoft 365 Copilot is not just about restricting capabilities but about ensuring that its powerful features are used safely and effectively. By understanding what Copilot can access, managing dark data, mitigating oversharing risks, and leveraging sensitivity labels, organisations can secure their digital environments against potential threats. As AI continues to redefine the business landscape, adopting a strategic approach to security and data protection is not just advisable - it's crucial. The journey towards integrating AI into your operations should be accompanied by a thorough evaluation of these guardrails, ensuring a secure and productive use of Microsoft 365 Copilot. 



Ready to elevate your Microsoft 365 Copilot experience with enhanced security and efficiency? Our team is here to guide you through the intricacies of implementing effective guardrails for your Copilot journey. Speak to us today.

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