Prevent Data Leakage using Exchange Online Transport Rules and Raise the Office365 Secure Score

Over the last month, two clients contacted me requesting immediate support to mitigate and stop the data leakage caused by compromised credentials of specific users in Office365 and Exchange Online. The use of Multi-Factor Authentication has become a best practice and could have prevented this situation. However, there are other security controls that we recommend putting in place to prevent data leakage from Office365.

The bad actors’ “modus operandi” it is usually the same. After compromising the account, hackers access the compromised mailbox using OWA or perhaps Outlook, and setup multiple mailboxes rules. Some of these rules are to exfiltrate data of the organization such as auto-forwarding or send phishing emails to saved contacts and expand their malicious activity. Usually, the last mailbox rules we have identified is to automatically delete their activity from the “Sent Items” folder so it will be unnoticeable by the user.

One of the ways we can help stop data exfiltration from client created rules is using Exchange Transport Rules. Implementing a Transport Rule based around the following can stop emails that are set to be Auto-Forwarded to an external address.

In summary you create a rule based on the following logic.

  • IF The Sender is located ‘Inside the organization’
  • AND IF The Recipient is located ‘Outside the organization’
  • AND IF The message type is ‘Auto-Forward’
  • THEN Reject the message with the explanation ‘External Email Forwarding via Client Rules is not permitted’.

Transport Rule

This will stop delivery of the Auto-Forward message and issue an NDR message to the sender. Exceptions can be also created if needed.

Similarly, this will help you to increase your Office365 Secure Score which now has a new security control called ‘Client Rules Forwarding Blocks’ that implements a Transport Rule to help mitigate client created rules that Auto-Forward to external addresses.

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