Enhancing Data Protection In An AI-Enabled Workspace

Artificial Intelligence

Improving the customer experience.

Reducing errors.

Cutting costs.

Increasing security.

These are just a few of the many, many goals that most small businesses are trying to accomplish on a regular basis.

This is especially true of organizations in sectors like clinical healthcare and financial services, both of which depend heavily on using the overall customer experience they create as a major competitive advantage.

Those four factors also happen to be among the almost immediate benefits that artificial intelligence brings with it in an enterprise setting.

Thankfully, taking advantage of an AI-enabled workspace doesn't necessarily require the massive upfront capital investment that would keep many organizations like doctor's offices or community banks at arm's length.

Microsoft 365 Copilot, for example, is integrated into tools that you're likely already using that make up the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

As an entrepreneur, you've likely already gone to great lengths to guarantee the protection of the business, client, and otherwise sensitive information that you're creating every day.

But what does that mean within the context of something like Copilot, which automatically connects to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Teams, and other tools?

If you can tell Copilot to create a presentation using specified documents on a hard drive, does it mean that those documents are now inherently insecure?

If it's easy for a doctor to visualize patient information to help with the development of a personalized treatment plan, does that make it easy for someone who should never see that patient data, too?

Thankfully, data protection in an AI-enabled workspace like this one is more straightforward of a process than you might think.

It simply requires you to slightly shift your perspective on what security means in this context in the first place, and to keep a few key things in mind along the way.

The Role Of AI In Data Protection

While it's absolutely true that the untapped potential of artificial intelligence can create something of a security risk on its own, AI as it exists can also help us identify and even mitigate potential data security risks across the board.

Organizations in a wide range of industries are already using AI-powered security tools that, coupled with machine learning algorithms, wade through massive volumes of data in real time to identify trends and patterns that a human would likely miss.

By proactively looking for suspicious activity, the artificial intelligence security solutions can detect a potential cyberattack as it happens so that professionals can step in and do something about it just as quickly.

Take the financial services industry, for example.

For an organization like a credit union, users are creating huge amounts of data on a daily basis through standard transactions alone.

Down to the individual credit union member, the organization can establish a baseline of "expected behaviors."

Essentially, they're defining what someone's "normal spending habits" look like.

Then, the AI-enabled security tool can instantly identify when anomalies might happen that indicate fraud.

This same logic can also be applied to the detection of data breaches across a company's network, servers, and related assets.

AI and big data in this context have already helped financial services companies reduce costs by as much as 60% to 70% in some cases.

This is not only through fraud prevention, but also through efficiency and productivity gains as well.

Many organizations in clinical healthcare are also taking advantage of the AI-enabled workspace to help address the intense compliance and regulatory challenges they face.

Whether it is the GDPR in Europe, the CCPA in California, HIPAA, or something else entirely, smaller organizations like eye doctors or dermatologists can regularly use artificial intelligence to help remain compliant and avoid costly fines at the same time.

Data Protection Features Of Copilot

As one would expect from a company with a market cap of $2.89 trillion, there are a myriad of specific data protection features built into Microsoft 365 Copilot from the start.

These include ones like:

  • Data encryption. All data stored through user interactions with Microsoft 365 Copilot is encrypted, as per Microsoft's own documentation. This also means that the information contained within that data (which could amount to sensitive financial or health-related information depending on your industry) is not being used to train large language models.
  • Physical security. To protect the confidentiality and integrity of customer content, all employees at data centers and elsewhere go through background screenings, and more. Physical access to certain areas is also heavily restricted.
  • Microsoft itself has committed to complying with a number of applicable privacy laws, including both the GDPR and privacy standards like ISO/IEC 27018.
  • You can enable or disable Copilot features with other apps as needed, including Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Word.

Having said all of this, it's important to note that simply using Copilot is not enough to guarantee that all data protection best practices are followed.

Yes, some things like encryption happen automatically.

But in most cases, you need to make sure that these data protection features are properly configured and enabled moving forward.

Always conduct a thorough audit so that rights management can be dictated by administrators, for example.

That way, data access can be determined based on how certain groups and even roles within those groups need to access information.

Not every person who works in a dermatologist's office will need access to every bit of data in a patient's file, for example.

Copilot can allow you to choose who can and cannot access files based on the type, the information contained inside, and more - but it doesn't happen automatically.

Likewise, if you don't want users to be able to interact with Copilot in certain applications like Excel or Word, you have to adjust your privacy controls to specify that.

Even though the default configuration will be helpful to many, the needs of one organization can vary wildly from the next.

The types of threats a credit union needs to defend against will be different from those of a small private medical practice.

Always make adjustments to default settings to get the most from your AI-enabled security solution.

Implementing Additional Data Protection Measures

After carefully looking inward to determine the exact types of threats you're likely to face, you'll be able to work your way backwards to a list of things that a tool like Copilot must be able to do to guarantee maximum data protection.

Many of these things will be taken care of via Microsoft's onboard tools (with the appropriate adjustments, of course).

Sometimes, you may still have unmet needs.

For that, you can incorporate additional third-party security tools with Copilot to fill in any gaps that you've identified.

Microsoft recently introduced 15 partner plugins that are designed to extend what is possible regarding data protection in Copilot.

All plugins in the ecosystem were co-developed by both Microsoft and independent software vendors across various industries.

They can help address things like not only threat intelligence, but also incident response, and more.

  • CrowdSec, for example, can be used to get more detailed breakdowns of the IP addresses (and their reputations) that are accessing your business' network. You can see historical activity and behavior patterns to help anticipate (and stop) future challenges.
  • Shodan is a helpful plugin that can be used to gain enhanced visibility into your business' "Internet-facing assets." That is to say, how is Copilot interacting with not only the various users in your business, but with the Internet as a whole? Now you'll know.
  • Netskope can help proactively monitor and protect cloud-based applications and their data from various threats and risks like malware and even just accidental exposure.

Throughout all of this, the importance of implementing a multi-layered security strategy for your business cannot be overstated.

If you are in charge of data protection for a credit union and someone wants to steal member information, you cannot make it easy for them.

Those with malicious intentions should need to break through multiple layers of security, including:

  • Physical.
  • Administrative.
  • Technical.

Microsoft 365 Copilot and some of the aforementioned security plugins would represent administrative safeguards, but that cannot be where things both begin and end.

On a regular basis, you also need to update internal policies regarding data protection and invest in employee training to help reduce the possibility of insider threats.

If you want people to take reasonable measures to protect data from threats like phishing emails, social engineering attacks, or malware, they need to know how to do so.

Do not just assume they're bringing this information with them into your organization. 

One study even indicated that cybersecurity risk can be reduced from 60% to around 10% simply through a robust employee training program.

In The End

Especially if you're in a heavily regulated industry like clinical healthcare or financial services, it's essential that you do not treat Microsoft 365 Copilot as a "silver bullet" in terms of data protection.

Yes, it's true that today's technology is more sophisticated than ever and an emphasis on security is baked into the very DNA of something like Microsoft 365.

But you still need to know which features to enable and disable in Copilot in particular for the best results moving forward.

The default settings of anything are rarely sufficient to meet your needs.

What an eye doctor will need in terms of a virtual assistant will vary wildly from that of the manager at a community bank.

Why, then, would you assume that the default settings would be appropriate for something as important as data privacy?

Certain tweaks and adjustments will always be needed, not only to guarantee peak efficiency, but to make sure that you have a solution that is tailor-made for your own unique situation.

You'll also want to be proactive about employee training to get the most out of your AI-enabled workspace.

This is true for two distinct reasons.

First, if you want to make sure that someone is getting the most out of a platform you've already invested so heavily in, you need to make sure they have the skills needed to do so.

Don't just assume they know how to fully utilize something like Copilot.

Teach them.

Show them.

Help them understand.

Secondly, you'll be able to make sure that they're capable of adhering to the data policies you've put in place, which will go a long way towards keeping your organization protected.

Remember that a full 66% of cyber incidents are essentially an "inside job" - but not all of them are born from malicious intention.

Many of them are simply the result of employees who don't know how to stay protected using the tools they've been given to work with.

Therefore, proactively monitoring adherence to data policies will help you enjoy all the benefits of an AI-enabled workspace like Microsoft 365 Copilot with as few of the potential downsides as possible.

If you're interested in finding out more information about enhancing data protection in an AI-enabled workspace, or if you'd just like to discuss your own AI-enabled security needs with someone in a bit more detail, please feel free to contact us today.

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