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With more and more users working from home, organizations are facing new security and privacy challenges. One of them might be, that users are working on unmanaged, maybe personal devices accessing corporate data. Classic technologies like Active Directory Group Policy Management do not help in such scenarios, as these do not apply to unmanaged devices.


This blog post will provide guidance on how to leverage the Office cloud policy service (OCPS) to address those scenarios. OCPS allows an admin to target a user with policies which follow them across all devices, regardless of the way the devices are managed (if at all). We will also share some recommended security settings which might be worth considering.

 

Step 1 – Enable OCPS

The Office cloud policy service (OCPS) is a cloud-based service that enables you to apply policy settings for Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise (formally known as Office 365 ProPlus) on a user’s device. The policy settings roam to whichever device the user signs into and uses Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise. This applies whether the device is managed through on-premises domain devices, as a Azure AD registered, Azure AD Joined, or Hybrid Azure AD joined device.

 

You should start by verifying the requirements:

  • Supported version of Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise deployed
  • Licensed for Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise
  • At least one Azure AD group which contains the users you're targeting.
  • An admin user with at least the Office Apps Admin role assigned
  • Clients must be able to reach these URLs: *.manage.microsoft.com, *.officeconfig.msocdn.com, config.office.com over 443

Sign in on https://config.office.com and accept the EULA for OCPS. If you're using Intune, you can also use the Policies for Office apps blade. That’s it. No more prep work needed.

 

Secure_remote_devices_w_OCPS_2.jpg

 

Step 2 – Create a policy configuration and assign to users

Now you should create your first policy configuration and assign it to a group of users:

  • Expand the Customization node and select Policy Management
  • On the Policy configurations page, choose Create and provide a name and a description (optional)
  • In Assignments, choose whether this policy applies to users of locally installed Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise, or just to users who anonymously access documents using Office for the web.
  • Select the AAD-based security group that is assigned to the policy configuration. Each policy configuration can only be assigned to one group, and each group can only be assigned one policy configuration.

 

Secure_remote_devices_w_OCPS_3.jpg

 

We also have a video ready for you which walks you through these steps.

 

Step 3 – Set policies

After clicking on Configure policies you can start to search for and configure policies. Please note that most policies are only applicable to Office on Windows, but some are applicable cross-platform as noted in the platform column in the policy list.

 

As a starting point, you can filter the Recommendation column to view the recommended Microsoft Security baseline policies. Click on each policy name to view the description and decide if you want to keep the baseline’s recommended value or manually configure it. The reviewed items will switch the Status to Configured when applied.

 

Secure_remote_devices_w_OCPS_4.jpg

 

Especially for the scenario of remote workers, here are some policies you might want to have a closer look at:

 

Policy Name Comment
Block signing into Office Can be used to prevent users from being signed in with a corporate and personal account at the same time in order to prevent data leakage to e.g. a personal OneDrive.
Hide file locations when opening or saving files Setting to “Hide local PC” will discourage users from saving corporate data to the maybe non-corporate device.
Disable VBA for Office applications VBA/macros are powerful tools and can help automate data processing or entry. But it is also used for malicious attacks and might be better prevented to run on non-managed/remote devices.
Do not open files from the Internet zone in Protected View If set to “Disabled”, Office files downloaded from the internet will always be opened in Protected View first.
Set document behavior if file validation fails Admins can enforce Protected View for files which failed validation. Those files could e.g. try to exploit Office through malformed documents.
Allow the use of connected experiences in Office, et al. Admins can control if Office is allowed to leverage cloud services for downloading and analyzing content. Review documentation for available controls.
Force Runtime AV Scan If enabled, all files opened by Office will be passed to the installed AV engine for scanning.
Use Cached Exchange Mode for new and existing Outlook profiles You can use this policy to enforce Online Mode for Exchange in order to prevent users from syncing down their inbox content to a maybe insecure device. Note that this setting will apply to all devices the user is signing into.
Block all unmanaged add-ins This setting allows you to block all add-ins from being loaded by Office.

 

Step 4 – Additional considerations

As policies configured through OCPS are following the user across all devices, it is not limited to remote workers or users on un-managed devices. You should consider folding your on-prem policies into OCPS policies and go forward with a single solution for both on-prem as well as off-prem users.

 

If multiple sets of policies are applied to a user/device, Office will evaluate the applicable settings following these rules:

  • Winning configuration is evaluated per individual setting, not per object.
  • OCPS-set policies win over AD-based settings.
  • If multiple OCPS-based policies are applied, the priority configured in the OCPS service is applied.

 

Once you have deployed OCPS policies, you can also enable the Security Policy Advisor to get further insights into high impactful these changes are for your users. Maybe there are opportunities to further tightening it up without impacting users.

 

Overview of blog post series

This post is part of a series which is covering different stages and phases in the Office lifecycle in remote worker/work from home scenarios. The others are:

We hope this will help you to minimize the impact of deploying, servicing and managing Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise on your own network and your user’s VPN connections.

 

FAQ

Q: Am I secure after enabling OCPS and setting the Microsoft recommended policies?
A: “Being secure” is a relative state where you can try to achieve a high bar, but basically never be 100% secure. Using OCPS is one building block in a broader strategy to secure remote workers. In addition make sure to review Azure Multi-Factor Authentication, Azure Conditional Access and the user’s sign-in risk assessment to further protect the user’s identity. For guidance on protecting your corporate data, please review Azure Information Protection.


Q: I’ve got issues with OCPS, how can I troubleshoot the service?
A: We got you covered, please review Troubleshooting OCPS on Windows.

 

Q: Can I fully secure a device not owned by my organization?
A: There are limits on how secure a device that you don’t own or manage can be. Each employed security technology raises the bar for an attack/exploit on the device/user/data successfully, but unless you fully manage the device there is a risk to your data. Security is sometimes not about secure/not secure, but more about the right level of security for a given scenario. You can use Intune to manage devices that you don’t own.

 

Q: Can I also secure and control Office on iOS or Android using OCPS?
A: While some policies also apply to Office on Android or iOS, there are more advanced controls available through Intune Application policies. These allow you to e.g. enforce a PIN, local data encryption of cloud-only storage of data for the Office apps on mobile devices.

 

Q: We’re an Intune shop, can I also use Intune to manage OCPS policies?
A: Sure thing. You can manage the Policies for Office apps from the Intune portal as well.

 

Q: Can we use OCPS to block syncing OneDrive for Business content on devices which aren’t managed?

A: No. However, we can address this concern by having your Office 365 tenant administrator running Set-SPOTenantSyncClientRestriction cmdlet. This permits adding restrictions on whether users can sync items to non-domain joined machines.

 

The Authors

This blog post is brought to you by the Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise Ranger Team at Microsoft. Feel free to share your questions and feedback in the comments below.

6 Comments
New Contributor

Hi,
I have two questions.
1) How do these Office policies compare/align with the Intune Office Policies available through the Administrative templates?  Does one overwrite the other in the event of a conflict?
2) If an end-user logged into the Office client on their 'Home' PC with their work account, will these policies apply to them on that device?  Would the settings still be applied if they later removed their work account from that 'Home' PC?
Thanks in advance.

Hi @Ivan Webb , happy to help out here:

On 1): the AdminTemplate-based policies in Intune are comparable to the ADMX-based policies. SO the OCPS-based settings will overrule those on a per-setting base. OCPS-based policies set through config.office.com or the "Policies for Office"-blade in Intune will always win in case of a conflict.

On 2): The setting would apply to each Office session on this device which is executed in the context of the work account. Once the user signs out of Office, the policies will be removed during next application launch.   

New Contributor

Hi @Martin Nothnagel,

 

Many thanks for the reply.  I have some follow up questions if I may. 

 

For devices in a Hybrid-Azure AD Join scenario, they could potentially get Office config from AD GPOs, Intune Admin Template policies and the OCPS policies.  MS states that AD GPOs will 'always' win over Intune policies, unless there is a config put in place to say Intune wins (which MS apparently doesn't recommend).  Is this the case with the OCPS policies as well?  The reason I ask is that some of my customers are now asking me about the OCPS option and how it will work with 'legacy' on-prem based config.  As there will be a period of transition where potentially all three options could co-exist for a time.


Also how often are these policies 'refreshed'?  Is it the same 8hr cycle for the Intune policies?  Or once per session?

Thanks in advance.

@Ivan Webb You're welcome. Regarding the "who wins" question the simple answer is: OCPS always wins on a per-setting level. The policy refresh is not hard-coded to a certain time frame, it is dynamically determined, but happens certainly on app launch.

New Contributor

@Martin Nothnagel, good to know about the 'who wins' that will help with keeping settings straight.  Especially during a transition.
I'd really like to know more about the refresh though.  As we have a good number of 'usual suspects' that continually come up in reports as leaving Apps/Devices logged in for extended times (for various reasons).
Is there a link to an MS doc that covers the refresh for the policies? As I'd like to be able to provide more info to my customer on this.

Also I just had a thought, these policies will not show up in a RSOP or GPRESULTS type report.  Will they show up in the Intune policy report run on the local PC?  Or is it a requirement to view the settings directly in the registry or via the online portals?

Id there an eta for Device based settings?  And Policies that have 'multi values' as the overview page only mentions single value policies currently.

Great ask Ivan. You can manually check if Cloud policy are applied to the user  by checking this registry path:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Cloud\Office\16.0\