Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Standard

A small business owner looking at the range of Microsoft 365 subscriptions will find 4 options:

When Office 365 (now renamed Microsoft 365) was first introduced, some clients opted for the $5/mo Basic plan because they already “owned” a bootleg copy of Office.  Since then, the business community has come to appreciate the benefit of a legit subscription with auto upgrades. I for one don’t miss tracking down outdated Office installs and hounding clients for licenses.

Raising the Bar

It took a few years for business owners to accept the $12.50/mo Standard plan, but I think we need to push further on to the Premium plan, soon to be $22.00/mo starting March 2021. 

What do you get with Premium you ask?  In short, SECURITY.  In this post, let’s take a closer look at some of Premium’s standout security features.

Advanced Email Protection 

Exchange Online comes with a basic spam and malware scanner called EOP.  However, many organizations add 3rd party solutions like Ironscales for additional AI and machine learning protection. The reason is that hackers have become increasingly sophisticated with evasion techniques.  An innocent looking PDF with links might not do anything harmful…yet.  Once the email gets past the spam filter, however, hackers can weaponize the linked site after delivery.  Because the site is changed after a scan, traditional spam filter has no way of blocking what will happen in the future.

Premium protection on the other hand, can pluck affected emails right out of your inbox, even after delivery.  This is possible because, well, Microsoft hosts your emails!  It’s called ZAP, and it’s the only product of its kind to my knowledge:

Defender for Endpoint 

You might be wondering, doesn’t Defender come included for free in Windows?  And yes, you’d be right.  What Premium brings to the table is addition of EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response).

Studies have shown that a hacker lies in wait inside your network for an average of 79 days before launching an attack.

Remember the time Greeks came pouring out of a wooden horse to ransack Troy?  What if Trojans had the technology to install security cameras and motion detectors around the awesome, albeit suspicious gift?  I imagine we’ll have a different historical reference to the Greek Barbeque, a cautionary tale about annoying scammers who met their fiery end.  Wouldn’t that be a great story for the digital age?

EDR is essentially the security camera in this alternate history.  If a member of your staff just can’t resist clicking on a suspiciously link, EDR keeps an eye on everything that happens next and alerts security professionals as needed.

This sort of automated system was once only in the purview of large companies with dedicates security teams.  I’m starting to see insurance companies and investors requiring EDR even for small businesses, so its inclusion in Premium is a welcome addition by Microsoft.

Conditional Access 

If I’m being honest (and most MSPs will be forced to admit as well), no matter how diligent I was or how many techs I assigned to the task, I would inevitably find a handful of computers that are behind on updates or missing antivirus.  Perfect patching is harder than it sounds because no matter how many times you ask users to leave their computer on before going home, when 5:00pm comes around it’s lights out, they’re out of there!

This is where Conditional Access could potentially change the game. 

Conditional Access checks that you meet a set of conditions before granting access to corporate data.  We could leverage this ability to block access to corporate data if a computer is not fully patched.  Nothing will make users update their computers faster than being kicked out of email! 

I’m going to be honest and admit that this is a personal crusade of mine.  There is no built-in compliance check for Windows Update, and I think it’s a big miss by Microsoft.  However, custom compliance setting is a new feature in preview, which gives admins flexibility to enforce whatever they want.  I’ll be looking deeper into this and report back with another post.

In Conclusion

  1. Ironscales: $3.25/mo
  2. Sophos EDR: $4.68/mo
  3. Perfectly patched network: Priceless

If you try to replicate the protection offered by Microsoft 365 Business Premium with 3rd party offerings, you begin to see that $22/mo isn’t so crazy (Standard $12.50/mo + Ironscales $3.25/mo + Sophos EDR $4.68/mo = $20.43/mo).  In addition, Conditional Access has the potential to take your security to another level, and it’s a feature offered only by Microsoft.

If you’re STILL not convinced, there are loads of other features jammed packed in to Premium like call-in plan for Teams (Zoom $14.99/mo) and Intune MDM (MaaS360 $4/mo).

Most of all, you’ll be giving your IT service provider all the tools they need to keep your network secure – no excuses are allowed when you go Premium.