Microsoft Office 365 Gets ‘Application Guard’ Security Technology That Shields PCs From Risky Attachments Possibly Containing Malware

Microsoft Office 365, the online, cloud-based MS Office productivity Suite, is getting ‘Application Guard’ security technology. Multiple apps from the Office 365 Suite will attempt to shield computers from accessing or executing risky attachments, thereby limiting the threat of a malware outbreak. Application Guard offers additional protections for enterprises and their employees who rely on MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 Enterprise.

Microsoft had released the private preview of Application Guard for Office in February. Previously, the feature was available for the new Edge browser. The feature essentially isolates browser processes from the underling operation system and the device. The separation and ‘containerization’ of the processes prevents malicious programs or malware from infecting the entire computer.

Microsoft Extends General Availability of ‘Application Guard’ To Sandbox Potential Malware Threats While Working In Office 365:

Microsoft is gradually extending the availability of ‘Application Guard’ Security Technology. It is essentially like an anti-malware shield available to users of Microsoft 365, the cloud-based office productivity suite. The Windows 10 OS maker claims that Application Guard for Office or Microsoft Defender Application Guard for Office “helps prevent untrusted files from accessing trusted resources, keeping your enterprise safe from new and emerging attacks”.

The feature allows users to open websites safely with the protection of ‘hardware-level containerization’. The feature essentially isolates browser processes from the underling operation system and the device. This detachment is often critical to ensure none of the programs have a direct relation or impact on the computer or the software, noted Microsoft in a blogpost about the public preview,

“To help protect your users, Office opens files from potentially unsafe locations in Application Guard, a secure container that is isolated from the device through hardware-based virtualization. When Office opens files in Application Guard, users can securely read, edit, print, and save those files without having to reopen files outside the container.”

For reasons yet unknown, Microsoft has chosen to keep the featured disabled, and it would need to be activated manually. The company is currently restricting the availability of Application Guard to customers with Microsoft 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 E5 Security licenses. Additionally, computers need to be running Windows 10 Enterprise edition, build version 2004, 20H1, 19041, and have the Office Beta Channel Build version 2008 16.0.13212 or later to take advantage of Application Guard.

How Does Application Guard Work To Protect PC And MS Office 365 Users From Malware Threats?

Microsoft Defender Advance Threat Protection (ATP) works with Application Guard for Office. Together, the platforms offer monitoring and alerts about malware in the isolated environment. Essentially, the platform could be similar to a firewall that prevents access to certain suspected threat elements, and uses isolation as a strong defensive mechanism.

Incidentally, using Application Guard comes with a few restrictions. The feature prevents an untrusted document from accessing trusted resources. However, this setting can be altered. Admins would need to turn off the feature if a user wants to access files across boundaries. Additionally, Application Guard prevents use of macros and ActiveX controls in Application Guard for Office.

Alap Naik Desai
A B.Tech Plastics (UDCT) and a Windows enthusiast. Optimizing the OS, exploring software, searching and deploying solutions to strange and weird issues is Alap's main interest.