Microsoft 365: Things to know before adding third-party applications

Microsoft 365 is powerful right out of the box (or, more specifically, right from the cloud). But there are many add-ons that make the suite even more powerful. In this article, we are going to look at applications that integrate with Microsoft 365. Some are from Microsoft itself, and others are third-party applications. As you’ll see, third-party applications take a bit more thought before you pull the trigger. But let’s first take a look at the Microsoft applications.

Microsoft 365 applications

Microsoft 365 applications from Microsoft

  • Active Directory (on-premises).
  • Exchange Server (check Microsoft docs for supported CU and version).
  • Skype for Business Server.
  • SharePoint Server.

Many companies are running Active Directory, Exchange, and SharePoint. If that’s you, then you are familiar with the set of applications above.

We are not going to cover how each Microsoft application is set up to connect to Microsoft 365, but your business will be running in hybrid mode, meaning that all accounts will be synced to the cloud (Microsoft 365). You can decide how you want Azure AD Connect to allow password changes, directories to be synced, etc. Hybrid mode means that you can have users on-premises or move them to the cloud and have them on both platforms. Take note you need to buy licenses for users in Microsoft 365.

There is planning and preparation that needs to be dealt with when choosing to sync your environment to Microsoft 365. This includes:

  • Network planning.
  • Understanding identity models (cloud-only and hybrid identity).
  • Preparing the on-premises environment (ensuring that your environment meets the requirements to run hybrid).
  • Licensing (E3 or E5 or Microsoft Teams).
  • Tenant creation/configuration (domain set up, DNS records).
  • Subscriptions.
  • Office application versions (needs to be on par with Microsoft 365 requirements. You may need an upgrade plan if you are using legacy office applications).
  • SSL certificates.

If you want more information on the above, head over to Microsoft docs to understand each section. It is too big to cover in this article.

The above applications can be classified as safe as they are owned by Microsoft — unless you have a pirated version of Windows, a security risk on its own as your whole environment is at risk of data theft, malware, ransomware, etc. Remember, a pirated version of Windows will cost you more down the line when things spiral out of your control.

If you already have all the above setup, you might want to look at the third-party applications that you can integrate with Microsoft 365 that will help employees in doing their work more efficiently.

Third-party applications

Microsoft 365 applications

There are several applications out there, and we will list them below in no specific order or preference to any application. Here are some of the top third-party applications that integrate with Microsoft 365. And yes, there are many more than the eight listed here:

  1. Slack
  2. Salesforce
  3. DocuSign
  4. Trello
  5. Mailchimp
  6. Mentimeter
  7. Evernote
  8. PayPal

Each company has a preference for what they use and integrate to Microsoft 365 or have a standard set of applications defined, but security should be your No. 1 focus area. Third-party applications that come from Microsoft AppSource have to adhere to certain criteria before they can be published.

Another area is applications that you can download from unofficial sources. This carries a major risk as they could be loaded with malware or have ransomware embedded in the application or code. Free apps may seem appealing because they have no cost associated. You may think you are saving by not having to purchase a license for each user, but as mentioned, it carries great risks. These applications do not go through any vetting process to meet the criteria you have at Microsoft AppSource.

The next area could be applications that connect you to another service. This application asks for permission, and again this could leak information out, and you risk exposing username and password to wherever the service goes to. Once allowed, it can view sensitive information, which can put the company at risk, especially if the account is one with elevated permissions.

So with the last two options being a big security risk or flag, you may ask how you protect end-users and the business by not allowing these kinds of applications to be installed? While it’s not a new feature in Microsoft 365, App Permissions is part of Office 365 Advanced Security Management. This allows IT admins to control what end-users can and cannot install as a third-party app, and you have the ability to be notified on who is using a banned application or an application that you want to ban. This gives you greater control and management of your environment lessens the worries about what end-users are installing. Obviously, if a user needs an application, it should go through the IT department for vetting first, followed by a final decision by the IT manager or someone higher.

Test first, or regret it later

XenApp and XenDesktop 7.18

So, here you have a quick overview of which Microsoft applications you can integrate with Microsoft 365 and also understanding the third-party applications you can integrate. Always do your homework on applications that need to be deployed, check their reputation and where they are coming from. Test it in a lab, and see the behavior of the app. If you do not have a lab to test it on, maybe spin a machine up in Azure with Windows 10 and Office and experiment with it before deploying it on your system.

Featured image: Pixabay

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