5 Tips to back up your Microsoft 365 assets

The Microsoft 365 suite provides a valuable set of business tools and assets that millions of people around the world rely on to accomplish their day-to-day tasks. These include popular services like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as the Exchange Online email messaging platform, OneDrive® cloud-based file storage, and SharePoint cloud collaboration tool.

Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) combines the accessibility and ease of use of the company’s tried-and-true programs with the benefits of cloud-based computing. This enables users to share and access files when working at the office, at home, or from different devices. However, because cloud-based computing inherently increases the surface area of a networked environment, the ease-of-access these solutions provide can also expose to an increased number of security risks.

One primary point of concern for many managed services providers (MSPs) is ensuring that data and assets are securely backed up. While Microsoft services and infrastructure have a strong reputation for high availability and reliability, the native security features of aren’t always enough to demonstrate compliance with data security standards. For instance, Microsoft 365 does not include backup solutions or self-service options for data recovery, nor is the company responsible in situations when hard deletes, deprovisioned accounts, or other site-specific recovery errors lead to potentially permanent data loss.

The limited options for reliably backing up data within the platform create a significant lack of IT oversight—which should be cause for alarm for MSPs. With end users looking to you to shore up their data security, keeping customer systems protected to prevent data loss requires a third-party backup solution. However, not all Microsoft 365 data tools are created equal. In this piece, we’ll touch on a few key criteria to look out for when selecting your software, as well as a few of our favorite tools that pass the test.

1. Focus on what you can control

When it comes down to it, the Microsoft data centers are ultimately outside the jurisdiction of your MSP. Instead of worrying about how you can’t control customers’ data, focus on the variables youcan control. In practical terms, this means providing backup services and data protection to customers to augment and expand upon the built-in features.

By providing your own services to customers, you can develop security strategies and define security policies for your customers to keep them safeguarded against a wide range of sources of data loss. Whether you’re dealing with an employee who accidentally deletes a file or a bad actor who launches a sophisticated malware attack, offering these additional services can protect your customers while they use third-party platforms.

2. Configure retention periods

While Office 365 does offer some retention options for deleted items, the platform is fairly limited when it comes to enterprise data backups and archiving. Exchange, for instance, retains items in the Deleted Items folder for 30 days before purging the files or messages permanently—but there is no data restoration feature in place. Once a file is gone, it’s gone for good.

That said, the Exchange admin center does allow MSPs to adjust these retention periods to match the specific needs of your customers’ security policies, whether that is a few days or a few years. Outlook® emails by default have 14-day backup periods, which can also be adjusted with administrative authorization.

There are a few limits to this functionality, though. While you can apply it to all Outlook email accounts, global administrator accounts with eDiscovery permissions are the only ones with the ability to restore deleted items. Recovered emails can be held for a specified duration or according to certain search filters (with a feature called Litigation Hold). This is a useful capability for MSPs to have in their toolbox, but the process of restoring items quickly becomes time-consuming, and therefore should not be relied on as the primary means of data recovery.

3. Adjust the OneDrive recycle bin to match

The collaborative element involved with OneDrive introduces an element of complexity, which can increase the likelihood of data loss if not properly accounted for. This is because OneDrive, in the process of tracking and managing edits from multiple users across multiple files, only retains the latest version of each file.

OneDrive does include a recycle bin feature, which stores the outdated file versions for 90 days by default and allows for previous file versions to be quickly restored as needed. Similar to Deleted Items folder in Exchange, you can configure the OneDrive recycle bin to hold onto older file versions for longer periods to better align with data security policies.

4. Deprovision strategically

When end users (employees) move on from your customer companies, a few things need to happen—one of the most important being that their user accounts need to be stripped of privileges to prevent them from potentially impacting business operations. This is especially important if the parting is not amicable or voluntary, or if the employee was involved in unauthorized access of restricted or sensitive resources. Depending on the specifics of your customers’ data security strategies and policies, you may retain these deactivated accounts for some time before deleting them to help ensure you don’t lose anything critical in the process.

This carries over to the employee’s various accounts as well, including Microsoft 365 subscriptions. You can choose to close a subscription for a former employee, but neither you nor your customers have any say over when it ultimately purges the account. The limited access window you have for these accounts is crucial to keep in mind—if a deactivated Microsoft 365 subscription leads to data loss, it has the potential of putting you at risk of violating retention policies.

5. Implement additional backup services to support your customers

While these tips are largely geared toward getting the most out of the native features and making them work for you, the more permanent and sustainable option is to find a software solution that provides comprehensive backup and archiving capabilities. The software you choose should help you support all services your customers utilize. The good news is that many third-party vendors provide multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that can seamlessly integrate with Microsoft 365.

How to select an email protection and backup tool

There are quite a few options out there built specifically for MSPs, so here are a few considerations to keep in mind while you are weighing your options:

  • Is the software straightforward to use? Make sure whatever tools you employ are solutions you can use effectively. Ideally, this means finding a software solution that provides backup protection for all customer workloads, rather than just Microsoft 365 data. Streamlined configuration and maintenance are two other elements to keep an eye out for in your search.
  • Does it make your job easier? The goal for MSPs is not to need a different security or solution for each of your customers’ services. Finding an all-in-one tool that enables you to consolidate your customer backup and recovery needs into a single management system will help you save on time and costs, while also reducing the complexity of strengthening data security.
  • Does it keep data secure? Look for tools that prioritize security, especially those that keep data encrypted both in transit and at rest. Software that incorporates artificial intelligence or machine learning to provide increased protection against new and emerging ransomware threats is also integral to preventing your customer data from becoming compromised.
  • Does it allow you to search for individual files? While full restores are an important feature, the reality is that most backup-related activities are simply focused on recovering one file. Rather than having to restore a complete image backup of a workstation to access one deleted item, the ability to search and restore emails and files is a key feature that MSPs should prioritize.

Regardless of which of these considerations you take into account, the point is that there are quite a few options on the market for you to explore. Knowing the specific features and capabilities you are looking for going into your search will help you find the right tool (or set of tools) that allow you to properly support your customers.

If you’re still not sure, we recommend going with the trusted products offered by N-able. Their cloud-based tools N-able Backup, Mail Assure, and RMM are designed specifically to meet the needs of MSPs, and can integrate with each other to offer a seamless technician experience. N-able Mail Assure offers comprehensive email security, archiving, and business continuity solutions, while N-able Backup offers consolidated backup and recovery management for user, workstation, and server data—including Microsoft 365 assets. Both of these tools can be integrated with N-able RMM for one powerful dashboard that technicians can use to gain full visibility into their customers’ environments.

Products from N-able (formerly SolarWinds MSP) are known not only for seamlessly integrating with each other for greater visibility in system operations, but also for offering a high degree of customization. This allows MSPs to tailor the backup and recovery solutions you provide customers to specifically meet their needs and policies—while also helping prevent data loss from Microsoft 365 accounts and files.

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How To Organize Your Messy Windows Desktop

The desktop is a convenient place to store files and program shortcuts, but it can get messy fast. Here’s how to tidy your desktop up so you can quickly find everything you’re looking for—and make sure it stays nice and organized.

Hide All Your Desktop Icons

If you don’t use your desktop much, but programs keep dropping shortcuts on it, here’s a quick solution: Hide everything to get a perfectly clean desktop. To toggle desktop icons on or off, right-click your desktop and select View > Show Desktop Icons. Your desktop will appear empty.

To see your desktop icons again, click the “Show Desktop Icons” option again. Or, you can open a File Explorer or Windows Explorer window and click the “Desktop” folder to view the contents of your desktop in a standard file browser window. That’s the nuclear option, of course. If you like storing files and program shortcuts on your desktop, you won’t want to hide them all.

Quickly Sort Your Desktop Icons

For a quick organization, you can right-click your desktop and select an option in the “Sort By” menu. For example, select “Name” to sort files alphabetically or “Date Modified” to sort them chronologically. This makes it easier to find what you’re looking for if your desktop is very messy.

You can also use the options under the “View” menu to choose the size of your desktop icons and decide whether they’re aligned to a grid. If you uncheck “Auto Arrange Icons,” you can drag and drop icons anywhere you want. If this option is enabled, icons will always be grouped, one after the other.

These options can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for truly taming the clutter.

Organize Your Files and Shortcuts Into Folders

Consider using folders to keep your desktop organized. To create a folder, right-click the desktop, select New > Folder, and give the folder a name. Drag and drop items from your desktop into the folder. You can double-click a folder on your desktop to open it, so it takes a few more clicks to open your files—but they’re still easy to find.

For example, you could have separate folders for your photos and documents, or keep files related to a single project in their own folder. And yes, you can drag and drop program shortcuts into folders, too. If you’d like to clean up your desktop quickly, you can select everything on your desktop and then drag and drop them into a folder. You can then move items back onto your desktop as you need them.

Use the Desktop as a Temporary Working Area

The desktop works well as a workspace, giving you a convenient place to store files with which you’re working currently. For example, you might store spreadsheets you’re working on, documents you’ve scanned, photos you’ve just taken, or things you’ve just downloaded on your desktop.

To keep the desktop useful for this task and prevent it from getting too cluttered, try only storing files on your desktop for as long as you need them. When you’re finished with a project or task, move the associated files to another folder like your main Documents or Photos folder—or even dump them in a folder on your desktop. In other words, treat the desktop like you should treat a physical desktop or counter—place things on it while you’re using it, and clear them away afterward rather than letting them pile up.

Put Shortcuts in Your Start Menu and Taskbar

Programs often add shortcuts to your desktop when you install them, which makes your desktop get more and more cluttered over time. Try placing program shortcuts elsewhere, such as on your taskbar or in your Start menu. To pin a program shortcut to your taskbar, right-click it and select “Pin to Taskbar.” It will always appear as an icon on your taskbar, and you can drag the icon to the left or right to position it.

To get more space for icons on your taskbar, you can remove some things to free up space. For example, to hide the Cortana search box on Windows 10, right-click your taskbar and select Cortana > Hidden. You can also click Cortana > Show Cortana Icon, which will make Cortana be a standard taskbar icon instead of a large search box.

You can also place shortcuts in your Start menu. To do so, right-click a shortcut and select “Pin to Start.” On Windows 10, it will appear as a tile at the right side of your Start menu. On Windows 7, it will appear as a shortcut at the left side of your start menu. You can also pin apps right from the Start menu—either right-click a shortcut in the all apps list in the Start menu and select “Pin to Start,” or drag the icon to the pinned apps area.

On Windows 10, you can drag and drop pinned application shortcuts in your Start menu to organize them into groups, and click the header at the top of the group to give it a name. For example, you could create a “Work” group with shortcuts to applications you use for work or a “Games” group that contains shortcuts for your games.

Also, if you’re using Windows 10, you can unpin all those pinned apps Microsoft put there to make the Start menu your own. Feel free to unpin any shortcuts you don’t use.

After you’ve moved all the shortcuts you want to your taskbar and Start menu, you can delete them from your desktop like you’d delete any file—or move them to a folder. If you accidentally delete a shortcut and want it back on your desktop, open your Start menu and find the shortcut in the list of all your installed applications. Drag and drop the shortcut to your desktop.

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How to Create a Shortcut to an Application

To do this the easy way, open Windows 10’s Start menu. Look for the application you want to use by scrolling through the Apps list at the left side of the menu. If it’s in the tiles list at the right side of the menu, you can also drag it from there.

Once you’ve found it, drag and drop the application’s shortcut from your Start menu to your desktop. You’ll see the word “Link” appear when you’re hovering over the desktop. Release the mouse button to create a link to the program, also known as a desktop shortcut.

Note that you can’t search for the application by name in the Start menu. Windows 10 won’t let you drag and drop anything from the search results. It should, but it doesn’t.

How to Create a Shortcut to a File or Folder

To create a desktop shortcut to a file, first, locate the file somewhere in File Explorer. Hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and then drag and drop the file or folder to your desktop. The words “Create Link in Desktop” will appear. Release the mouse button to create the link.

Holding down Alt is necessary. If you don’t hold down Alt, Windows will show the words “Move to Desktop,” and it will move the folder or file to your desktop rather than simply creating a link.

How to Create a Shortcut to a Website

In Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge, you can quickly create desktop shortcuts to websites. With a web page open, drag and drop the icon to the left of the address bar—it’s generally a padlock or an “i” in a circle—to the desktop.

Working With Your Shortcuts

Whatever type of shortcut you create, you can right-click it afterward, select “Rename,” and change the name to whatever you like. You can use all the above methods to create shortcuts in other folders, too. Want to create a shortcut to a website or application in your Downloads folder? Go right ahead! Just drag and drop it to your desired location instead of the desktop.

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If you don’t see any shortcuts on your desktop, they may be hidden. Right-click the desktop and select View > Show Desktop Icons to unhide them.

You can also choose the size of your desktop icons from here—large, medium, or small. For more size options, position your mouse cursor over the desktop, hold down the Ctrl key, and scroll up and down with your mouse wheel.

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How to Freely Move Pictures in Microsoft Word

By default, you can’t freely move pictures (by drag-and-drop) to any position in a Microsoft Word document without also placing them somewhere in the text. But with a small change, you can drag images anywhere.

Make a Picture Freely Move in a Word Document

Using the method below, you can move a picture anywhere you want in your Word document—outside of the normal flow of text. You can even place the picture on top of an existing block of text if you want. We’ll use a blank document to do this. Start by opening Microsoft Word on your Windows or Mac computer. On Word’s first screen, select “Blank Document” to create a new document.

In Word’s editing window that opens, click the “Insert” tab at the top.

In the “Insert” tab under the “Illustrations” section, click Pictures > This Device. This lets you add a picture from your computer.

Use the “File Explorer” window that opens to navigate to the folder containing your picture. Double-click the picture to add it to your Word document.

Back on Word’s editing screen, right-click the image that you just added and select Wrap Text > In Front of Text from the menu.

Your picture is now freely movable. Drag and drop it anywhere you want in your document.

Make All Future Pictures Freely Move in a Word Document

If you’d like to make all of your future pictures freely move in your Word documents, you can modify an option in Word’s settings menu. To do so, first, open Microsoft Word on your Windows or Mac computer. On Word’s main screen in the lower-left corner, click “Options.”

Note: If you’re on Word’s document editing screen instead, click “File” at the top to see the “Options” option.

In the “Word Options” window, select “Advanced” in the sidebar on the left.

Scroll down the right pane to the “Cut, Copy, and Paste” section. In this section, find the “Insert/Paste Pictures As” option and click the drop-down menu next to it.

Select “In Front of Text” in the drop-down menu.

Click “OK” at the bottom of the “Word Options” window to close the window.

And that’s it. From now on, Word will allow you to freely move pictures on top of text in your documents.

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How to Hide or Remove New Downloads Flyout Menu in Microsoft Edge

How to Hide or Remove New Downloads Flyout Menu in Microsoft Edge

We told you earlier that the new versions of Microsoft Edge web browser come with a new redesigned Download Manager which shows all downloads in form of a flyout menu or popup in Edge toolbar. When you start downloading a file in Microsoft Edge, a new Downloads button appears in Edge toolbar which opens a flyout menu showing download status and file information.

Following screenshot shows new Downloads toolbar button and flyout menu in Microsoft Edge:

There are some people who like the new Download Manager functionality but they don’t like the new flyout menu which automatically appears as soon as they start downloading any file. Many people find the new flyout menu annoying and they want to permanently disable it.

Fortunately, it’s possible to keep the new Download Manager feature and disable the flyout menu in Edge toolbar. I have received many emails from readers who want to get rid of the new Downloads flyout menu but don’t want to restore classic download panel in Edge.

Following steps will help you in disabling or hiding new Downloads flyout menu in Microsoft Edge toolbar:

1. Open Microsoft Edge browser and click on the 3-dots menu button present at the right-side of the toolbar. Now select Settings option from the main menu.

Alternatively, you can press ALT+F keys together to show Edge Menu and then press S key to open Settings page. You can also directly open Edge Settings page using edge://settings/ URL in address bar.

2. Now click on Downloads tab in left sidebar.

PS: You can skip 1 and 2 steps and directly open Downloads tab in Edge Settings page by clicking on 3-dots menu present in Downloads flyout menu and selecting Downloads settings option.

3. In right-side pane, you’ll see Show downloads menu when a download starts option.

The option is enabled by default which means Edge will always show new flyout menu in toolbar whenever you download a file. To disable new flyout menu, turn off the option i.e. set the option to OFF.

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How to Reset or Remove All Active Group Policies Applied in Windows?

How to Reset or Remove All Active Group Policies Applied in Windows?

Actually many people apply group policies in Windows to enable/disable features and functionality. In future, they might want to remove those policies but resetting those policies will require lots of time as the user will need to find all active policies using Group Policy Editor and then reset them to “Not Configured” one by one. It’ll waste lots of time.

When a group policy is applied in Windows 10, users also get “Some settings are managed by your organization” warning message or banner showing at the top of pages in Settings app.

If you reset or remove all applied group policies using this tutorial, it’ll also help you in getting rid of that message.

Let’s start the tutorial.

When you apply group policies using Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc), all policies are stored in following folders:

  • C:\Windows\System32\GroupPolicy
  • C:\Windows\System32\GroupPolicyUsers

If you try to open these folders, you’ll get following files and folders:

  • Machine
  • User
  • gpt.ini
  • comment.cmtx
  • Registry.pol

To reset or remove all applied group policies, you just need to delete these 2 folders: GroupPolicy and GroupPolicyUsers.

PS: In some computers, you’ll get only GroupPolicy folder. That’s completely ok. If only one folder exists, then you need to delete only one folder.

1. To delete the folders, open This PC (or My Computer, File Explorer) and go to C:\Windows\System32 folder.

Now look for GroupPolicy and GroupPolicyUsers folders present under System32 folder.

Once you find the folders, select them and press Delete key. Windows will ask for confirmation, click on Yes and Continue buttons.

That’s it. After deleting folders, you’ll need to forcefully apply group policy changes to Windows.

2. Open Command Prompt as Administrator.

Now run following command:

gpupdate /force

It’ll take a few seconds in processing and you’ll get “Computer Policy / User Policy update has completed successfully” message. That’s it. You have successfully removed all currently active group policies in your Windows device. You can also restart your computer system if required.

Now if you try to open Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc), you’ll find that all group policies are set to Not Configured which means all applied policies have been removed successfully.

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How to disable JavaScript in PDF documents in Firefox

How to disable JavaScript in PDF documents in Firefox

The security and feature update for the organization’s Firefox web browser introduced a major change in the native PDF viewer of the browser. Up until now, JavaScript was ignored by Firefox when PDF documents were viewed in the browser. The execution displayed the JavaScript document in the browser but ignored any JavaScript code that it contained.

Mozilla enabled the execution of JavaScript in PDF documents in Firefox 88; this means that JavaScript code will be executed if it is present in a PDF file that is viewed in Firefox. There are legitimate reasons for supporting JavaScript in PDF documents, for instance to verify the input in form fields or to make changes to a document based on data when it is opened or when certain events happen.

Unfortunately, JavaScript in PDFs may also be used to execute malicious code. In other words: JavaScript is a security risk when it is executed in PDF documents. Most Firefox users may not need the feature, and it is a good idea to disable the execution of JavaScript in PDF documents in the browser to protect the system against JavaScript-based attacks.

Disable JavaScript execution in PDF documents

Firefox users may disable the execution of JavaScript by the browser’s native PDF viewer in the following way. Note that there is no option to turn it off in the main settings of the browser.

  1. Load about:config in the web browser’s address bar.
  2. Confirm that you will be careful to proceed.
  3. Use the search at the top to find pdfjs.enableScripting.
  4. Set the preference to FALSE with a click on the toggle button at the end of the line.
    1. A status of FALSE disables JavaScript execution in PDF files.
    2. A status of TRUE enables the execution of JavaScript in PDF documents (default)

Firefox will ignore JavaScript in PDF documents if the preference is set to FALSE.

Testing

You can test the effect by loading PDF documents that include scripting from a site like PDF Scripting. Just download the sample PDF documents and check them in the native PDF viewer of Firefox to see if the execution is blocked.

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All Windows 10 upgrade safeguards have been lifted

All Windows 10 upgrade safeguards have been lifted

Microsoft resolved the last long-standing upgrade issues in Windows 10 version 2004 and 20H2 this week. The company uses upgrade safeguards to block updates to newer versions of its Windows 10 and Windows Server operating systems to prevent issues during or after the installation of the updates.

Downside to the safeguards is that some devices are not offered the upgrade to a new version of Windows 10. In this particular case, it meant that affected devices running Windows 10 version 1909 could not be upgraded to newer versions of Windows 10 using Windows Update.

Windows 10 version 1909 consumer editions — Home, Pro, Education and Workstations — reach end of life in May 2021. Microsoft plans to release a last batch of security patches for Home versions of the operating system on May 11, 2021, the May 2021 Patch Tuesday before support ends.

Microsoft lifted the last safeguards on May 7, 2021 which prevented the upgrade to newer Windows 10 versions using Windows Update for devices with certain Conexant audio drivers and Conexant ISST audio drivers.

The safeguard hold with safeguard IDs 25702617, 25702660, 25702662, and 25702673 has been removed for all devices as of May 7, 2021, including devices with affected drivers. If updated drivers are not available for your device and you are offered Windows 10, version 2004 or Windows 10, version 20H2, a small number of devices might roll back to the previous version of Windows 10 when attempting to update. If this occurs, you should attempt to update to Windows 10, version 2004 or Windows 10, version 20H2 again.

The issues were opened a year ago in May 2021. Microsoft published a workaround but the issue was not fixed until this month. Some devices may be rolled back according to the resolution and Microsoft asks administrators to run the update again when that happens.

Windows 10 administrators may select Start > Settings > Update & Security to find out if new feature updates are available. Other updating options include using Microsoft’s Windows Media Creation Tool to upgrade a PC or create installation media.

The two upgrade safeguards were the last two listed by Microsoft on the known issues pages of Windows 10 version 2004 and 20H2. Affected devices should receive update options within 48 hours of the lifting of the safeguard.

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