Using sensitivity labels to manage access to SharePoint sites on unmanaged devices

This week is a follow-up on my post of a few weeks ago about accessing SharePoint and OneDrive content on unmanaged devices. That post showed how to use the SharePoint admin center to manage the organiztion-wide access control for unmanaged devices and showed how to use PowerShell to manage the site-level access control for unmanaged devices. This post will show something similar to that PowerShell configuration, in a way that this will also provide a method for managing access for unmanaged devices on a site-level. The main difference is that this post will look at a new (currently in public preview) feature that is added to sensitivity labels. That feature enables the administrator to configure Site and group settings for sensitivity labels. Within that configuration the administrator can define the level of access for unmanaged devices when a sensitivity label is applied to a SharePoint site. In this post I’l start with a short introduction about that functionality, followed by the configuration steps. Those configuration steps contain the steps for configuring the sensitivity labels, the steps for applying the sensitivity labels to a SharePoint site and the steps for configuring a basic conditional access policy to provide the device management information to SharePoint Online. I’ll end this post by showing the end-user experience.

Important: This information shown in this blog post relies – at the moment of writing – on preview functionality for sensitivity labels that must be specifically enabled. Without specifically enabling this preview functionality, the mentioned Site and group settings will not be available for sensitivity labels.

Site and group settings for sensitivity labels

Before looking at the configuration options, it’s good to first have a quick look at the new feature of sensitivity labels. By enabling the preview functionality, the administrator receives an additional configuration step when creating (and editing) sensitivity labels, named Site and group settings. The main focus for this post is the configuration section for unmanaged devices in the Site and group settings. That configuration section enables the administrator to provide the user with the option to configure access for unmanaged devices per site by using sensitivity labels. The administrator determines the configuration of the sensitivity labels based on the company policies and the user applies the sensitivity label to SharePoint sites based on the company policies.

When applying a sensitivity label to a SharePoint site, only the settings of the Site and group settings apply to the site. Other settings, such as encryption and content marking, aren’t applied to the content within the SharePoint site. The content within the SharePoint site is also not automatically labeled with the sensitivity label that’s applied to the site. It’s currently still required to use the existing manual and automatic options for applying sensitivity labels to content. The the priority of sensitivity labels is also really important for this

Note: I’m constantly specifically mentioning access of unmanaged devices to SharePoint sites as the focus of this post. However, as the mentioned configuration also enables the user to apply these sensitivity labels to Teams sites, the same behavior for unmanaged devices also applies to the related SharePoint sites.

Configuring the sensitivity labels

The configuration of sensitivity labels, for applying the behavior for unmanaged devices to a SharePoint site, contains an administrator configuration for the sensitivity labels and a user configuration for applying the sensitivity label to new (and existing) SharePoint sites. If needed an administrator can also adjust the applied sensitivity label.

Configuring the site and group settings for sensitivity labels

Let’s start by looking at the steps for an administrator of creating a sensitivity label and configuring the Site and group settings. The eight steps below walk through the creation of a new sensitivity label. Most steps simply describe the usage of the configuration step, as the focus is on the Site and group settings (step 6). After creating the sensitivity label, it can be published like any other sensitivity label by using a Label policy. Keep in mind that after creating and publishing the sensitivity label, it can take up to 24 hours for the sensitivity label to become available for users in the creation and adjustments of SharePoint sites. 

  1. Open the Microsoft 365 compliance center and navigate to Solutions > Information protection (or use the Microsoft 365 security center, or the Security & Compliance center) to open the Information protection page.
  2. On the Information protection page, click Create a label to open the New sensitivity label wizard.
  3. On the Name & description page, configure a name and tooltip for the sensitivity label and click Next.
  4. On the Encryption page, configure the encryption to control who can access the content that have this sensitivity label applied and click Next.
  5. On the Content marking page, configure any custom headers, footers, and watermarks that should be added to content that have this sensitivity label applied and click Next.
  6. On the Site and groups settings page, configure the settings that should take effect when this sensitivity label is applied to SharePoint site (or Office group) and click Next. Specifically looking at the scope of this post, it’s all about the Unmanaged devices section. That section enables the administrator to control the level of access for unmanaged devices when this sensitivity label is applied to a SharePoint site. Similar to the unmanaged devices access control in the SharePoint admin center, the administrator can choose between full access, limited access and block access.
  7. On the Auto-labeling for Office apps page, configure the automatic labeling behavior for Office apps when sensitive content is detected and click Next.
  8. On the Review your settings page, verify the configuration and click Submit.

Note: Keep in mind that the organization-wide configuration for unmanaged devices, in the SharePoint admin center, should be set to the least restrictive configuration to have a configuration that works as expected. If not, and a sensitivity label should apply a less restrictive experience, the organization-wide configuration will overrule the applied configuration of the sensitivity label.

Using the sensitivity labels for SharePoint sites

Once the administrator configured the sensitivity labels, the user can apply the different sensitivity labels to the different SharePoint sites. That can be achieved by the user during the creation of new SharePoint sites or by editing the Site information of existing SharePoint sites. The following three to four steps walk through the process of creating a new SharePoint site and applying a sensitivity label to it.

  1. Open SharePoint and click Create site to open the Create site page.
  2. On the Create site page, choose between a Team site and a Communication site. A sensitivity label can be applied to both type of SharePoint sites.
  3. No matter what the type of SharePoint site, provide a name for the site to enable the remaining settings of a new SharePoint site. Those settings include an Advanced settings section. That section contains the sensitivity labels that the user can choose from. By clicking on the help icon, the user can view the tooltip information of the different sensitivity labels. Now choose the applicable sensitivity label and click Next to continue to the Add group members page (or click Finish for Communication sites).
  4. (Only for Team sites) On the Add group members page, add any additional administrators and click Finish.

Note: For existing SharePoint sites the user can select the SharePoint site and click Site information to edit the sensitivity label by selecting a different sensitivity label in the Sensitivity selection box.

Configuring conditional access policy

The conditional access policy configuration is required to make sure that Azure AD will pass the device management information on to SharePoint Online. That can be achieved by using the Use app enforced restrictions session control. That in combination with the configuration of the sensitivity labels can provide the organization with the required level of access control on unmanaged devices. For this post the focus is on the Use app enforced restrictions session control. That session control can be configured by following the next seven steps.

  1. Open the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center portal and navigate to Security > Conditional access Policies to open the Conditional Access | Policies blade
  2. On the Conditional Access | Policies blade, click New policy to open the New blade
  3. On the New blade and provide a unique name
  4. Select Users and groups to configure the assigned users of this conditional access policy
  5. Select Cloud apps or user actions and select Office 365 SharePoint Online as the assigned app of this conditional access policy
  6. Select Conditions > Client apps and select Browser as the applicable client app of this conditional access policy
  7. Select Session and select Use app enforced restrictions to make sure that the configured limited experience will be applicable to this session

Note: This configuration can also be used in a conditional access policy that uses a grant controls to make sure that for example MFA is also always required for access to SharePoint Online for unmanaged devices. 

The sensitivity label experience

Let’s end this post by having a look at the end-user experience and little bit of administrator experience. For testing the experience, I’ve created the following four different sensitivity labels (with the mentioned behavior for unmanaged devices) for the users in my environment:

  • Public – This sensitivity label allows full access for unmanaged devices.
  • Internal – This sensitivity label allows limited access for unmanaged devices.
  • Confidential – This sensitivity label also allows limited access for unmanaged devices.
  • Secret – This sensitivity label blocks access for unmanaged devices.

When a user now navigates on an unmanaged device to a SharePoint site with a sensitivity label of Internal (or Confidential), the user will receive a limited experience as shown below in Figure 3. The user will be notified about the limited experience and the user will see the applied sensitivity label. When a user now navigates on an unmanaged device to a SharePoint site with a sensitivity label of Secret, the user will receive a blocked experience as shown below in Figure 4. As the sensitivity label of Public simply provides a full experience, I’m not showing that example.

When quickly looking from an administrator perspective in the SharePoint admin center, the administrator can now see an additional column for the active sites that contains the applied sensitivity label (as shown in Figure 5). By selecting a site and navigating to the policies section, the administrator can also adjust the applied sensitivity label.

More information

For more information about managing access to SharePoint sites with sensitivity labels, refer to the article about using sensitivity labels to protect content in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365 groups, and SharePoint sites (public preview).

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