Posey's Tips & Tricks

What GigJam Means for Office 365 Security

While the collaboration tool's main focus isn't on securing documents, some of its features will help in file security.

One of the really cool things about Office 365 is that Microsoft is always adding new functionality. I signed up for Office 365 several years ago, and the cost of my subscription has not increased despite the fact that Microsoft has added new products such as Yammer, Delve, and Power BI to my subscription over the years. The next addition to Office 365 will likely be GigJam.

GigJam is something that Microsoft has been working on for a long time. It's an Office 365 tool that, as Microsoft says, "helps you spontaneously and momentarily involve others in your work." While I do find Microsoft's description to be accurate, I think that the bigger story is that in creating GigJam, Microsoft has completely revolutionized the process of applying security permissions to data. Of course I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take a step back and talk about what GigJam is, and how Microsoft envisions it being used.

GigJam is primarily a collaboration tool that is designed for use in Office 365 environments. The tool is designed to accomplish two main tasks. First, it allows a user to spontaneously get help from a coworker. Second, it lets the user ask for help in a way that prevents any sensitive information from being revealed to the coworker.

To give you a more concrete example, let's pretend that a particular user receives an e-mail that they need to respond to, but the user doesn't feel completely comfortable composing the response. If a situation like this were to happen today, there are a few things that a user might do. The user could for example, get a coworker to take a look at the message and suggest a response. However, there are a couple of potential problems.

One potential problem is that by asking another user for help, the user who originally received the message essentially loses control of the message. The person who has agreed to help with the response could for example, send a response to the message without giving the user who received the message a chance to review it.

Another potential problem with getting help from someone else is that the message could contain sensitive information that the helper should not see. This sensitive information might be something in the message body, or it could be the names in the message's CC list.

GigJam is designed to solve these types of problems (and plenty of others). So how does GigJam work? Well, think of GigJam as a type of remote assistance tool, but with an emphasis on security.

Many of the remote assistance tools that are available today are designed to share the entre desktop. Of course sharing an entire desktop can be very risky from a security standpoint. But what if a user were able to share a single window rather than sharing their entire desktop? That would certainly improve security, because the helper would not be able to access the operating system in its entirety. The helper's activities would be limited to the window within which the help is needed.

The problem with this approach is that a window can contain both sensitive and non-sensitive information. Think about the example in which someone needs help responding to an e-mail. If the person who needed help were to share the message window and nothing else, they would still expose the entire message chain and the message CC list.

But what if the user could share part of a window? That's what GigJam does. It allows a user to ask another user for help, but uses remote assistance in a way that limits what the helper is able to see and do.

Remember at the beginning of this article when I suggested that Microsoft's real accomplishment with GigJam was revolutionizing the way that security permissions are applied? When a user needs to get assistance from a coworker, the user can establish permissions for the coworker by using simple touch gestures. In the case of an e-mail message, for example, the user who is requesting help can circle the parts of the message that they want the helper to be able to see. If there are things that the user wants to hide, including controls, the user can simply mark an X over those elements. Upon doing so, the user who is about to ask for help will see those elements grayed out. This is GigJam's way of showing that those elements will not be shared.

GigJam is one of the most useful applications that Microsoft has created in quite a while. One of the best things about it is that it is designed to work in cross-platform environments. A PC user can request help from a Mac user for example. Microsoft provides a number of demo videos here.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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