Microsoft Trust Center: Alleviating Malware

By CIOReview | Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In a world where hacks and cyber crimes are prominent, users need more advanced programs and tools to tackle many of the cyber security issues. Moreover, today hackers are using sophisticated technology tools to get hold of company assets. Since the beginning of this century, the virus and malware count has been staggering.

With the development of technology, the general routes for malware creators, like suspicious software downloads have been blocked. As ways to spread malwares thinned, defectors are shifting to using Microsoft Office tools to spread viruses, and users are often lack expertise on this. See Malware Definition here

The Role of MS Trust Center

However, Microsoft saw the danger signs much earlier; they then began to develop new security features into their Office suite. As a part of safeguarding data, the Microsoft Trust Center contains security and private settings that include features to prevent cyber attacks and breaches. However, often users are unaware of the latest Trust Center settings.

The Microsoft Trust Center is available on the ‘Options’ menu in almost all the tools available in the Office suite including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Additionally, the Trust Center features in Microsoft Outlook are different from all the other tools in the suite. Administrators can enable and configure the Trust Center features like Protected View and macro settings for their Office Tools including Microsoft OneNote.

The Trust Center Settings

 The first step is locating the Trust Center.

• It is available on the Options menu under the Files tab.
• The Trust Center controls appear by clicking on the Trust Center Settings button.
• Using the Trust Center controls, the administrator can provide a multitude of access options to the users. The ‘Disable all macros with notification’ in Excel is one such option available in Trust Center controls. It allows the user, most of whom were previously unaware of the very presence of macros in the sheet, to enable or disable the macros depending on the source.
• Another option available in the Trust Center is ‘Protected View’. It is a security feature that provides administrators a number of options to prevent users from opening harmful files. It is an isolated environment in which the administrator can deposit all the questionable and suspicious files. Users can view the contents of the files in the Protected View before editing and saving it. By doing so, the possibility of any malware, if present in those files, spreading through and affecting the rest of the network is not just diminished by a great margin, but eliminated entirely.

The Protected View settings, available in MS Office have three options:

• Enable Protected View for files originating from the Internet.
• Enable Protected View for files located in potentially unsafe locations.
• Enable Protected View for Outlook attachments.

When enabled, these three options notify the user that the files they are trying to open have been moved into Protected View through the message, “Be careful – email attachments can contain viruses. Unless you need to edit, it’s safer to stay in protected view.” The Trust Center also holds options for controlling Data Execution and Add-ins.

In case of Add-ins, Whenever Office detects problems, it automatically disables the Add-in, but users can click on the ‘View Disabled Add-ins’ button to enable them. Administrators can also use this information to determine whether or not to permanently disable the problematic Add-in.

Another option available on the Trust Center is the ‘File Block settings’. It allows granular control over restrictions on the file type. It decides whether a file can be normally opened, opened in Protected View, or opened and edited in Protected View.

In the more recent editions of the Office suite, the trust center allows users to determine and remove any hidden data or personal information that are present in the document that are set to be shared. The tool that assists in this process is called ‘Document Inspector’. To access it, the following steps must be followed:

- Select ‘File’
- Under File, select ‘Info’
- Click on ‘Check for Issues’ and select ‘Inspect Document’ in the drop down menu.
- Selecting ‘Inspect Document’ opens the ‘Document Inspector’ box. In the box, select the types of hidden content that you want to check for, and then click ‘Inspect’.
- For each type of content you want to remove from the document, click ‘Remove All’ and then click ‘Close’.

The New Office suite also allows the administrator to control macros in the office tools, blocking the macro-based threats.

• It allows an enterprise to selectively provide macro use to a set of trusted workflows.
• It Blocks easy access to enable macros in scenarios considered high risk.
• It provides end users with stricter notifications making it easier for them to distinguish a high-risk situation against a normal workflow.

To control macros and disable them, the following steps must be followed:

- Select ‘File’
- Under ‘Options’, select ‘Trust Center’
- In ‘Trust Center‘, click on ‘Trust Center Settings’.

Under ‘trust Center Settings’, there are four options:

• Disable all macros without notification
• Disable all macros with notification
• Disable all macros except digitally signed macros
• Enable all macros (not recommended; potentially dangerous code can run)

Select the suitable option as per requirement and click ‘OK’. Selecting the last option is highly ill-advised. However user can enable it if they are sure that only trusted sources have access to their files.

As it can be seen there are several ways to fight malware that use Office tools as a medium of travel and as discussed, organizations should take it upon themselves to educate their employees about them, for alleviating hackers and minimizing cyber attacks.