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Microsoft today introduced Exchange Online Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), a new security feature that expands Office 365’s existing Exchange Online Protection against spam, viruses, and malware. As its name implies, the email filtering service provides additional protection against specific types of advanced threats.

ATP is currently in private preview and is expected to be available this summer as an optional service to all Office 365 customers for $2 per user per month. Government customers will be able to get for a discounted $1.75 per user per month.

Exchange Online Protection already has layered antivirus protection powered by three different engines. But that’s for known malware and viruses; ATP has a feature called Safe Attachments, which protects against unknown malware and viruses by routing messages and attachments to a special hypervisor environment for behavior analysis.

The system uses a variety of machine learning and analysis techniques to detect malicious intent. If no suspicious activity is detected, the message is released for delivery to its destination.

Next, while Exchange Online Protection scans each message and provides time of delivery protection, blocking any malicious hyperlinks in a message, ATP goes further by protecting against malicious URLs hidden in safe links via redirects. ATP’s Safe Links feature proactively protects users if they click a safe link that could later take them to unsafe sites by means of a forwarding service.

ATP also offers rich reporting and tracking capabilities, so IT admins can see who is getting targeted in their organization and the category of attacks they are facing. Reporting and message tracing shows which messages have been blocked due to an unknown virus or malware, while the URL trace capability can be used to track individual malicious links in the messages that have been clicked.

Exchange Online ATP can be used by whole organizations or assigned just to a specified group of users. Microsoft describes it very much as an “extra” set of features, but the company should work towards including it in Office 365 out-of-the-box — security capabilities should never be optional.

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