Exchange Online

How to Backup Office 365 Mailboxes with Altaro

Backing up mailboxes in Exchange Online as a part of the Office 365 or Microsoft 365 suite is always a debated topic – some will argue that Microsoft have enough redundancy and backups in their own environments so you don’t need a third party solution and you’ll always be able to get your data back. However, this hasn’t been proven yet (thankfully) in a real world event where mailbox data has been lost by Microsoft. It also doesn’t cover scenarios where there’s outages, account problems or other connectivity problems that can delay your access to your cloud based data. Is it a risk each company will need to decide if it’s worth an investment into reducing.

Altaro asked me to have a look at their product – Altaro Office 365 Backup – to provide a quick run-through on setting it up and seeing what it does. Their solution is fully cloud based, so you don’t need any extra hardware to get going. You can set up a 30 day free trial here. Once signed up, here’s what to do:

After logging in from the link you’ll be emailed, you’ll be presented with this screen:

The wizard here will take you through the setup required, starting with a Company Name and your domain configured in Office 365 (which you can get from https://admin.microsoft.com/Adminportal/Home#/Domains) – I had to use my primary:

Next, you’ll need to grant access for Altaro to be able to access data in your tenant, which makes sense since you want them to back it up:

Following the links you’ll get the standard window advising you what permissions you’re granting and to whom:

If it worked, a successful message will show and you can go back to the setup wizard:

After doing this three times, you can go to the next step where you can choose which users to back up – which as it says, will be this data: “Office 365 User Backups consist of Emails, Calendars & Contacts within Mailboxes and Files stored within OneDrive accounts.”, then “SharePoint Backups consist of Files stored within SharePoint Document Libraries.”

If it all goes well, you’ll then get to the final screen showing a successful setup:

That’s it – backup has been set up. Of course your data won’t be in there instantly, the first backup happens over 24 hours, and then up to 4 times a day ongoing. You can choose if new users are automatically added to backup plans or not, which should turn this into a set and forget backup system.

Set and forget only works if you’re alerted around issues, which is possible in the Alert Settings – you can choose what sort of alerts you receive, such as if a backup job failed:

Restoring is also an easy process – for example if you want to restore an entire mailbox, the Mailbox Restore wizard will take you through the steps and ask where you want to restore – onto that user’s mailbox, another user’s mailbox, an Outlook PST file, or a ZIP file containing each mail item as an individual file:

You can also use the Granular Restore option, to search and restore particular items rather than entire mailboxes and accounts. The granular restore has the same options as the full restore for destinations, so there’s a lot of flexibility based on what you’re after:

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, the ‘Advanced Search’ option lets you define what you’re looking for:

Pricing for Office 365 Backup by Altaro is available at https://www.altaro.com/office-365-backup/#faqs and is a per user, per type (either mailbox or mailbox + OneDrive + SharePoint) model. This also includes 24/7 support and unlimited storage for backups.

After setting this up and trying out all the options, I’m confident in saying this is as good as you could hope for, from a turn-key solution. Setup is literally a few minutes, there’s no software to install anywhere and no infrastructure requirements. The data Altaro backs up is held forever (yes, infinite retention!) assuming you still have a valid subscription. The data is stored in Microsoft Azure, but only in West Europe at the time of writing – so if you have data sovereignty requirements, you’ll need to assess this.

Download your free 30-day trial of Altaro Office 365 Backup

Cloud Voicemail and Out of Office Greetings

Earlier this year, Microsoft changed how voicemail worked for Skype for Business on-premises customers. There was little difference to end users when Unified Messaging changed to Cloud Voicemail, but it did break a few Auto Attendant options for those not in the cloud.

At the time I remember it being rather difficult to find out information on, and the good contacts I had at vendors also struggled to gather intel on how the change would go.

In the end, the migration happened and it was thankfully a non-event. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that it introduced a new portal for Voicemail settings at https://admin1.online.lync.com/lscp/usp/voicemail (which has slight variations where you are in the world, for Australia it’s https://admin1au.online.lync.com/lscp/usp/voicemail – but the links seem to redirect to where they need to go) and there’s a few interesting settings:

The Call Answer Rules section (Choose how you want your calls to be handled when they reach the voicemail service) lets you pick what happens when someone hears your voicemail, including the last option ‘Play greeting, then allow the caller to recording a message or transfer to the target user’. If you set this, you can then enter the number you want calls to go to if someone does press ‘0’ – such as Reception, or your mobile phone. The default setting is ‘Play greeting, then allow the caller to record a message’.

The Prompt Language section (Changing this setting will change the greeting prompt language) will change the language and accent of the greeting – so if you’d like them to sound Australian, you can choose that.

The Configure Out of Office greeting section (Customize an Out of Office greeting message, and choose to play it to callers all the time, based on your Outlook auto-reply status, or calendar OOF status) was the one I liked the most. It can sync with your mailbox to know when you’re Out of Office via your current Outlook status (either with an autoreply, or just in a meeting with the status ‘Out of Office’), and when true, give a different message to the caller saying you’re out of the office.

There’s also another option Text-to-Speech Customized Greeting Option (Customize your Text-to-speech greeting message) that lets you customise the generic Out of Office greeting to whatever you like. Although you can only type your greeting message, the text-to-speech works really well and sounds natural.

To me, this is great. I can set a generic ‘I’m out of the office, please call X on this number’ which only plays when I’m actually out of the office. If I’m not, then a caller will hear my standard greeting and can leave a message, instead of hassling co-workers. I don’t have to remember to set it or change it, it just applies if I do the right thing in my Outlook calendar.

If you’ve got Cloud Voicemail; which you should if you’re on Skype for Business, Skype for Business Online, or Microsoft Teams as your phone system, check it out and save yourself some time from changing your voicemail when you go on leave, or just have a meeting when you’re not around.

Synology DiskStation Microsoft 365 Backup Review

Synology sent me a new DiskStation to review after I’d acquired an older one myself to look at it’s ability to back up Microsoft 365 data (the updated name for Office 365). Being a Microsoft MVP in Office Apps and Services category, so I was very interested to see how it worked.

After reading up on and seeing that it was a completely free piece of software available as part of owning a DiskStation, I was hoping this would be a good solution at an incredibly low price – buy your DiskStation and disks, some time to set it up, and you’re done. To me, that’s already a very appealing offering, along with Synology having a good reputation for maintaining and supporting their hardware several years on – which was proved by the 7 year old DS1813+ I set up a few months ago.

I’ve left the new Intel-based DiskStation 1618+ – Quad Core CPU and 4GB RAM (expandable) running for about a month now, backing up my Microsoft 365 tenant’s data. I ticked ALL the options to see how it went. This tenant is just for me, so the data set is smaller than most tenants – but I do run a few live things through it like email and OneDrive. There’s also a little SharePoint Online data from Micrsoft 365 Groups and Teams I’ve played around with.

Here’s what the dashboard looks like now:

Some useful information there around what’s being backed up and how big it is. You might notice there’s a few errors on the summary. I drilled into those and each was because ‘The Microsoft Server is busy’, and a few minutes later it would try again successfully.

This is likely because I used a backup option to get incremental changes, rather than at a set time. Maybe I’m hitting it too much and getting blocked occasionally.


I know I’ve gotten ahead of myself here, so let’s go back to how to set this up. Assuming you have yourself a Synology DiskStation of some sort that supports ‘Active Backup for Office 365‘ – and which models are those? Here’s the list:

  • 20 series:FS6400, FS3600, FS3400, RS820RP+, RS820+, DS920+, DS720+, DS620slim, DS420+, SA3600, SA3400, SA3200D
  • 19 series:RS1619xs+, RS1219+, DS2419+, DS1819+, DS1019+, DVA3219
  • 18 series:FS1018, RS3618xs, RS2818RP+, RS2418RP+, RS2418+, RS818RP+, RS818+, DS3018xs, DS1618+, DS918+, DS718+, DS418play, DS218+
  • 17 series:FS3017, FS2017, RS18017xs+, RS4017xs+, RS3617xs+, RS3617RPxs, RS3617xs, DS3617xs, DS1817+, DS1517+
  • 16 series:RS18016xs+, RS2416RP+, RS2416+, DS916+, DS716+, DS716+II, DS416play, DS216+, DS216+II
  • 15 series:RS815RP+, RS815+, RC18015xs+, DS3615xs, DS2415+, DS1815+, DS1515+, DS415+
  • 14 series:RS3614xs+, RS3614RPxs, RS3614xs, RS2414RP+, RS2414+, RS814RP+, RS814+
  • 13 series:RS10613xs+, RS3413xs+, DS2413+, DS1813+, DS1513+, DS713+
  • 12 series:RS3412RPxs, RS3412xs, RS2212RP+, RS2212+, RS812RP+, RS812+, DS3612xs, DS1812+, DS1512+, DS712+, DS412+
  • 11 series:RS3411RPxs, RS3411xs, RS2211RP+, RS2211+, DS3611xs, DS2411+, DS1511+, DS411+, DS411+II

From the DiskStation desktop, open Package Center and follow these steps:

This was a very easy setup to do – I took screenshots of every step involved, but it barely needs an explanation for anyone who’s an admin of a Microsoft 365 Tenant.

The program will then go off and start backing up what you told it. The ‘Activities’ section of Active Backup for Office 365 will show any backups running, and you can also use the inbuilt ‘Resource Monitor’ to see upload/download speeds, disk utilization etc.

It’s also worth noting that the backup you created has an ‘account discovery’ option where it’ll find any new accounts created and automatically add them to the backup, which is great for not having to change backup settings each time you have a new user start.


Running a backup is great, but how do you restore the data? There’s a second app you’ll need, ‘Active Backup for Office 365 Portal’. Launching this will take you to a web interface where admins can browse all data, and users can browse just their own (user access can be disabled if you prefer).

On this web interface, you can then find the file(s) you want to restore, and restore them. You also get a nice timeline down the bottom so you can move backwards and forwards to see a snapshot of a certain time.

Although Mail, Calendar, Contact, and Site (SharePoint) support searching across all backups for names and contents, at the time of writing this isn’t possible for OneDrive backups. It’s worth being aware of this – if someone requests a file restore you’ll need to know exactly when from. I don’t see this as too much of an issue though, as OneDrive has great version control natively, and an automatic recycle bin – so you’d probably rely on the native solution for finding a file, but still it’s worth knowing this existing limitation.

That was the only slight negative I could find while testing. Everything else just worked, was quick to browse and restore, and incremental backups appeared to be on the DiskStation within several seconds after creating a new file in OneDrive.

Again, this is an incredibly cheap Office 365 backup solution. Some may question if you need to back up Office 365 at all. You could set up infinite retention against all content, so why take a backup? To me it’s a definite grey area, and partly depends how much you value the data. Microsoft may never lose your data, but will it be available 100% of the time? What if that important document is in your OneDrive and hadn’t synced down, and there was an outage? We’ve seen a few outages lately, including ones that have broken authentication – your data is still there, but you can’t get to it. In that scenario, having a local copy of something time sensitive could be worth it. Considering the relative low cost of buying a Synolgoy DiskStation – your disks are probably going to cost more than the unit itself, I consider it a pretty easy sell.

Microsoft Briefing Emails Are Coming

More Microsoft driven emails will be hitting your user’s mailboxes if you’re a Microsoft 365 Customer.

The last ones I wrote about were MyAnalytics, and now we have Microsoft Briefings. The first I heard about this was an admin email I received, which I think is a good idea that Microsoft are following, probably from feedback when they rolled out MyAnalytics and many IT Admins were caught unaware:

So, as you can read above, Microsoft Briefings reads what the users are up to, and presents it to them in hopefully a useful fashion to catch emails they might have missed that sound like they need actioning, will give some ideas on how someone can be more efficient and healthy etc

I received my first email today, and here’s how it looked:

I blurred out the email that I’d already actioned, and marked it as completed. Just like MyAnalytics, these emails are only visible by someone who has access to your mailbox – the emails that turn up don’t traverse the internet like other emails; instead, Microsoft are popping them up straight into the mailbox. You won’t find any mailflow trackings of these.

A user can opt out if they don’t like them, or an admin can follow the documentation to pre-emptively disable this on a user by user basis. There appears to be no org-wide setting to disable, so if you need to disable it, make sure you include it as a provisioning step for new users too. See the update at the bottom of the page.

There’s also a portal users can use to unsubscribe: https://cortana.office.com/

Once the magic Microsoft switch is set to ‘on’ for your tenant, users will get an email every day that they have some sort of content to be in the briefings email – if there’s no content, there’s no email.

Just like MyAnalytics, I recommend communicating this soon to your company that the emails are coming. Some people might not like it, but preparing staff for a something that can help them should help with adoption, rather than an out of the blue starter email.

I’m keen to see how effective the Briefings emails will be and how much value they provide. I think it’s a good idea, and as long as it works as the box describes, should add value for staff at the start of each day to remind them what they’ve got going on, and potentially pick up something they forgot to action.

Update 17th June 2020

Microsoft have listened and acted quickly – you can now toggle this feature on or off at the tenant level. To do so, go to the Microsoft 365 admin center, and under Services > Org settings, the Services tab contains the item ‘Briefing emails (Preview)’. From here, there’s your tickbox to turn it off or on.

Blocking ActiveSync with Conditional Access

Microsoft has announced that they’re continuing the path away from Legacy Authentication, with the decommission of legacy auth to EWS on Exchange Online on October 13th 2020. Instead of waiting for that looming date, there’s a bunch of security reasons to only have Modern Authentication for Microsoft 365.

I’ve already written up on Protect Your Office 365 Accounts By Disabling Basic Authentication and Blocking Legacy Authentication – Conditional Access vs Authentication Policies – but when I migrated from Authentication Policies to Conditional Access, I didn’t realise ActiveSync wasn’t included as part of blocking Legacy Authentication, even though it connects without MFA.

The guide from Microsoft on how to block Legacy Authentication doesn’t actually mention ActiveSync, so it’s easy to miss like I initially did! You’ll need to block ActiveSync altogether as far as I know, as it doesn’t support MFA.

Although I still think Conditional Access is easier to manage than Authentication Policies, there is one caveat; even with an ActiveSync block in place via Conditional Access, too many attempts by a user will lock their account briefly. This might cause problems or require work to get those users to clean up whatever device is trying to log in. With an Authentication Policy I don’t believe this happens because it’s blocked earlier in the sign-in process – you won’t see logs, and the account can’t get locked.

There is of course, a checkbox around ActiveSync, and a way to block it using Conditional Access, but I had mixed results in blocking it successfully until I did it exactly this way:

Create a new Conditional Access Policy and set these options:

Users and groups > All Users
Cloud apps or actions > Select Apps > Office 365 Exchange Online
Conditions > Client apps > Tick both ‘Mobile apps and desktop clients’ + ‘Exchange ActiveSync Clients’
Grant > Block Access

In the Users and Groups section, you can narrow this down from ‘All Users’ for testing or for a gradual rollout.

The user experience is interesting on this one – they can still sort of authenticate, but instead of getting their emails, they will see a single email advising that their access has been blocked:

On top of this, you can use Azure AD to audit who might be using ActiveSync before you put any sort of block in place. As per usual, there’s a good Microsoft article on Discovering and blocking legacy authentication which can walk you through this, but in short:

Via the Azure Portal, go to Azure Active Directory > Users. Under Activity, go to Sign-ins. Click Add filters, and choose Client App > Tick the three ‘Exchange ActiveSync’ options and press ‘Apply’. You’ll see the last 7 days of sign in attempts using ActiveSync, which should give you an idea of how many users are using it, and who.

Blocking Legacy Authentication, plus blocking ActiveSync will give you a much more secure environment, protecting from account attacks.