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Configuring Session Timeouts in SharePoint Office 365

Microsoft
Updated
June 14, 2024
June 14, 2024

In today's digital landscape, where data security is paramount and productivity is key, organizations rely heavily on platforms like SharePoint Office 365 to facilitate collaboration, document management, and information sharing. However, ensuring that these platforms are configured with appropriate security measures is crucial to protecting sensitive data and maintaining operational efficiency. One such measure is effectively configuring session timeouts.

Session timeouts define the duration of an active user session before the system automatically logs them out due to inactivity. In SharePoint Office 365, configuring session timeouts appropriately is essential to balancing security and user experience. Let's take into account the significance of session timeouts, their impact on security and productivity, and how to configure them effectively within the SharePoint Office 365 environment.

Importance of Session Timeouts

1. Enhanced Security 

Session timeouts prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. When users remain idle for extended periods, keeping their sessions active poses a security risk, especially in shared or public environments. By enforcing session timeouts, organizations can mitigate the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches.

2. Compliance Requirements 

Many industries are subject to regulatory compliance standards that mandate the implementation of specific security measures, including session timeouts. Adhering to these regulations not only ensures legal compliance but also fosters trust among customers and stakeholders regarding data protection practices.

3. Resource Optimization 

In environments with limited resources, such as SharePoint Online, managing active user sessions efficiently is crucial. Session timeouts help optimize resource usage by automatically releasing resources tied to inactive sessions, thereby improving system performance and scalability.

Impact on Security and Productivity

1. Security Risks

Failure to enforce session timeouts can leave SharePoint Office 365 instances vulnerable to unauthorized access, session hijacking, and data theft. Hackers can exploit inactive sessions left unattended, posing a significant threat to organizational security and confidentiality.

2. Productivity Challenges

Conversely, overly restrictive session timeout settings can disrupt user workflow and hinder productivity. Users may find themselves frequently logged out, leading to frustration and interruptions in their work. Striking a balance between security and usability is crucial to maintaining productivity levels while protecting sensitive data.

Configuring Session Timeouts in SharePoint Office 365

Configuring session timeouts in SharePoint Office 365 involves navigating through the platform's administrative settings to define timeout durations based on organizational requirements and security policies. Here's a step-by-step guide to configuring session timeouts effectively:

1. Access SharePoint Admin Center 

Log in to the SharePoint admin center using administrative credentials.

To access the SharePoint Online Admin Center, follow these steps:

  • Open your web browser and go to admin.microsoft.com.
  • Sign in to your Office 365 account.
  • In the left-hand navigation pane, select "Admin Centers" and then click on "SharePoint" to open the SharePoint admin center.

2. Choose Session Timeout Settings and Define Timeout Duration 

Set the desired timeout duration, specifying the period of inactivity after which users will be automatically logged out. 

The steps are below:

Login to SharePoint Online Admin Center

  • Click on “Policies” >> Access Control >> Idle session Sign-out

Turn on the idle session timeout and set other configuration parameters accordingly.

Session Timeout Settings: This ensures that users’ sessions are terminated after a set amount of inactivity, which can help improve security and performance. The idle timeout settings apply only to web browsers. They don’t affect any clients, such as the OneDrive Sync client—who stay logged in as usual.

SharePoint Online: Configure Idle Session Timeout Using PowerShell

To set default session timeout values, use the PowerShell cmdlet:

Set-SPOBrowserIdleSignOut, Open SharePoint Online Management Shell, and run this PowerShell script to change SharePoint Online session timeout:

This setting dictates how long a user’s session is allowed to remain idle before it is automatically terminated. By default, this value is set to 0 minutes, meaning that the user’s session will not expire until they explicitly log out. However, by adjusting this setting, you can control how much time a user has before their inactive session is terminated.

So, after executing the above script, SharePoint Online gives a warning after 30 Minutes. If the users press the continue button, they can continue working until the next time they leave the browser window idle for the warning period configured.

If there is no activity from the end-user, then SharePoint Online automatically redirects to the sign-out page.

3. Consider Conditional Access Policies 

Leverage Conditional Access policies to enforce session timeouts based on specific conditions such as user roles, device types, or network locations. This allows for granular control over session management and security enforcement.

4. Test and Validate Settings 

Before finalizing the configuration, conduct thorough testing to ensure that the chosen timeout settings align with organizational security policies without compromising user experience.

5. Communicate Changes to Users 

Inform users about the updated session timeout settings and guide best practices for session management to minimize disruptions and maintain productivity.

Best Practices for Session Timeout Configuration

To optimize the effectiveness of session timeouts in SharePoint Office 365, consider implementing the following best practices:

1. Regular Review and Adjustment 

Periodically review session timeout settings to adapt to evolving security threats, user behavior patterns, and regulatory requirements.

2. User Education and Awareness

Educate users about the importance of session management, including logging out after completing tasks and recognizing signs of unauthorized access.

3. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Augment session timeout measures with MFA to add an extra layer of security, especially for sensitive data and privileged accounts.

4. Monitor and Audit User Sessions

Implement robust monitoring and auditing mechanisms to track user sessions, identify anomalies, and detect suspicious activities promptly.

5. Collaborate with IT Security Experts

Engage with IT security professionals to assess the effectiveness of session timeout configurations and receive recommendations for continuous improvement.

Conclusion

Configuring session timeouts effectively in SharePoint Office 365 is essential for maintaining a balance between security and productivity in today's digital workplace. By implementing appropriate timeout settings, organizations can mitigate security risks, comply with regulatory requirements, and optimize resource usage. However, it's crucial to strike a balance between security measures and user experience to ensure seamless collaboration and information sharing. With careful planning, regular review, and user education, organizations can harness the full potential of SharePoint Office 365 while protecting their valuable assets against evolving cyber threats

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