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Understanding Audit History in SharePoint Online

Hey there, fellow guardians of digital sanctity! Today, we will be discussing the crucial significance of capturing and surfacing your Document Audit History in what is generally referred to as a Content Services Platform – traditionally known as Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECM), and Enterprise Document and Records Management Systems (EDRMs or DMS). In this article we will highlight the importance of document audit history in SharePoint Online.

In today's fast-paced and data-centric world, the management of documents and records holds pivotal importance across various sectors, from legal entities to IT departments, compliance teams, and beyond. One critical aspect that stands out in this domain is the concept of Document Audit History. This facet, often integrated into sophisticated Document Management Systems (DMS) such as Microsoft SharePoint, OpenText Content Server (Livelink), and IBM FileNet plays a pivotal role in ensuring accountability, compliance, and effective record-keeping within organizations.

Introduction to Document Audit History

Document Audit History refers to a comprehensive log or record that meticulously tracks all activities, alterations, and access points related to a particular document within a DMS. Every modification, access attempt, download, or edit made to the document is recorded with relevant timestamps and user details, ensuring a transparent trail of the document's journey.

Did you Know
  • Audit logging is the automatic, chronological logging of user actions.
  • Audit trails provide a detailed record of who, when, what, where and how changes were made to documents.
  • Audit logs capture critical system activities. This includes logging user actions, system changes, and access attempts. Review of these actions can spot irregularities, coupled with predictive analytics and alerts for machine learning allow you to pro-actively flag suspicious activity in real time and highlight possible mistakes to avoid accidental damage or security breaches.

The Importance and Reasons to Preserve your Document Audit History

  1. Accountability and Compliance Assurance

    In various industries that have complex legal and compliance requirements, maintaining an accurate trail of document modifications is crucial for ensuring accountability and meeting regulatory compliance requirements. The ability to trace back to each change made to a document is invaluable during audits or legal disputes (representing an unaltered legal chain of custody). In addition see who’s looked at your documents and when.

  2. Security Enhancement

    Document Audit History significantly strengthens security measures by providing insights into who accessed specific documents and when. This feature acts as a deterrent against unauthorized access or potential data breaches.

    The escalating occurrence of data breaches has amplified the emphasis on safeguarding information security and privacy, emerging as paramount concerns for business and IT executives. Contemporary cybersecurity threats pose heightened risks, pinpointing employees as the principal vulnerability. This evolving pattern, intertwined with the proliferation of global data privacy regulations, has underscored the essentiality of ensuring your audit logs (audit history) is preserved. Solutions that enhance Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) are increasingly recognized as indispensable tools for ensuring data security and meeting regulatory compliance standards.

  3. Enhanced Decision-Making and Collaboration

    For CIOs, IT security professionals, legal, and records teams, having access to comprehensive document audit trails aids in informed decision-making. It enables a deeper understanding of workflow efficiencies, user behaviors, and collaboration patterns.

Problems Arising from the Absence of Document Audit History (Audit Logs)

The absence of a robust Document Audit History feature can lead to several challenges:

  1. Lack of Accountability:

    Without a traceable history, it becomes difficult to identify the origin of errors, changes, or unauthorized access, leading to ambiguity and potential disputes.

  2. Compliance Risks:

    Inability to provide a documented history might result in compliance violations, leading to legal repercussions or loss of credibility.

  3. Security Concerns:

    Without a documented audit trail, organizations face heightened risks of data breaches or leaks, as unauthorized access might go unnoticed.

Benefits of Having Document Audit History (Audit Logs)

Information security encompasses the protection of data, irrespective of its format, from unauthorized access, scrutiny, disclosure, alteration, duplication, transfer, or deletion. Various international and sector-specific standards and regulations enforce the adoption of information security protocols within organizations.

Audit trails in the form of Document Audit History allow content creators and users the capability to observe the complete journey of information, detailing every action executed on a document (read/view, edit, rename, share, delete, external access, etc.), including the responsible individuals and timestamps for each activity.

  1. Legal Protection and Risk Mitigation

    Having a comprehensive document audit trail safeguards organizations during legal disputes or compliance audits, providing evidence of adherence to regulations and internal policies.

  2. Improved Operational Efficiency

    Understanding how documents are accessed and modified aids in streamlining workflows, enhancing collaboration, and optimizing processes within an organization.

  3. Enhanced Trust and Transparency

    Document Audit History fosters trust among stakeholders, clients, and regulatory bodies by showcasing a commitment to transparency and data integrity.


The Problems
  • Problem 1:

    By default, Microsoft 365 keeps your audit log data (audit history) for only up to 90 days (180 days after Nov 1, 2023) for E3 user licenses, and only up to 1 year for E5 user licenses. After those dates your valuable audit data will be gone forever!

  • Problem 2:

    By default, in SharePoint Online there is no way for a Site Collection Administrator, Power User, or Regular User to view audit entries at the item level where the document or folder resides. Audit entries or logs must be requested from a Security/Audit level user who runs a report through the Microsoft Security and Compliance Center. There are no end-user friendly ways to access audit information.

Document Audit History stands as a cornerstone in modern Content Services platforms, offering a multitude of benefits across various organizational departments and functions. For legal professionals, CIOs, IT security personnel, compliance, and records teams, recognizing its importance is critical for ensuring compliance, security, and operational efficiency within their respective domains. Embracing Content Services platforms and solutions equipped with robust Document Audit History functionalities is a proactive step towards fostering trust, maintaining compliance, and fortifying the integrity of an organization's document management practices.

The Solution - Introducing Audit Vault for M365: Your trusted solution for extending and enhancing your compliance and regulatory needs in Microsoft 365

The Solutions
  • Solution to Problem 1:

    Audit Vault for M365 enables the capability to capture, retain and preserve all of your Microsoft 365 (M365) audit logs + audit information for as long as you need it. Featuring seamless integration with Microsoft 365 and an easy-to-use interface (single pane of glass), insightful reports, and predictive analytics + alerts.

  • Solution to Problem 2:

    The first and only solution that enables you to view your SharePoint item audit history directly in SharePoint (wow!). Audit Vault for M365 extends and enhances your compliance and regulatory capabilities in Microsoft 365.

Compliance is no longer an option; it's a necessity. As we have covered in this article your document audit history provides integrity, and integrity represents the assurance that the information is trustworthy and accurate. Business records provide the evidence to demonstrate regulatory compliance so organizations must be able to attest to the integrity and authenticity of its records. With Audit Vault for M365, you're not just meeting requirements; you're embracing a culture of compliance that reduces risk, enhances operational efficiency, and ultimately protects your organization's bottom line.

Intelligently Surface Your SharePoint Audit History

Expose and view SharePoint Item Audit History directly in SharePoint Online to empower your end users, power users and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to see the item history for documents and folders within SharePoint. Unlock the ability for your users to view audit history, identify zero-day permissions issues, and enable identification of unauthorized access and changes in SharePoint Online.

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