Apply a sensitivity label to content automatically

Microsoft 365 licensing guidance for security & compliance.

When you create a sensitivity label, you can automatically assign that label to content when it matches conditions that you specify.

The ability to apply sensitivity labels to content automatically is important because:

  • You don't need to train your users when to use each of your classifications.

  • You don't need to rely on users to classify all content correctly.

  • Users no longer need to know about your policies—they can instead focus on their work.

There are two different methods for automatically applying a sensitivity label:

  • Client-side labeling when users edit documents or compose (also reply or forward) emails: Use a label that's configured for auto-labeling for Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook).

    This method supports recommending a label to users, as well as automatically applying a label. But in both cases, the user decides whether to accept or reject the label, to help ensure the correct labeling of content. This client-side labeling has minimal delay for documents because the label can be applied even before the document is saved. However, not all client apps support auto-labeling. This capability is supported by the Azure Information Protection unified labeling client, and some versions of Office.

    For configuration instructions, see How to configure auto-labeling for Office apps on this page.

  • Service-side labeling when content is already saved (in SharePoint or OneDrive) or emailed (processed by Exchange Online): Use an auto-labeling policy.

    You might also hear this method referred to as auto-labeling for data at rest (documents in SharePoint and OneDrive) and data in transit (email that is sent or received by Exchange). For Exchange, it doesn't include emails at rest (mailboxes).

    Because this labeling is applied by services rather than by applications, you don't need to worry about what apps users have and what version. As a result, this capability is immediately available throughout your organization and suitable for labeling at scale. Auto-labeling policies don't support recommended labeling because the user doesn't interact with the labeling process. Instead, the administrator runs the policies in simulation mode to help ensure the correct labeling of content before actually applying the label.

    For configuration instructions, see How to configure auto-labeling policies for SharePoint, OneDrive, and Exchange on this page.

    Specific to auto-labeling for SharePoint and OneDrive:

    • Office files for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are supported. Open XML format is supported (such as .docx and .xlsx) but not Microsoft Office 97-2003 format (such as .doc and .xls).
    • Maximum of 25,000 automatically labeled files in your tenant per day.
    • Maximum of 10 auto-labeling policies per tenant, each targeting up to 10 sites (SharePoint or OneDrive).
    • Existing values for modified, modified by, and the date are not changed as a result of auto-labeling policies—for both simulation mode and when labels are applied.
    • When the label applies encryption, the Rights Management issuer and Rights Management owner is the account that last modified the file.

    Specific to auto-labeling for Exchange:

    • Unlike manual labeling or auto-labeling with Office apps, Office attachments (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files) and PDF attachments are also scanned for the conditions you specify in your auto-labeling policy. When there is a match, the email is labeled but not the attachment.
      • For these Office files, Open XML format is supported (such as .docx and .xlsx) but not Microsoft Office 97-2003 format (such as .doc and .xls).
    • If you have Exchange mail flow rules or data loss prevention (DLP) policies that apply IRM encryption: When content is identified by these rules or policies and an auto-labeling policy, the label is applied. If that label applies encryption, the IRM settings from the Exchange mail flow rules or DLP policies are ignored. However, if that label doesn't apply encryption, the IRM settings from the mail flow rules or DLP policies are applied in addition to the label.
    • Email that has IRM encryption with no label will be replaced by a label with any encryption settings when there is a match by using auto-labeling.
    • Incoming email is labeled when there is a match with your auto-labeling conditions. However, if the label is configured for encryption, that encryption isn't applied.
    • When the label applies encryption, the Rights Management issuer and Rights Management owner is the person who sends the email.

Compare auto-labeling for Office apps with auto-labeling policies

Use the following table to help you identify the differences in behavior for the two complementary automatic labeling methods:

Feature or behavior Label setting: Auto-labeling for Office apps Policy: Auto-labeling
App dependency Yes No *
Restrict by location No Yes
Conditions: Trainable classifiers Yes No
Conditions: Sharing options and additional options for email No Yes
Recommendations, policy tooltip, and user overrides Yes No
Simulation mode No Yes
Exchange attachments checked for conditions No Yes
Apply visual markings Yes Yes (email only)
Override IRM encryption applied without a label Yes if the user has the minimum usage right of Export Yes (email only)
Label incoming email No Yes (encryption not applied)

* Auto-labeling isn't currently available in all regions. If your tenant can't support this functionality, the Auto-labeling tab isn't visible in the admin labeling center.

Note

When content has been manually labeled, that label will never be replaced by automatic labeling. However, auto-labeling policies can replace a lower priority label that was applied by using auto-labeling for Office apps.

How multiple conditions are evaluated when they apply to more than one label

The labels are ordered for evaluation according to their position that you specify in the policy: The label positioned first has the lowest position (least sensitive) and the label positioned last has the highest position (most sensitive). For more information on priority, see Label priority (order matters).

Remember, you can't apply a parent label (a label with sublabels) to content. Make sure that you don't configure a parent label to be auto-applied or recommended in Office apps, and don't select a parent label for an auto-labeling policy. If you do, the parent label won't be applied to content.

To use automatic labeling with sublabels, make sure you publish both the parent label and the sublabel.

For more information on parent labels and sublabels, see Sublabels (grouping labels).

How to configure auto-labeling for Office apps

Automatic labeling in Office apps for Windows is supported by the Azure Information Protection unified labeling client. For built-in labeling in Office apps, this capability is in different stages of availability for different apps.

The auto-labeling settings for Office apps are available when you create or edit a sensitivity label. Make sure Files & emails is selected for the label's scope:

Sensitivity label scope options for files and emails

As you move through the wizard, you see the Auto-labeling for Office apps page where you can choose from a list of sensitive info types or trainable classifiers:

Label conditions for auto-labeling in Office apps

When this sensitivity label is automatically applied, the user sees a notification in their Office app. For example:

Notification that a document had a label applied automatically

Configuring sensitive info types for a label

When you select the Sensitive info types option, you see the same list of sensitive information types as when you create a data loss prevention (DLP) policy. So you can, for example, automatically apply a Highly Confidential label to any content that contains customers' personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, or passport numbers:

Sensitive info types for auto-labeling in Office apps

After you select your sensitive information types, you can refine your condition by changing the instance count or match accuracy. For more information, see Tuning rules to make them easier or harder to match.

Further, you can choose whether a condition must detect all sensitive information types, or just one of them. And to make your conditions more flexible or complex, you can add groups and use logical operators between the groups. For more information, see Grouping and logical operators.

Options for instance count and match accuracy

Configuring trainable classifiers for a label

This option is currently in preview.

When you select the Trainable classifiers option, select one or more of the built-in trainable classifiers from Microsoft. If you've created your own custom trainable classifiers, these are also available to select:

Options for trainable classifiers and sensitivity labels

Caution

We are deprecating the Offensive Language built-in classifier because it has been producing a high number of false positives. Don't use this built-in classifier and if you are currently using it, you should move your business processes off it. We recommend using the Targeted Harassment, Profanity, and Threat built-in classifiers instead.

For more information about these classifiers, see Learn about trainable classifiers (preview).

During the preview period for this option, the following apps support trainable classifiers for sensitivity labels:

Recommend that the user applies a sensitivity label

If you prefer, you can recommend to your users that they apply the label. With this option, your users can accept the classification and any associated protection, or dismiss the recommendation if the label isn't suitable for their content.

Option for recommending a sensitivity label to users

Here's an example of a prompt from the Azure Information Protection unified labeling client when you configure a condition to apply a label as a recommended action, with a custom policy tip. You can choose what text is displayed in the policy tip.

Prompt to apply a recommended label

The implementation of automatic and recommended labeling in Office apps depend on whether you're using labeling that's built into Office, or the Azure Information Protection unified labeling client. In both cases, however:

  • You can't use automatic labeling for documents and emails that were previously manually labeled, or previously automatically labeled with a higher sensitivity. Remember, you can only apply a single sensitivity label to a document or email (in addition to a single retention label).

  • You can't use recommended labeling for documents or emails that were previously labeled with a higher sensitivity. When the content's already labeled with a higher sensitivity, the user won't see the prompt with the recommendation and policy tip.

Specific to built-in labeling:

Specific to the Azure Information Protection unified labeling client:

  • Automatic and recommended labeling applies to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint when you save a document, and to Outlook when you send an email.

  • For Outlook to support recommended labeling, you must first configure an advanced policy setting.

  • Sensitive information can be detected in the body text in documents and emails, and to headers and footers—but not in the subject line or attachments of email.

How to configure auto-labeling policies for SharePoint, OneDrive, and Exchange

Make sure you're aware of the prerequisites before you configure auto-labeling policies.

Prerequisites for auto-labeling policies

  • Simulation mode:

    • Auditing for Microsoft 365 must be turned on. If you need to turn on auditing or you're not sure whether auditing is already on, see Turn audit log search on or off.
    • To view file contents in the source view, you must have the Content Explorer Content Viewer role. Global admins don't have this role by default. If you don't have this permission, you don't see the preview pane when you select an item from the Matched Items tab.
  • To auto-label files in SharePoint and OneDrive:

  • If you plan to use custom sensitive information types rather than the built-in sensitivity types:

    • Custom sensitivity information types are evaluated for content that is added to SharePoint or OneDrive after the custom sensitivity information types are saved.
    • To test new custom sensitive information types, create them before you create your auto-labeling policy, and then create new documents with sample data for testing.
  • One or more sensitivity labels created and published (to at least one user) that you can select for your auto-labeling policies. For these labels:

    • It doesn't matter if the auto-labeling in Office apps label setting is turned on or off, because that label setting supplements auto-labeling policies, as explained in the introduction.
    • If the labels you want to use for auto-labeling are configured to use visual markings (headers, footers, watermarks), note that these are not applied to documents.
    • If the labels apply encryption, they must be configured for the Assign permissions now setting.

Learn about simulation mode

Simulation mode is unique to auto-labeling policies and woven into the workflow. You can't automatically label documents and emails until your policy has run at least one simulation.

Workflow for an auto-labeling policy:

  1. Create and configure an auto-labeling policy.

  2. Run the policy in simulation mode and wait 24 hours, or until the simulation is complete.

  3. Review the results, and if necessary, refine your policy. Rerun simulation mode and wait another 24 hours, or until the simulation is complete.

  4. Repeat step 3 as needed.

  5. Deploy in production.

The simulated deployment runs like the WhatIf parameter for PowerShell. You see results reported as if the auto-labeling policy had applied your selected label, using the rules that you defined. You can then refine your rules for accuracy if needed, and rerun the simulation. However, because auto-labeling for Exchange applies to emails that are sent and received, rather than emails stored in mailboxes, don't expect results for email in a simulation to be consistent unless you're able to send and receive the exact same email messages.

Simulation mode also lets you gradually increase the scope of your auto-labeling policy before deployment. For example, you might start with a single location, such as a SharePoint site, with a single document library. Then, with iterative changes, increase the scope to multiple sites, and then to another location, such as OneDrive.

Finally, you can use simulation mode to provide an approximation of the time needed to run your auto-labeling policy, to help you plan and schedule when to run it without simulation mode.

Creating an auto-labeling policy

  1. In the Microsoft 365 compliance center, navigate to sensitivity labels:

    • Solutions > Information protection

    If you don't immediately see this option, first select Show all.

  2. Select the Auto-labeling tab:

    Auto-labeling tab

    Note

    If you don't see the Auto-labeling tab, this functionality isn't currently available in your region.

  3. Select + Create auto-labeling policy. This starts the New policy wizard:

    New policy wizard for auto-labeling

  4. For the page Choose info you want this label applied to: Select one of the templates, such as Financial or Privacy. You can refine your search by using the Show options for dropdown. Or, select Custom policy if the templates don't meet your requirements. Select Next.

  5. For the page Name your auto-labeling policy: Provide a unique name, and optionally a description to help identify the automatically applied label, locations, and conditions that identify the content to label.

  6. For the page Choose locations where you want to apply the label: Select and specify locations for Exchange, SharePoint sites, and OneDrive. Then select Next.

    Choose locations page auto-labelingwizard

    You must specify individual SharePoint sites and OneDrive accounts. For OneDrive, the URL for a user's OneDrive account is in the following format: https://<tenant name>-my.sharepoint.com/personal/<user_name>_<tenant name>_com

    For example, for a user in the contoso tenant that has a user name of "rsimone": https://contoso-my.sharepoint.com/personal/rsimone_contoso_onmicrosoft_com

    To verify the syntax for your tenant and identify URLs for users, see Get a list of all user OneDrive URLs in your organization.

  7. For the Set up common or advanced rules page: Keep the default of Common rules to define rules that identify content to label across all your selected locations. If you need different rules per location, select Advanced rules. Then select Next.

    The rules use conditions that include sensitive information types and sharing options:

    • For sensitive information types, you can select both built-in and custom sensitive information types.
    • For the shared options, you can choose only with people inside my organization or with people outside my organization.

    If your only location is Exchange, or if you select Advanced rules, there are additional conditions that you can select:

    • Sender IP address is
    • Recipient domain is
    • Recipient is
    • Attachment's file extension is
    • Attachment is password protected
    • Any email attachment's content could not be scanned
    • Any email attachment's content didn't complete scanning
  8. Depending on your previous choices, you'll now have an opportunity to create new rules by using conditions and exceptions.

    The configuration options for sensitive information types are the same as those you select for auto-labeling for Office apps. If you need more information, see Configuring sensitive info types for a label.

    When you have defined all the rules you need, and confirmed their status is on, select Next to move on to choosing a label to auto-apply.

  9. For the Choose a label to auto-apply page: Select + Choose a label, select a label from the Choose a sensitivity label pane, and then select Next.

  10. For the Decide if you want to test out the policy now or later page: Select Run policy in simulation mode if you're ready to run the auto-labeling policy now, in simulation mode. Otherwise, select Leave policy turned off. Select Next:

    Test out the policy auto-labeling wizard

  11. For the Summary page: Review the configuration of your auto-labeling policy and make any changes that needed, and complete the wizard.

    Unlike auto-labeling for Office apps, there's no separate publish option. However, as with publishing labels, allow up to 24 hours for the auto-labeling policy to replicate throughout your organization.

Now on the Information protection > Auto-labeling page, you see your auto-labeling policy in the Simulation or Off section, depending on whether you chose to run it in simulation mode or not. Select your policy to see the details of the configuration and status (for example, Policy simulation is still running). For policies in simulation mode, select the Matched items tab to see which emails or documents matched the rules that you specified.

You can modify your policy directly from this interface:

  • For a policy in the Off section, select the Edit policy button.

  • For policy in the Simulation section, select the Edit policy option at the top of the page, from either tab:

    Edit auto-labeling policy option

    When you're ready to run the policy without simulation, select the Turn on policy option.

Your auto-policies run continuously until they are deleted. For example, new and modified documents will be included with the current policy settings.

You can also see the results of your auto-labeling policy by using content explorer when you have the appropriate permissions:

  • Content Explorer List Viewer lets you see a file's label but not the file's contents.
  • Content Explorer Content Viewer lets you see the file's contents.

Tip

You can also use content explorer to identify locations that have documents with sensitive information, but are unlabeled. Using this information, consider adding these locations to your auto-labeling policy, and include the identified sensitive information types as rules.

Use PowerShell for auto-labeling policies

You can now use Security & Compliance Center PowerShell to create and configure auto-labeling policies. This means you can now fully script the creation and maintenance of your auto-labeling policies, which also provides a more efficient method of specifying multiple URLs for OneDrive and SharePoint locations.

Before you run the commands in PowerShell, you must first connect to Security & Compliance Center PowerShell.

To create a new auto-labeling policy:

New-AutoSensitivityLabelPolicy -Name <AutoLabelingPolicyName> -SharePointLocation "<SharePointSiteLocation>" -ApplySensitivityLabel <Label> -Mode TestWithoutNotifications

This command creates an auto-labeling policy for a SharePoint site that you specify. For a OneDrive location, use the OneDriveLocation parameter, instead.

To add additional sites to an existing auto-labeling policy:

$spoLocations = @("<SharePointSiteLocation1>","<SharePointSiteLocation2>")
Set-AutoSensitivityLabelPolicy -Identity <AutoLabelingPolicyName> -AddSharePointLocation $spoLocations -ApplySensitivityLabel <Label> -Mode TestWithoutNotifications

This command specifies the additional SharePoint URLs in a variable that is then added to an existing auto-labeling policy. To add OneDrive locations instead, use the AddOneDriveLocation parameter with a different variable, such as $OneDriveLocations.

To create a new auto-labeling policy rule:

New-AutoSensitivityLabelRule -Policy <AutoLabelingPolicyName> -Name <AutoLabelingRuleName> -ContentContainsSensitiveInformation @{"name"= "a44669fe-0d48-453d-a9b1-2cc83f2cba77"; "mincount" = "2"} -Workload SharePoint

For an existing auto-labeling policy, this command creates a new policy rule to detect the sensitive information type of U.S. social security number (SSN), which has an entity ID of a44669fe-0d48-453d-a9b1-2cc83f2cba77. To find the entity IDs for other sensitive information types, refer to Sensitive information type entity definitions.

For more information about the PowerShell cmdlets that support auto-labeling policies, their available parameters and some examples, see the following cmdlet help: