Understanding Microsoft Copilot: Features, Security Risks, and How It Works

Microsoft Copilot

Microsoft Copilot is rapidly transforming the way we interact with productivity software. This AI-powered assistant infuses the Microsoft 365 suite with cutting-edge capabilities, automating tasks, generating creative content, and offering insights on the fly.

But, as is the case with many revolutionary technologies, it’s important to understand the mechanics behind Copilot and the potential security risks to consider before fully embracing it. Let’s dive in.

How Does Microsoft Copilot Work?

At its core, Microsoft Copilot is built upon sophisticated large language models (LLMs). These are massive neural networks trained on enormous datasets of text and code. Key technologies include:

  • GPT-Series Models: The foundation of Copilot’s capabilities is the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) models developed by OpenAI. These models are famous for their ability to generate human-quality text, translate languages, write different kinds of creative content, and answer your questions in an informative way. Copilot harnesses this power in a contextually aware fashion within the Microsoft 365 environment.
  • Microsoft Graph: Your data within Microsoft 365—documents, emails, chats, calendar—is organized within what’s called the Microsoft Graph. Copilot taps into this, understanding relationships and the content you’ve produced, making its assistance highly tailored to your work.
  • Privacy and Security Measures: Microsoft emphasizes that Copilot is designed with data privacy as a core principle. The LLM models Copilot uses are not trained on your specific tenant data (company data), safeguarding the confidentiality of your work content.

What Can Microsoft Copilot Do?

Microsoft Copilot is surprisingly versatile. Here’s a sampling of what it can do to streamline your workflow:

  • Content Generation: Need a product summary for a presentation slide? Copilot can generate one based on your existing notes. Struggling to find the right way to phrase an email? It’ll suggest several options.
  • Document Summarization: Copilot can analyze lengthy documents, extracting key points to save you time spent reading and digesting information
  • Code Suggestions: If you work with code, Copilot can help write repetitive elements or suggest functions you might need, much like GitHub Copilot does for software developers.
  • Chat-Based Interface: Within Microsoft 365 there’s a dedicated “Business Chat” experience where you can directly ask Copilot questions or give it instructions in a conversational way. For example, ask it “Summarize the key takeaways from last week’s team meeting” or “Draft an agenda for our project kickoff meeting”

Security Considerations with Microsoft Copilot

While Copilot undoubtedly brings convenience and efficiency, it’s essential to be mindful of potential security issues:

  • Sensitive Data Exposure: Since Copilot can access and process information within your Microsoft 365 environment, make sure to consider the sensitivity of what it might interact with. Highly confidential documents may be best kept outside its reach initially, especially when you’re still getting familiar with the tool.
  • Phishing Attacks: Like any chat-based system, there’s always the risk of well-crafted social engineering attacks or phishing attempts. It’s helpful to remember that Copilot is still a tool, not a human assistant, and treat its responses with a degree of scrutiny.
  • Data Sharing and Compliance: Microsoft states that Copilot adheres to enterprise security and compliance policies. However, it’s prudent to carefully review your organization’s specific data governance rules to ensure alignment and understand how Copilot’s usage might interact with regulations specific to your industry.
  • Integration with External Data (Future): While currently Copilot primarily uses your Microsoft 365 data, future iterations may integrate external web search results. This can expand its capabilities but introduces potential issues with the reliability or trustworthiness of such external sources.

Security Best Practices When Using Copilot

  1. Start Slowly: Begin by integrating Copilot into non-critical workflows, allowing you to gain familiarity and identify potentially sensitive use cases.
  2. Review and Edit Responses Critically: Don’t blindly accept Copilot’s output. Evaluate carefully to ensure it aligns with your intentions and doesn’t inadvertently expose sensitive data.
  3. Leverage IT Policies and Administration: Work with your IT team to establish guidelines and potentially configure restrictions around Copilot’s access and usage
  4. Stay Informed: Microsoft Copilot, and AI technologies in general, evolve rapidly. Stay up-to-date on new features, security patches, and company announcements.

Responsible AI and Evolving Security

One of the core issues around large language models is that they can sometimes generate inaccurate, biased, or harmful content. Microsoft states that they are working with OpenAI to build responsible AI systems, and there are signs of this commitment:

  • Bias Mitigation: Microsoft’s Security Copilot aims to incorporate security-specific understandings that should help mitigate the risk of generating harmful responses that could lead to security breaches.
  • Feedback Loops: Copilot has built-in mechanisms for you to provide feedback on its responses, signaling to the system what’s helpful or unhelpful and assisting with ongoing fine-tuning to improve accuracy.

However, it’s vital to recognize that the field of responsible AI is still evolving. As users of Copilot, we share the responsibility of using it wisely and being mindful of potential risks.

Additional Security Considerations

As Microsoft Copilot expands its feature set, new security considerations will likely emerge. Here are a few to keep an eye on:

  • Integration with Third-Party Apps: If future expansions allow Copilot to directly interact with external applications or data sources beyond the Microsoft ecosystem, that introduces potential new attack surfaces for skilled bad actors to target.
  • “Zero Trust” Mindset: A healthy dose of skepticism is always wise with AI-powered tools. Adopting a zero-trust approach—verifying rather than automatically assuming trust—can help mitigate risks. It’s helpful to remember Copilot shouldn’t necessarily replace traditional security tools and procedures.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: This is especially relevant in the context of chat interfaces. Ensure you’re always interacting with the legitimate Copilot interface and not a malicious actor impersonating it.


Microsoft Copilot demonstrates the power of AI to revolutionize productivity. Its potential benefits make it an appealing solution for boosting efficiency across many organizations. At the same time, this technology is still in its relative infancy.

Security-conscious individuals and IT teams need to approach it with due diligence, understanding its limitations and potential blind spots. It’s crucial to weigh the potential benefits against the risks, carefully implement safeguards, and continually re-evaluate as both the technology and threat landscape evolve.

By adopting a thoughtful and informed approach to Microsoft Copilot, we can harness its capabilities responsibly, reaping the productivity benefits while actively mitigating security risks.

Read more about Microsoft Copilot HERE