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Why are Collaboration Tools Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

In a previous lifetime (we’ll call it the late twenty-teens), teams more often than not met in an office. They exchanged ideas face to face in awkwardly built ‘collaboration spaces’, presented sloppy power points, and sent an email summary to their vaguely present coworkers reminding them about important info and upcoming deadlines.

To bridge the gap between endless meetings and the various tasks associated with them collaboration applications increasingly were leaned upon. Regardless of the individual platform, they all claimed to help improve visibility, simplify project management and enhance communication between relevant team members to keep the tasks on track.

With the seismic shifts of 2020 in remote working patterns the stage was set to see: can work and the collaborative exchange continues as normal, assisted by cloud-based collaboration tools?

Rise of Collaboration Applications

The relationship between employee collaboration and innovative output is difficult to quantify. It's not just a matter of connecting x’s and o’s. To understand what enables a team to optimize their skills and produce the most dynamic or value-added, market-ready solution countless factors come into play.

Increasingly, organizations are turning to collaboration platforms, from slack and Trello to Microsoft teams, asana, and many (many) others to simplify communication and grease the wheels of effective cooperation.

According to Gartner “Nearly 80% of workers are using collaboration tools for work in 2021, up from just over half of workers in 2019. This is an increase of 44% since the pandemic began.”

To put just one segment of this market into context, Bloomberg reports that “the global video conferring market only will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.2% until 2025, growing that market to a value of $6.7 billion.” In more direct terms, many analysts believe that the total market for collaboration applications (by 2024 will be) at least $60 billion.

Risks of collaboration

The use of collaboration tools has quickly changed how teams communicate and share vital information. By centralizing tasks, organizing important data and files, and seamlessly integrating numerous vital team members on a near-constant basis, collaboration platforms create a virtual workspace essential for day-to-day operations. But with this innovation comes some pretty notable risks.

Dark Reading puts the abstract into more clear terms. “On average, between 200 and 3,000 companies also have access to anyone company’s data, while some 20% of a typical organization’s SaaS files are shared internally to anyone who can click a link. Collaboration tools like Slack accelerate this issue because sharing direct links from Google Docs and other embedded apps makes it easy to access files.”

While the Corona pandemic supercharged the reliance on collaboration applications, the underlying risk elements associated with this significant transition have been standing in wait.

For cloud-based collaboration tools users and system admins alike must consider:

  • Is your organization implementing regular cyber training to be aware of evolving risks?

  • When data is shared, is it encrypted?

  • Can outside parties access, and send data within the secure network?

  • Is multifactor authentication used throughout the process?

  • Can critical files shared on the collaboration platform be backed externally?

  • Is there a way for IT to audit the risks of each collaboration platform being implemented?

With this seemingly endless abundance of risk factors, organizations must carefully consider which platforms they implement. Moreso it's essential to actively train staff at all levels and departments to manage and report cyber risks, for the safety and security of sensitive data across the broader organization.

How to Mitigate the risk?

This is the part of the story where we all look for quick fixes and cheap solutions to solve the problem and guess what? In this case, there are, indeed a number of straightforward and relatively easy-to-implement procedures that can limit the cyber risk.

The bonus here comes when the steps used to improve basic cyber hygiene on collaboration tools are used in day-to-day digital interactions to alter the broader security posture of the organization as a whole. In practice, the best ways to limit risk and implement industry best practices for those using collaborative tools include:

  • Limit access to collaborative tool pods to only essential users. The more people who have access to important and proprietary information, the greater the risk that information becomes the property of hackers.

  • Always maintain document access permissions, especially for those created or previously accessed by former staff.

  • Promote a holistic employee cyber education program that covers basic cyber hygiene, and best sharing practices.

  • Never share passwords or personal information across the platforms.

What are you doing to help your team make their collaboration tools more secure?

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