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Microsoft Teams is perhaps the largest enterprise communication platform in the world. It rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as a key area for business users to maintain productivity.
Teams has over 270 million monthly active users. The pandemic helped accelerate the platform’s reach from 75 million users in April 2020 to 115 million in October 2020, and 145 million in April 2021.
Overall, Gartner recorded a 44% increase in worker use of collaboration tools since 2019, to the point where 80% of workers were using collaboration tools for work by 2021.
While these tools are convenient, their widespread use has opened the door to some serious vulnerabilities.
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For example, according to research released by Vectra yesterday, versions of Teams for Windows, Mac and Linux store authentication tokens in plain text on the underlying device. This is important because it means that if an attacker hacks into a system where Teams is installed, they can gain access to authentication tokens along with other information.
This vulnerability highlights that businesses cannot afford to rely on the security of public-grade communications platforms when communicating sensitive information, IPs and other data.
How bad is the Microsoft Teams vulnerability?
This is not the first time that collaboration tools such as Teams have been criticized for being insecure. At the beginning of this year, Avanan identified a significant increase in cyberattacks taking place over Microsoft Teams, with threat actors using chats and channels to circulate malicious .exe files.
These new vulnerabilities are another chink in the armor of applications that aim to be enterprise-class communication platforms.
“Essentially this is still [the] unsolved problem of stealing cookies and other online credentials by attackers with local access,” said John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich. “That’s not to say it’s not significant. The fundamental problem is that attackers can steal a cookie and use it to any number of machines to play an authenticated machine.”
“I’d like to see developers and technology companies hash those credentials with some local machine-specific information so that cookies and login relay attackers will disappear entirely,” Bambenek added.
The problem with collaboration apps
Collaboration apps are not immune to vulnerabilities. Like any browser-based software, they have underlying bugs and can be targeted with web-based attacks and phishing attempts.
Recently, it emerged that a bug in Slack had exposed some users’ hashed passwords over a period of five years. It came about a year after attackers used stolen cookies to hack EA Games’ personal communications channel, reportedly stealing 780GB of data including the Fifa 21 source code.
The problem is not that solutions like Slack or Microsoft are particularly weak, but that they are not optimized to keep up with the level of sophistication of threats directed at modern organizations from both cybercriminals and state-sponsored actors.
Despite these weaknesses, many organizations continue to share protected information through these channels. According to Veritas Technologies, 71% of office workers globally admit to sharing sensitive and business-critical company data using virtual collaboration tools. So what can organizations do?
Limits the risk of collaboration apps
Vectra reported the new Teams vulnerability to Microsoft in August, but the latter disagreed that the severity of the vulnerability warranted an update.
Regardless, companies handling and managing trade secrets or regulated information must be careful about using communications apps that put high-value data at risk of exposure. That doesn’t mean they should stop using communication apps altogether. But that means they should implement robust controls to reduce the risk of data leakage.
As a Deloitte report notes, “Collaboration technologies, while essential during the wave of virtual work, can pose serious threats to organizational security and privacy if not properly managed. As these technologies expand their reach and prevalence in business operations, organizations should keep their pulse on potential threats, adopt controls where possible and promote service availability.”
In practice, controls include using selected strong randomized passwords, using cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions to identify data exfiltration, implementing platform content guidelines, and deploying web application firewalls to detect application-layer attacks.
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