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Security risks caused by casual, collaborative communication

Jonathan Christensen
cyber

The UK workforce is increasingly putting its trust in these platforms to conduct business. The survey revealed that 33 percent have sent customer information via these platforms, 25 percent have shared personnel information such as HR and pay details, with 21 percent having used these tools to send company financial information. Contributor Jonathan Christensen, Chief Experience Officer – Symphony.

The Symphony Workplace Confidential survey looked into the growth of new collaboration tools and platforms entering the workplace. Despite the fact that 94 percent have confidence the information shared via these platforms is safe from external eyes, a shocking 24 percent were not even aware of their employer’s own IT security guidelines. 

With many of these applications not protected with end-to-end encryption, and employees admitting to using them for sensitive data, this points towards a worrying gap in security knowledge. 

“The way we work is changing,” states Jonathan Christensen, Chief Experience Officer at Symphony. “Collaboration platforms and other innovations bring positive improvements that enable more flexibility and better work-life balance. But a more casual approach to workplace communications, and digital habits in general, presents major security risks. Employees won’t keep secure practices on their own, and employers must consider how they will secure workforce communication over messaging and collaboration tools, just like they did with email.” 

The research also uncovered other worrying trends that put employers at risk. 

Collaboration: The Key to Solving the Productivity Puzzle?
Adopting collaboration tools can be seen as a way to increase workplace productivity in the UK, improve employee well-being, and lower stress levels. When asked about which workplace channels make them feel most overwhelmed at work, a formidable 69 percent of UK employees pointed towards email, whereas only 11 percent said the same of collaboration platforms. 

In a bid to cut down on email overload, UK employees identified several workplace tasks that they would prefer to be moved onto a workplace collaboration platform, with the most popular including:

  • Scheduling meetings –  50 percent
  • Internal team conversations – 43 percent
  • Internal team actions –  36 percent

Only 6 percent of respondents thought messaging apps were more harmful for productivity, with 47 percent stating these tools made them more productive.

Christensen observes that: “Workers feel the productivity benefits of collaboration tools when compared to email as these tools tend to reduce context switching. This is particularly true where integrations with business processes enable automation tools such as bots to help complete tasks.”  

Blurring Personal and Professional Lines
However, while seen as a productive alternative to email, this same survey revealed that more than just work conversations are happening on these platforms, with:

  • 51 percent discussing social plans
  • 44 percent sharing memes and photos
  • 18 percent admitting to asking a co-worker out on a date

This ease of communication poses a danger of creating a casual attitude to workplace communications, as the same question also revealed that 29 percent admitted to talking badly about a client or customer, 19 percent had shared a password, with 15 percent even going so far as to share credit card details over these platforms. Should this information fall into the wrong hands, it would cost the employer both on a financial and reputational level.

“The flow of conversation in collaboration apps can be powerful for building team cohesion and productivity, but managers have to ensure that the ability to have casual conversations does not lead to the casual handling of sensitive information. Having the ability to securely deploy appropriate monitoring and surveillance tools to ensure that data leaks are prevented, as has been done with email and telephone systems, is critical, particularly for regulated environments,” added Christensen. 

Increased Mobility Equals a Greater Security Risk
As well as being identified as a means to improving productivity, 79 percent believe these tools makes it easier to work remotely. While this is a positive move in powering a modern workforce, this also presents its own security challenges: 

  • 39 percent admit to accessing these tools from their personal computer
  • 49 percent use their personal phone (higher than 40 percent who use a work issued phone) 
  • 10 percent even admitted to using a publicly available computer 

“Having access to messages and the relevant documents in them, from any device, is a powerful tool for ensuring work can flow, but it is critical that when enabling access from untrusted devices that the business’ security, compliance and data policies can still be enforced,” noted Christensen. “The lines between personal and professional life are increasingly blurred. While this brings improvements in productivity and work-life balance, it also poses more security challenges and a greater risk for employers.”

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