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Phishing Tops Concerns in Microsoft Study of Remote Work

Potential phishing attacks were a top concern of most IT security professionals when organizations switched to remote-work conditions early last year.

The concern about phishing can be found in Microsoft's recently published report on the effects on work conditions in the post-COVID-19 pandemic aftermath. This 65-page report, called "The New Future of Work," is available for download at a new "WorkLab" Microsoft site.

Citing a small internal study, Microsoft found that "a majority (62%) of the respondents (n=85) reported phishing campaigns were the most increased security threats during the COVID-19 crisis." Moreover, those findings aligned with results from a 2020 Google report, Microsoft indicated.

Home Equipment Concerns
IT pros also worried that workers were downloading content over private Wi-Fi networks "that may not be as secure as work connections," a phenomenon that also was linked with the phishing concerns.

Home workers used a number of different devices to access company data, which was deemed to be potentially problematic from a compliance standpoint by the IT pros surveyed. 

Sometimes remote workers used their mobile devices because of having poor private Internet connections. A Microsoft poll of IT decision-makers typically cited "'network and connectivity' and 'enabling devices for remote use' as major tech issues" that arose with the COVID-19 work-from-home response. Workers also lacked equipment such as headsets for use with Microsoft Teams conferences and they had to make do with a single laptop screen at home versus the dual screens they had used at work.

Training and Support
IT departments also needed to educate end users on how to use remote-work software tools. Education on secure remote access was deemed to be one of the long-term impacts of the shift to remote work by 37 percent of security professionals, per Microsoft's internal stats.

A pain point for IT was dealing with hardware issues, which could not be addressed remotely like software issues.

IT as Strategic Asset
Microsoft's report suggested that IT departments were able to move quicker than expected in the shift to support remote work. That capability marked them as a strategic asset for organizations.

"At the onset of COVID-19 we saw a broader role for IT in business, and looking forward we expect to see this trend continue as organizations continue to need to rely on the appropriate technological infrastructure to enable their workforce," wrote report co-authors Matt Brodsky and Adam Coleman, who were responsible for the "IT and Security" section of Microsoft's report.

Organizations told Microsoft that the remote-work phenomenon has created a need to assess worker performance remotely, since it can't be done in person. The report also adopted the view that it was the organizations that refused to modernize their IT infrastructures that were the ones that elected to lay off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the report is more of an impression by its authors, based on some polling of various sorts that have been cobbled together. Some of its conclusions appear to hang on personally related anecdotes, rather than a large set of aggregated data. However, Microsoft deems its study to be the most comprehensive currently available on the remote-work topic.

WorkLab Resource Site
Microsoft launched its WorkLab site with the aim of sharing insights on the remote-work phenomenon, according to Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in his WorkLab introduction. He characterized WorkLab as "a new digital publication devoted to illuminating the future of work, grounded in research and the lessons of the pandemic a year in," per a Microsoft 365 blog post.

WorkLab also got touted by Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365 collaboration for Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive, in another blog post.

The shift to remote work has definitively led to growth for some of Microsoft's services. For instance, since March 2020, SharePoint Online use grew to 200 million active users, while Teams use expanded to 115 million daily active users, Teper previously had explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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