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Microsoft Teams vulnerability shows the danger of collaboration apps

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Microsoft Teams is perhaps the biggest business communication platform in the world. It has risen to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as a key space for enterprise 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.

Globally, Gartner recorded a 44% increase in the use of collaboration tools by workers since 2019, to the point that 80% of workers were using collaboration tools for work in 2021.

While these tools are handy, their widespread use has opened the door to serious vulnerabilities.

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For example, according to a study published 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 with Teams installed, they can gain access to authentication tokens as well as other information.

This vulnerability underscores that enterprises cannot afford to rely on the security of consumer-grade communication platforms when communicating sensitive information, IP addresses and other data.

How serious is the Microsoft Teams vulnerability?

This isn’t the first time that collaboration tools like Teams have been criticized for their lack of security. At the beginning of this year, Avanan identified a significant increase in cyberattacks on Microsoft Teams, with threat actors using chats and channels to spread malicious .exe files.

These new vulnerabilities are another flaw in the armor of applications that aim to be enterprise-grade communication platforms.

“In essence, it’s still [the] unresolved issue of cookies and other web credentials being stolen by attackers with local access,” said John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich. “That doesn’t mean it’s not significant. The fundamental problem is that attackers can steal a cookie and use it on any number of machines to replay an authenticated machine.

“I would like developers and tech companies to send these hashed credentials with local machine-specific information so that cookie and credential relay attackers go away completely,” Bambenek added.

The problem with collaboration apps

Collaboration applications are not immune to vulnerabilities. Like any browser-based software, they have underlying bugs and can be targets of web attacks and phishing attempts.

Just recently it appeared that a bug in Soft exposed the hashed passwords of some users over a period of five years. This happened about a year after attackers used stolen cookies to hack EA Games’ personal communication channel, allegedly stole 780 GB of data, including source code for Fifa 21.

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 sophisticated threats targeting modern organizations from both cybercriminals and state-sponsored actors.

Despite these weaknesses, many organizations continue to share protected information through these channels. According Veritas Technologies, 71% of office workers worldwide admit to sharing sensitive and critical business data using virtual collaboration tools. So what can organizations do?

Limit the risk of collaboration applications

Vectra reported the new Teams vulnerability to Microsoft in August, but Microsoft disagreed that the severity of the vulnerability warranted a fix.

In any case, companies that handle and manage trade secrets or regulated information should exercise caution when using communications applications that expose high-value data. That doesn’t mean they have to stop using communication apps altogether. But that means they need to put robust controls in place to reduce the risk of data leakage.

As Deloitte report notes, “Collaboration technologies, while vital during the rise 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 must keep a pulse on potential threats, implement controls where possible, and promote service availability.

In practice, controls include using selected strong random passwords, using cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions to identify data exfiltration, implementing content guidelines for platforms and deploying a web application firewall to detect application layer attacks.

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