Do Collaboration Tools Create Security Risks for Your Business?

As companies adopt more diverse technology tools focused on collaboration, security concerns increase. Studies consistently show security is a top focus for companies investing in tools – and these concerns extend to collaboration tools, which can house your most important information, customer data and latest innovation ideas in a single space.

The business world is abuzz with the benefits of collaboration tools: less reliance on email, more organic collaboration on projects and better communication and relationships between teams. Collaboration tools encompass many solutions, including video conferencing, VoIP, document sharing and instant messaging. However, it is also important to think about the security risks that are inherent in tools such as document collaboration platforms, presentation software, remote support tools and virtual events. Each of these can create potential security threats, and evaluating vulnerabilities – and viable solutions – should be a sustainable part of your tool-selection process.

Here’s a closer look at the reality behind the security threats associated with collaboration suites and how to avoid them.

Security Threats to Be Aware of – and Potential Solutions 

Privileged users can compromise sensitive data: Different individuals in the organization may have varying levels of access to your collaboration tool. With collaboration software, information can reside within unique partitions. For example, individual projects or business processes can have their own dedicated spaces, with access restricted to selected team members. If a privileged user’s information is compromised, how much damage can their level of access do? Look at how flexible the collaboration tool’s levels of user access are, and evaluate if there are potential security risks at each level. The right solution should permit administrators to set up tight controls around what information users can see, set alerts when accounts try to access information they’re not permitted to see and offer the ability to immediately terminate access rights for an account that’s been compromised.

Login credential breaches: Are any of your employees still using “password1” for their secure login? Collaboration tools often follow a username and password login model. If they’re hacked, an employee’s access can quickly give outsiders a direct line to financial information, proprietary company data and client information. It’s possible to help mitigate these concerns by having strict password guidelines, requiring users to frequently change their passwords (every three months), and by using device-based recovery rather than password challenges – which hackers can often decode with social engineering.

Web-based threats: Often, collaboration tools are accessed through the public Internet, which exposes the user – and the data – to a number of different threats, including malware and unauthorized tracking. However, by requiring those accessing your collaboration tool to download an app that gives access to confidential information via a secure VPN connection, employees must provide credentials to gain access.

Summary settings: Your collaboration system may be highly secure, but if you’re sending daily summaries to employees, contractors and vendors via a publicly shared email service, it’s possible that you’re inadvertently exposing information. If there are vulnerabilities in your email system – or summaries are going outside your email setup – then you’re likely opening up lines for outsiders to get in. Instead, look for collaboration tools that provide a “recent activities” summary, which can be easily accessed when users log into the secure system.

URL-related issues: Certain hackers are able to gain access to company sites by simply following the standard protocols for Web-based apps. For example, “” can quickly lead you to the personalized site for a company on a Web-based app. At the same time, many collaboration tools pull metadata into URLs in the software itself, which can inadvertently reveal confidential data. Choose a collaboration solution that allows your IT team the flexibility to control security settings and determine a URL structure, which is both customized and secure.

Encryption: Is the solution you’re considering encrypted? While many of today’s top collaboration tools offer some level of encryption, it’s important to understand whether the collaboration tool’s encryption is comprehensive. For example, if you are a healthcare provider, is access to the cloud-based server where the application resides HIPAA HITECH compliant? Check for PCI/DSS compliance if you are a retail business that uses an application software for credit card processing. If not, this may open you to major regulatory compliance risks.

Choosing a Secure Collaboration Solution

Being aware of the security risks associated with collaboration tools shouldn’t stop you from using them. Instead, use these as general guidelines for evaluating vendors and platforms, and for formulating policies and training for your team. It’s possible to capture the full benefit of collaboration tools without opening up your data, network or endpoints to potential threats. When evaluating potential collaboration solutions, consider:

  • How established is the solution you’re considering? Today’s top brands often have the most experienced talent in the security world working around the clock to identify and prevent security issues.
  • What support is required to roll out the solution? Solutions designed for small and mid-size businesses may be DIY or done for you. Determine how much customization the solution requires. Ensure that the vendor provides the necessary support for a successful solution rollout. What training and best practices can you offer to avoid issues? Many security concerns associated with collaboration solutions focus on your people. Consider training and best practices to help minimize issues associated with your team, from violating company policies to inadvertently clicking on malware.
  • End-to-end connectivity. Management of your hosted application environment requires end-to-end visibility and a high-performance connection monitoring security threats and quickly implement changes. Consider a provider with connections from your location directly into the application cloud environment. That way, you’ll have great control over and visibility into attacks and threats to your network.

The benefits of collaboration tools are significant. However, it’s important that companies are aware of the potential security risks and have a plan in place to address them. From establishing company best practices to carefully vetting your vendors, this will be time well spent in terms of long-term ROI.

Interested in safely sharing files and preserving your business' security?