Microsoft is developing some new tools for its Microsoft 365 productivity suite that will allow managers and business coordinators to keep an eye on what their employees are doing online, while also stopping any potential threats to the business (whether they be internal or external).
While a new system of detecting malware, ransomware, and viruses is obviously objectively beneficial for a business, the employee monitoring tools could be seen as more of a gray area, and its one that Microsoft have run afoul of before.
There's no concrete release date for these tools – they've simply been announced as a general idea, so we may be hearing more about them down the road.
How Do These New Tools Work?
There are two new tools that were announced back to back via Microsoft's roadmap. One is an employee-monitoring feature, allowing businesses to keep closer tabs on their workers. The other is an internal machine learning technique that can help detect and prevent malicious programs or viruses.
The former isn't just a way of tracking your employees' activities. In theory, it's supposed to be used to see if your employees are going somewhere (virtually, of course) that might pose some kind of risk to their company computer, like a shady website.
The latter is a new machine learning algorithm that detects any kind of risky program or script that might jeopardize the company and its data. These two features would work in tandem to protect the business from any potentially risky malware or ransomware.
Potential actions that can be identified and analysed include:
- Files copied to personal cloud storage
- Files printed to local or network devices
- Files transferred or copied to a network share
- Files copied to USB devices
How Does this Benefit Businesses?
From a pragmatic approach, the benefits are quite obvious. The machine learning method that detects possible malware, ransomware, and viruses has a clear advantage. No business wants to be attacked by these devious programs, so preventing these attacks is a no-brainer.
From a similar approach, monitoring your employees' behavior and making sure they aren't going to harmful sites is also an easy call from a business decision. After all, most businesses already have restrictions in place when it comes to the sites their employees can and can't visit. However, this is far more of a debate that the machine learning system.
Employee tracking is a massive debate. Tracking the eyes of employees working from home was being floated throughout the pandemic, but it was met with uproar about the invasive nature of the software. While this isn't quite as intrusive, tracking your employee's internet activity can definitely be seen as an infringement on their personal space, even if that space is virtual.
Even Microsoft itself has backed off from this space recently, having received backlash for its ‘productivity score', revealed last year as a way of assigning employees a grade for how much work they were getting done. In a blog post in December, it scaled back original plans due to pressure from users:
In response to feedback over the last week, we’re removing that feature entirely. Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures in Productivity Score will only aggregate data at the organization level. – Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365
Other Ways to Protect Your Computer
If you like the sound of this new machine learning system that helps keep your computer safe from ransomware and viruses, you might be interested in some other cyber security software.
Firstly, anti-virus software will serve largely the same function as the Microsoft 365, detecting and eliminating any viruses found within the computer's system, or blocking them from entry in the first place, monitoring downloads, emails and external devices to keep your hardware safe.
Secondly, while these services don't cover much of the same ground as Microsoft 365, password managers and VPNs are still a great idea to help make your device as secure as possible. Password managers help compile all your passwords in one secure location, helping to prevent leaks and password theft, while VPNs ensure that all your browsing is private and safe from any prying eyes.