Federal agencies have had to deal with a number of challenges in order to achieve the current level of remote work capabilities in response to the pandemic. The most pressing challenge for agencies has been the need to deploy communications and collaboration software rapidly to meet mission requirements. This also presents challenges in terms of understanding the impact of remote work for HR policies, recruitment, and cybersecurity.
“Data and resources and workers are leaving the network. And so a lot of the work that’s going on actually takes place outside of the traditional security boundary,” said Steve Faehl, security CTO at Microsoft U.S. “So current events and the push for work from home capabilities have really helped move everyone in the direction where secure remote work has become an imperative. It has accelerated the adoption of zero trust concepts and started to move federal agencies in that direction.”
That’s why Microsoft has taken a zero trust approach to its Teams deployments. Teams helps employees provide context around what they’re working on through a seamless user interface that combines chat, collaboration, meetings, video and data sharing with a consistent experience across laptops and mobile devices.
“Internally, within Teams Engineering, we actually call Teams the presentation layer to everything else that’s in our cloud,” said Rima Reyes, senior program manager for Microsoft Teams Engineering.
Teams satisfies an agency’s security concerns by meeting compliance and accreditation standards for all lines of business, including FedRAMP and the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Interoperability and Cybersecurity certification.
“We get feedback from federal customers that they find great assurance that we use the same rigor in our services and in the development and operations of those services, as they do in their own environments,” Faehl said. “So all of the same compliance standards that they are required to follow, we follow as well.”
On top of that, Teams is integrated with Azure Active Directory to provide high identity assurance capabilities across various platforms, including mobile devices. That starts with two-factor authentication through phone numbers or the authenticator app, and can also use Windows Hello for Business, which is biometric facial recognition software that helps make multi-factor authentication more transparent.
This level of security is what allowed the US Defense Department to start using teams. Reyes said Teams established a Government Community Cloud tenant for DoD that currently hosts the largest number of users in the world. That has helped the DoD bring all of their servicemen and women onto one platform.
But Teams’ relationship with DoD goes back even further than that.
“Early on, I worked with the CIO’s office at the U.S. Air Force in their deployment of Microsoft Teams to their DoD environment. They were the fastest growing customer in the world just last year,” Reyes said. “The U.S. Air Force’s CIO office also realized that having the latest technology had a direct impact on workforce and airmen retention. We immediately saw a huge uptick in usage for mission-focused scenarios globally. The Air Force has been really unique in the sense that they were so forward leaning so early on, knowing full-well that technology is a key enabler for the military.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs joins the Department of Defense being among federal agencies working to streamline their Teams collaboration services. The VA has completed the largest single-day enablement of Teams with up to 500,000 users joining the platform.
Teams is also mission-oriented, and gives agencies the flexibility they need to configure their settings both across the agency and for specific user groups. This can include allowing only authenticated users to join a meeting, restricting screen-sharing to protect data, and choosing whether to enable third-party apps.
“In Microsoft 365 GCC, which is our FedRAMP Moderate cloud, we recently deployed third party app integration within Teams. Even though Microsoft Teams itself is FedRAMP compliant, we also knew that some customers choose to use other mission-critical applications that may or may not be compliant,” Reyes said. “It was important for us to provide government customers with the ability to choose which applications they wish to integrate and Microsoft not being a hindrance to that decision.”
And that flexibility is due to the policy layer in Teams. It doesn’t put the responsibility on the end-user to do what’s right from a security perspective. It allows the security team within an agency to set parameters and protect the end-users without having to rely on a massive education campaign.
“Microsoft Teams brings productivity into a single platform and gives government organizations the ability to configure their environment to meet their specific needs with customized policies,” Reyes said. “This safe place to work brings together users authenticated with high assurance, data that is protected by encryption, and policies that keep employees safe and compliant by default.”