Government employees rely on Microsoft. That could be a security issue, Google claims

Google Cloud has released the results of a study showing that the widespread use of Microsoft tools in government is making employees less secure.

The company asked employees through its Public Opinion Strategies poll about the US government’s reliance on Office and Microsoft productivity software such as Word, Teams, Outlook and OneDrive.

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Respondents were asked, “Do you believe that the federal government’s reliance on Microsoft products and services makes it more or less vulnerable to hacking or a cyber attack?”

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The 2,600 people surveyed by Google Cloud included 600 employees from the DC metro area and 338 employees from federal, state, or local governments across the US.

Across the country, 60% of government employees said the government’s reliance on Microsoft’s productivity technology makes it more vulnerable. In the DC metro area, 57% of government employees felt the same way. However, workers in general were more divided on the question: 51% of all workers nationwide said yes, while 49% in DC thought so.

While the survey results are well balanced, Google Cloud’s take on the results was: “Government workers say Microsoft technology is making them less secure.”

“More than half of all respondents said that the government’s reliance on these Microsoft products made the federal government more vulnerable to hacking or cyber-attacks,” Jeanette Manfra, senior director of Global Risk and Compliance at Google Cloud, said in a blog post.

Manfra, who joined Google Cloud in 2020 after a senior position at the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), said the US government was hampered by outdated software and a “legacy mindset”.

“Many government agencies continue to rely on the same legacy productivity software,” says Manfra.

But Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications, said it was “not helping” to create divisions in the security community at a time when everyone should be working together to be more vigilant. “We will continue to work together across the industry to jointly defend our customers and government agencies, and we will continue to support the US government with our best software and security services,” he said in a statement.

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The survey also asked respondents why government IT still relies on Microsoft, and why their employer chooses Microsoft tools, and the answers did not indicate a huge enthusiasm for change.

More than half (55%) of employees said this was because the tools help them do their jobs most effectively; 45% said this was because their employer has always used the same products and services and doesn’t want to change.

But Manfra says respondents believed that choosing Microsoft “had more to do with sluggishness than innovation.”

Manfra argues that this trend could lead employees to use services at work that are not approved by IT departments, also known as “shadow IT”. The Google Cloud survey found that 35% of government employees in DC metros have used shadow IT at work, and a whopping 41% of employees are between 20 and 34 years old. Manfra also notes that his survey found that 70% of government employees use Gmail outside of work.

Microsoft Office 365’s rival is Google Workspace, which received FedRAMP High authorization in November. Google also received IL4 authorization from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in November: Microsoft points out that Office 365 is accredited for IL6.

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