Microsoft maintains an internally ‘prohibited’ software list and Slack is on it

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Back in the day, Microsoft seemingly kept a long list of enemies otherwise known as competitors, as the company’s product portfolio grew in ambition. However, the days of vindictive and arguably petty Microsoft seem to be behind the company as it’s enemies list shrinks and its collaboration roster expands, yet, there are still a few areas in where the company keeps a healthy competitive nature and to that end, some software, services, and companies remain on a figurative and literal blacklist.

According to a report from GeekWire, not only does Microsoft have a figurative blacklist, there is a literal blacklist of products that have been obtained and services from the following companies are frowned upon in internal use by the Redmond-based software company including obvious names such as Amazon Web Services and Kaspersky as well as a few head-scratchers in Grammarly and GitHub.

Perhaps, the most noteworthy exclusions comes from recent IPO darling Slack, to which Microsoft offers a competitor product in its Teams communication service. Unlike its more neutral stance on cross-platform usage and development, Microsoft seems to be taking an active roll in discouraging and even prohibiting the use of Slack by company employees.

Microsoft Teams 2

However, before the anti “M$” stans hit the internet, GeekWire does explain the full context of Slack’s addition to Microsoft’s blacklist. Microsoft does not appear to be arbitrarily picking and choosing software and services to keep its employees from using, but rather justifies the list primarily with security concerns.

According to Microsoft’s reasoning, Slack usage within the company to transmit and receive sensitive data puts could put projects and company divisions at risk.

“It’s not just the risk that Google will try to find trade secrets from data stored on their servers,” said Christopher Budd, who has worked in security technology for 20 years, including past roles in Microsoft security and privacy communications. “When you’re at Microsoft, you’re at risk of state sponsored industrial espionage. These days we generally think of hacking in criminal or traditional geopolitical espionage. But industrial espionage is still out there and brings the full force of nation-state hacking to bear.”

To that end, here is the reasoning Slack, GitHub, AWS, and Grammarly make the list.

Slack Free, Slack Standard and Slack Plus versions do not provide required controls to properly protect Microsoft Intellectual Property (IP). Existing users of these solutions should migrate chat history and files related to Microsoft business to Microsoft Teams, which offers the same features and integrated Office 365 apps, calling and meeting functionality. Learn more about the additional features that Teams can provide your workgroup. Slack Enterprise Grid version complies with Microsoft security requirements; however, we encourage use of Microsoft Teams rather than a competitive software.

GitHub is perhaps the most surprising inclusion on the “discouraged” list, given Microsoft’s ownership of the coding repository. However, it’s not an outright ban. Microsoft cautions employees not to use GitHub “for Highly Confidential types of information, specs or code.”

Amazon Web Services, which competes with Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and Google Docs, which competes with Office 365, are both “discouraged for use” and “will require a business justification” to be used, according to the internal Microsoft summary. “It is highly recommended to start a migration plan to Azure prior to engaging the Governance team for new request or renewals,” the summary reads.

Grammarly, the writing and grammar-checking technology, is on the “prohibited” list. “The Grammarly Office add-in and browser extensions should not be used on the Microsoft network because they are able to access Information Rights Management (IRM) protected content within emails and documents,” Microsoft said, cautioning that this could lead to the exposure of sensitive data, and noting that Microsoft security is evaluating what can be done to make the technology secure for use within the company.

While Microsoft may have a valid security concern to put competing software such as Slack on its ‘prohibited and discouraged’ blacklist both companies have publically admitted that they are active and direct competitors in a market. Microsoft finally acknowledges Slack as its main rival in chat communication in its annual 10-K report, despite Slack chipping away at both Outlook and Skype audiences for years. Slack also made note of Microsoft’s presence in chat with both a full-page ad in the New York Times two years ago as well as listing the company as its “primary competitor in IPO documentation last year.

Interestingly enough, there seems to have been a time when Microsoft employees weren’t so forcibly discouraged from using Slack as HoloLens developers had and maintained a pretty trafficked channel on Slack. Presumably, the use of Slack was allowed, if not simply just frowned upon, prior to the rollout of Microsoft’s own homebrewed Teams software and the recent IPO of its competitor.

For Microsoft, the days of petty feuds and industry squabbling seem to be behind mostly the company, but Slack’s recent IPO and Microsoft Teams recent traction with businesses have put the two offerings on a collision path of sorts, and we’ll see how long the two remain relatively civil and keep their rivalry to just internal blacklists.