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Microsoft will sign inactive users out of Office web apps

Microsoft has provided IT administrators with the ability to sign employees out of Office web applications if they have been idle for a period of time. This feature will help businesses protect corporate data when people use shared, public or personal devices, the company said.

Microsoft started rolling out this feature this week. By the end of August, all enterprise customers will have access to the feature on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive, and SharePoint web apps. Government agencies can access the feature later in the year.

IT admins can set an idle time limit in the Microsoft 365 admin center. When employees reach the limit on a non-work device, they’ll see a pop-up notification giving them the option to stay signed in. If the user does not respond, the software will disconnect him.

The policy will apply to the entire organization and administrators cannot customize it for specific users or departments. This will not affect employees on company-provided devices.

The feature will not sign users out if they are active in other Office web apps on the same browser. For example, suppose an employee has opened Outlook and Excel in Google Chrome. In this case, they will remain connected as long as there is activity in one of the applications.

Microsoft has released a feature to sign out inactive users of its web apps, like Outlook, on shared or unmanaged devices.

Microsoft targeted this feature at the security challenges presented by hybrid and remote working. Employees often use personal laptops and shared computers to check email or edit a Word document. Sensitive data could leak if employees fail to properly log out of their applications.

The risk posed by remote work is a concern for IT professionals. Nearly two-thirds of IT decision makers plan to adopt new security products for remote work, according to a survey by tech media firm Foundry. Security professionals plan to invest more in trustless network access, secure access service edge, and multi-factor authentication projects.

“Features like session expiration can complement these initiatives,” said Raul Castañón-Martínez, analyst at 451 Research.

Nearly 40% of organizations globally plan to make their office spaces more flexible as a result of the pandemic, according to real estate firm JLL. One option to free up space is the shared office, where employees work on shared desks instead of their assigned ones. If workers forget to log out of a shared device on a shared desktop, they could expose confidential information.

Google has a feature that lets businesses set how long employees can stay signed in to Workspace apps, such as Gmail. But it logs workers out even if they are on the app.

Mike Gleason is a journalist specializing in unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole time, Sharon’s lawyer and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as local editor of Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.