The shift to remote work pushed businesses to reimagine the fabric of apps and cloud services they needed to support their workforces.

The complexion of apps and cloud services used by enterprises has changed considerably in the past year as organizations adjusted to the realities foisted upon them by COVID-19. A new report out today shows the measurable impact the pandemic had in not only accelerating the use of new and existing apps and services supporting remote work, but also a bevvy of next-gen security tools.

Now in its seventh year, Okta’s “Business at Work” report is based on a deep-dive analysis into the usage patterns across 9,400 organizations using more than 6,500 Okta access and authentication integrations with cloud, mobile and Web apps, and IT infrastructure providers. 

The report’s prevailing theme is one of rapid evolution. 

“Organizations and people worked in a year of near-constant change,” said Todd McKinnon, CEO and co-founder of Okta, in a blog post. “When we released last year’s report at the beginning of 2020, we never imagined the critical role technology would play as organizations adapted to the challenges of a global pandemic. The pandemic prompted a rapid shift to remote work and drove companies to adopt innovative ways to keep their workforces connected, secure, and productive.” 

For example, nine of the top 10 fastest-growing apps in the report had never been on the list in previous reports. The list of apps provide a glimpse into the ways companies and their workers adjusted to new realities. It includes new collaboration tools, such as whiteboarding app Miro, interface design and prototyping software Figma, and project management service Monday.com.

With so many HR departments managing distributed workforces, people management platform Lattice made it onto the list. Top of the heap was an app that probably few technologists would have immediately guessed, but which makes total sense: Amazon Business, which surged by 346% as workers rushed to order office supplies and furniture for their new home offices.

And then, of course, were security enablers, which saw significant gains. Four of the top 10 fastest growers were security tools: next-gen firewall Fortinet FortiGate, cloud-native endpoint and workload protection provider VMware Carbon Black, application monitoring service Sentry, and password manager 1Password. 

This speaks to the incredible need security departments faced in managing the risks of a suddenly distributed workforce, with very little leeway from the business to introduce too much security friction. While the general trend over the past two years has been a move away from less-secure factors of multifactor authentication, like SMS, between February and October 2020 the use of SMS for authentication rose by 116% as organizations, the report shows.

However, organizations are likely looking for better solutions in the long run: Okta noted its adaptive authentication form factor was up even more during that time period, seeing a gain of 184%, compared with the steady 28% rise it experienced the six months prior to the pandemic.

Organizations also seemed to be doubling down on already accelerating trends toward “people-centric” security apps. For example, even though security awareness training tool KnowBe4 didn’t make it to this year’s top 10 list this year — it was No. 14 with 46% growth — over the past two years it posted a 194% rate of growth. 

All of this is a natural response to growing threats that have been in evidence in many reports since the start of the pandemic, and which Okta tracked in this one as well. In tracking detected identity-related threats like password spray and anomalous login failures, the firm reports a significant increase in late summer and fall of 2020. The volume of threats varied by industry, with the education industry experiencing the largest ratio of detected threats compared to the volume of authentications of any industry. 

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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