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3 Clues That Collaboration And File Sharing Tools Are Cloud Security's Weak Link

Cloud collaboration and file sharing applications continue to raise CISOs' blood pressure.

As many organizations still grapple with adopting and enforcing acceptable cloud use policies, shadow IT instances continue to rise. It's forcing IT security to fight risky apps like a game of whack-a-mole. Perhaps no other category of application causes quite as much heartburn and increased risk as collaboration and file sharing tools. Typically designed for the consumer market and primed for sharing information quickly and efficiently, these tools are easy to install and for the most part not ready for sensitive enterprise data. Here are three signs that these tools are the Achilles heel of cloud security programs today.

File Sharing And Collaboration Dominate User Behavior

The sheer number of these applications continues to flood into the enterprise. Overall, the average enterprise now has over 774 distinct cloud applications in use at any given time, according to research by Elastica, which also found that overall the total documents in the cloud has increased by 60 percent in the last six months. The bulk of that is funneled through collaboration and file sharing tools. According to data collected by Skyhigh Networks, data sent to file sharing and collaboration cloud services make up 63 percent of all data uploaded to the cloud.

Not Ready For Enterprise Use

Research from Netskope shows collaboration applications are second behind only marketing applications in the enterprise. For example, many of these applications such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and Slack make up the top 20 tools in the enterprise. But its study of these applications in aggregate finds that just 84 percent of these collaboration and file sharing tools are ready for the enterprise, with appropriate security, audit and certified controls in place.

Users Share Freely

Users today now share about 25 percent of their data broadly within cloud file sharing and collaboration tools, according to Elastica. Of that data, over 12 percent contain compliance data of some sort. This includes PCI data, private health information, and personally identifiable information.

Clearly, there's a need for easy ways to share data effectively in the cloud. The silver lining to all of this is that enterprise policies and consistent enforcement can reduce the risk of collaboration and sharing in the cloud by funneling that demand through enterprise-ready applications. To some degree that work is already underway. One stat to show evidence of this is that a quarter ago Office 365 Outlook and OneDrive for Business weren't in the Netskope top 20 applicaton list. Now they're in the number 8 and 18 spot respectively.

"We believe that the dramatic growth is owed to enterprise IT  directing users to corporate sanctioned apps through policy and user coaching," the recent report from Netskope surmised.

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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Ulf Mattsson
Ulf Mattsson,
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2015 | 11:19:27 AM
Enterprise policies and consistent enforcement can reduce the risk
I agree that "there's a need for easy ways to share data effectively in the cloud. The silver lining to all of this is that enterprise policies and consistent enforcement can reduce the risk of collaboration and sharing in the cloud."

Gartner recently reviewed interesting data security approaches for existing cloud applications that can help organizations that are concerned about data security and compliance with regulations.

The first report is from June 2015 with the title "Simplify Operations and Compliance in the Cloud by Protecting Sensitive Data." Another Gartner report concluded that "Cloud Data Protection Gateways" provides a "High Benefit Rating" and "offer a way to secure sensitive enterprise data and files stored in SaaS applications".

Cloud Gateways sits between users and cloud applications, replacing sensitive data with tokens or encrypted values before it is sent to the cloud. After the data has been processed and returned by the cloud service (i.e. Salesforce, Box, Gmail, Office365, Xactly, etc), the Cloud Gateway "unlocks" the data, making it viewable by approved business users. No one outside your organization can access your data on its journey to and from the cloud.

Ulf Mattsson, CTO Protegrity
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