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8/12/2016
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Trouble In the Cloud: More Than Half Of Organizations Facing Security Woes

Survey shows security professionals are grappling with unauthorized data sharing and other security incidents in SaaS cloud environments.

Companies are still struggling with security and compliance concerns related to inappropriate use or access of sensitive cloud data, a new report shows.

In fact, 59% of organizations surveyed reported cloud security incidents related to unwanted external sharing and 47% reported incidents involving access from unauthorized devices, according to the Mitigating Risks For Cloud Applications, a survey of 176 information security professionals conducted by the Cloud Security Alliance and Bitglass.

Survey respondents also reported cloud data synced to lost/stolen devices, employees credential compromise, and malicious insiders as problems, but those issues received less than a third of votes (32%, 28%, 22% respectively), according to the report.

The report focuses on the software-as-a-service segment of the cloud market, which continues to steadily grow as organizations realize SaaS apps can be more secure than on premise-based business and office productivity apps. In fact, some observers see the SaaS segment growing 19.7% over the next four years, and adoption is expected to double.

Companies implementing SaaS apps need to strike a balance between blocking external sharing capabilities of applications and opening up that functionality to allow greater collaboration between employees and business partners, says Salim Hafid, product manager with Bitglass, a provider of cloud access security broker technology (CASB).

For instance, an employee might share a Google Apps spreadsheet with with social security numbers or a Word document with protected health information. An organization needs to be alerted when a file has sensitive information, Hafid notes. “So the challenge becomes finding a solution that can stop external sharing when necessary and allow sharing for data you want employees to share and collaborate on," he says.

Shadow IT Still Haunting Orgs

A related security concern is Shadow IT, applications such as cloud storage service Dropbox used by employees without explicit approval.

Sixty-two percent of the survey respondents say their companies have written policies discouraging use of unsanctioned apps, but few have technical controls in place. Thirty-eight percent outright block unsanctioned apps, while just 29% use a proxy or firewall to redirect users.

The ease within organizations for employees to use unsanctioned apps such as Dropbox makes control difficult, says Hafid. “I am not sure whether it is a lack of awareness or people are not aware of solutions to control unsanctioned apps. But 62% of people using written policies is not effective,” he says, noting that users find ways to bypass policy.

Cloud visibility is also lacking. Only 28% of the organizations have visibility into user logins and 29% have audit logs. Even more troubling, less than half (49%) know where and when sensitive data is being downloaded from the cloud, though companies in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) (63%) were significantly more likely to have visibility into file downloads than companies in the Americas (40%).

Applications such as Microsoft Office 365 provide visibility, giving administrators information about who is downloading files and frequency of log-ins, Hafid says. “But you don’t have cross application visibility.”

So organizations run the risk of not knowing if someone is downloading corporate data from off-site applications. “If you only have visibility into one application, you don’t have a sense of what is happening across the organization.”

Many of the organizations in the survey are looking at CASB to help monitor data activity and enforce policies across multiple apps. Sixteen percent have already deployed the technology while 16% plan to in 2016 with 28% planning to deploy CASBs after 2016. Another 40% have no plans to implement the technology.

CASBs are on-premises, or cloud-based security policy enforcement points, placed between cloud service consumers and cloud service providers to combine and interject enterprise security policies as the cloud-based resources are accessed, according to the consulting firm Gartner.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of large enterprises will use a cloud access security broker solution for their cloud services, which is up from fewer than 5% in 2015.

Ganesh Kirti, chief technology officer with Palerra, a developer of CASB technology, notes the survey findings correspond with what Palerra is hearing from companies about their security concerns.

However, SaaS is only part of the cloud picture. Companies are migrating workloads into infrastructure-as-a-service cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Third-party cloud systems are integrating with on premise infrastructures, and more external automated tools are invoking and accessing enterprise infrastructures. Plus, enterprise application developers are using cloud-based platform as-a-service infrastructures to develop software and systems, Kirti notes.

So there are multiple security touch-points that enterprises need to monitor and have visibility into. “SaaS is important but it is equally important that enterprises when looking at cloud adoption take a look at their entire area of cloud usage,” Kirti says.

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Rutrell Yasin has more than 30 years of experience writing about the application of information technology in business and government. View Full Bio

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