The rise of hybrid work has accelerated digital transformation for organizations of all sizes. As a result, more and more applications and data are moving to the cloud. While this has created a number of benefits — including cost savings, ease of access, and increased operational efficiencies — the cloud has also made it more challenging to protect sensitive data.
By storing data in cloud applications, organizations have less visibility and control than they did when all of their information was stored on premises, and that makes it much more difficult to secure. But despite these challenges, the cloud is here to stay. IT and security teams must find a way to secure cloud applications as their organizations continue to evolve. Existing security solutions simply aren’t designed to protect sensitive data in the cloud, and by understanding the challenges of securing cloud applications, organizations can mitigate the risks and protect their sensitive data.
Why do you need cloud application security?
Cloud applications have opened up a lot of new opportunities for organizations, and they've created a lot of new opportunities for data risk. But securing cloud applications isn't as easy as applying your old security tools to new technologies.
Cloud applications are particularly difficult to secure because you don't have the same visibility and control as you had when all of your corporate data was stored inside the perimeter. In fact, 61% of organizations told the Gartner Peer Community that a lack of visibility and control was their top security concern. As you work to protect your corporate data in the cloud, here are some of the specific roadblocks you need to be aware of.
Access management shortcomings
With the rise of remote and hybrid working environments, there are a lot more unknowns about who and what is attempting to access your corporate data. Employees are using managed and unmanaged devices and Wi-Fi networks that aren't under the control of your IT department. Many organizations use identity access management (IAM) solutions with single sign-on (SSO) to try and regain the control they had when everyone was on premises, but these tools fall short when it comes to protecting data in the cloud.
Access management alone is simply not enough to secure cloud applications. You need a solution that can also authenticate users and enforce data protection policies across all of your cloud applications .
Enterprise DLP can’t protect cloud data
The on-premises data loss prevention (DLP) solutions that many organizations implemented in the past simply aren’t made for the cloud. And since that’s where much of your data is now, an enterprise DLP solution won't be able to give you the visibility you need. While it may be possible to extend an on-premises solution into the cloud, it requires backhauling traffic onto your corporate perimeter, which is incredibly inefficient and can end up limiting productivity for hybrid workers.
Standalone SWG limitations
A traditional secure web gateway (SWG) — whether it's located on premises or in the cloud — can protect cloud assets when they are accessed via the internet. But even though they can block incoming threats, they can't do much to prevent outbound data movement. This shortcoming means that organizations relying on a standalone SWG are still vulnerable to accidental and malicious data loss.
What data risks can you solve with cloud application security?
Your organization’s sensitive data is now sprawled across dozens of different cloud applications, creating a larger attack surface than when all your data was located inside the perimeter. And these risks are compounded by the fact that users are connecting from a variety of networks and devices. As you continue your digital transformation and adopt more cloud applications, these are the biggest risks you need to be aware of.
Often, the biggest threat to corporate data in the cloud is your organization’s own employees, often referred to as insider threats. This kind of data loss is both commonplace and difficult to detect — whether it’s accidental leakage, or malicious exfiltration by a rogue employee. To recognize and prevent insider threats, you need to be able to recognize anomalous behavior and apply DLP and enterprise digital rights management (EDRM) tools that prevent sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands.
In the cloud era, shadow IT is inevitable. Employees frequently sidestep the IT department to use the applications that are most convenient for them. This includes productivity web applications that were not vetted by your team, personal accounts of enterprise applications like Google Workspace, and even generative AI platforms like ChatGPT. Your users are also using the cloud to collaborate with users outside your organization, which means your data could flow to applications that are owned by partner organizations or third-party contractors.
While sharing data using cloud and web applications have boosted productivity, it has also resulted in a loss of visibility and control over what’s happening with your sensitive corporate data. You can’t simply think about the cloud applications that your organization controls.
Cloud configurations are often incredibly flexible, which means you can tailor them to suit your organization's exact needs. But with this flexibility comes complexity. If your IT and security teams don't have deep knowledge of the cloud services they are configuring, misconfigurations can occur. While this may not sound like a big deal, misconfigurations were one of the leading causes of breaches in 2020, costing organizations an average of $4.41 million per breach.
With most organizations deploying hundreds of cloud applications, IT teams are left to manage a patchwork of operations and security controls, and there’s plenty of opportunity for human error. To address these risks, you need a security solution that gives you centralized visibility into all of your cloud applications.
Email data leakage
Corporate email is one of many services that organizations are migrating to the cloud, and it's a potent source of data leakage. Employees use their emails to send sensitive company data to third parties all the time, which means that data is leaving your sphere of influence. When email services were on premises, they could be secured by an on-premises DLP solution, but when using a cloud-hosted service like Gmail or Microsoft Exchange Online, legacy solutions become clumsy and inefficient.
Instead, email should be treated like any other cloud application, with a cloud DLP solution that can enforce policies to prevent accidental and malicious data sharing via email. This includes the ability to remove email addresses when an email is sent, masking information within the body of an email, or encrypting attachments so that only authorized users have access.
Cloud environments have made it more difficult for IT and security teams to understand who is accessing data, and one compromised account can end up wreaking havoc on your infrastructure. Typically, attackers are able to compromise credentials using socially engineered phishing campaigns, and Lookout data shows that in 2022, mobile phishing encounters were higher than ever.
But regardless of how credentials are acquired, once an attacker gains access, they can easily move laterally through your system and steal data while posing as an employee. In the cloud, context-based, zero-trust access controls like UEBA, DLP, and EDRM are critical to recognizing and putting a stop to account takeovers.
The must-have capabilities to secure cloud applications
As you adopt cloud applications and services, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice the security of your data. To learn more about how to secure data in SaaS applications, check out our free e-book, 4 Must-Have Capabilities Your SaaS Security Needs to Protect Data in the Cloud. You’ll learn more about why it’s hard to protect cloud data using existing solutions, the major data protection challenges, and the capabilities you need to safeguard your data in the cloud.
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4 Must-Have Capabilities Your SaaS Security Needs to Protect Cloud Data
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