INSIGHTS | September 7, 2017

The Other Side of Cloud Data Risk

What I’m writing here isn’t about whether you should be in the cloud or not. That’s a complex question, it’s highly dependent on your business, and experts could still disagree even after seeing all of the inputs

What I want to talk about is two distinct considerations when looking at the risk of moving your entire company to the cloud. There are many companies doing this, especially in the Bay Area. CRM, HR, Email—it’s all cloud, and the number of cloud vendors totals in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.

We’re pretty familiar with one type of risk, which is that between the internet and the cloud vendor. That list of risks looks something like this:

  • The vendor is compromised due to a vulnerability
  • An insider at the vendor leaves with a bunch of data and sells or posts it
  • Someone at the vendor misconfigures something and the internet finds it

The list goes on from there.

But the side of that cloud/vendor risk that companies don’t seem to be as aware of is their own insider access: while one risk is that the vendor does something stupid with your data, another is that your own employees do the same.

Considerations around insider access are numerous:

  • Employees with way too much access to sales, customer, employee, financial, and other types of data
  • No ability to know whether that data is being downloaded, by whom, and how much
  • No ability to detect that data on endpoints
  • No control of which endpoints access the data
  • No ability to control where that data is then sent

The situation in so many cloud-based companies is that they enable business by providing access to these cloud systems, but they don’t control which endpoints can reach that data. Users may get in through web apps, mobile apps, or other means. It’s application-based authentication that doesn’t know (or care) what type of device is being used: a 12-year-old desktop with XP on it, or an old Android device that hasn’t been updated in months or years.

Even worse is the false sense of security gained from spending millions on firewall infrastructure, while a massive percentage of the workforce either doesn’t work at the office or doesn’t hairpin back into the office through a VPN. The modern workforce—especially in these types of environments—increasingly connects from a laptop at home (or at a co-work site or coffee shop) directly to the backend, which is the cloud.

This puts us increasingly in a situation where most of the NetSec products we’ve been investing in for the last 15 years are moot, for the simple reason that fewer and fewer people are using the corporate network.

For cloud-based companies especially, it’s time to start thinking about AuthZ and AuthN from not just the user and app perspective, but from a complete endpoint perspective. What is the device, OS, patch levels, malware controls, etc., combined with the user auth, for any given access to an application and the data within?

The risk from a compromised vendor is significant, but it’s also largely outside of a company’s control. Anyone who’s been in security for a while knows that there are thousands of companies with X, Y, or Z certifications, or positive audit results when they absolutely shouldn’t have passed. It’s really hard to know how safe your data is when it’s sitting with hundreds of cloud vendors.

What you can do is to get better control over what your own people are doing with that same data, and that starts with understanding who’s accessing it, and from what devices.