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What is a Cloud Access Security Broker?

by Juliana De Groot on Monday December 23, 2019

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What a cloud access security broker, or CASB? Learn about the benefits, best practices, and use cases in this week's Data Protection 101, our series on the fundamentals of information security.

A cloud access security broker is a useful tool for enforcing company security policies beyond your on-premise infrastructure. As more and more companies are leveraging cloud-based services, the ability to ensure compliance in the cloud is a must.

A Definition of CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker)

A cloud access security broker, or CASB, is a policy-enforcing tool or service located between the on-premise infrastructure and a cloud provider’s infrastructure. A CASB enables an organization to extend its security policies beyond its own infrastructure, ensuring that network traffic is compliant while offering insights into the use of cloud applications across platforms to identify non-compliant use and risky users and applications. In other words, a CASB helps to enforce security, governance, and compliance policies for cloud applications.

Examples of these policies include:

  • Tokenization
  • Malware detection and prevention
  • Credential mapping
  • Authorization
  • Authentication
  • Device profiling
  • Single sign-on

The purpose of CASB is to fill security gaps in individual cloud services, which allows information security professionals to do their job across cloud services. This includes PaaS (platform as a service) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service) environments.

How Does CASB Work?

A cloud access security broker operates by safeguarding the flow of data between in-house IT architecture and cloud provider environments. This is done using the security policies of the company (the customer).

One reason to use a CASB is to help guard the organization against cyberattacks from malware and encryption issues. When a CASB is in place, all data is properly encrypted, ensuring that unauthorized parties who gain access to data can’t interpret it. 

There are four pillars that make CASBs useful:

  • Visibility (identifying who, where, and what devices are accessing cloud apps)
  • Data Security (preventing data leaks due to unauthorized access)
  • Threat Protection (against malicious and negligent users)
  • Compliance (ensures regulations are followed, such as HIPAA and SOX)

10 Use Cases for Cloud Access Security Brokers

There are many ways you can implement cloud access security brokers within your business. Here are several use case examples:

1. Find all cloud services currently in use locally and remotely. This is ideal if you're running hundreds of cloud apps.
2. Create an audit trail for forensic investigations to identify user activity.
3. Locate risks in the cloud apps your organization uses.
4. Implement policies for data uploaded and stored in the cloud.
5. Implement policies that only allow internal users to manage data encryption keys.
6. Block APT attacks targeting APIs.
7. Prevent threats from ransomware, ill-willed employees and hacked accounts.
8. Block APT attacks targeting administrative errors and misconfigurations.
9. Implement policies for data residency.
10. Implement policies to stop third parties from forcing a cloud vendor to disclose your data.

Of course, there are many other ways you can use CASBs in your organization.

What Are the Benefits of CASBs?

Without a CASB integration, your organization is more exposed to both internal and external security threats.

Here's an overview of the top benefits of implementing a CASB into your business.

1. Enhance Visibility of IT Operations

Knowing which cloud applications your teams are using is critical to identifying potential threats. With a CASB, you gain better visibility into the inner-workings of your organization. This includes identifying risky usage of unsanctioned apps.

2. Strengthen Cloud Security

Today's businesses are using more interconnected devices and tools than ever before. This leaves room for all sorts of security threats. In the past, all systems were offline and were only accessible internally. But with cloud-based applications, the risks have increased, and you now must watch out for incoming threats. A robust CASB solution will mitigate risks by monitoring user activities and access to cloud applications.

3. Stop Data Breaches from Occurring

In the past decade, there have been countless data breaches making news headlines. And this doesn't include the thousands of others that occurred in the same time frame. In just the first six months of 2018, there were 945 data breaches. This equates to 4.5 billion records (or 291 records exposed per second). A CASB can help prevent data leaks in your business, even integrating with your data loss prevention solution.

4. Control How Files Are Shared

Allowing employees to share files via personal email platforms, such as Gmail or Yahoo, can be disastrous, especially since Gmail is open source and easy to exploit. But how do you stop employees from doing so? With a CASB, you can impose restrictions on users and apply blocking features to restrict users from sending private and confidential data using these platforms.

5. Manage Admin and Privileged Accounts

Admin and privileged accounts have more access and permissions, which makes them a potential liability. To override this, you can use a CASB to manage restrictions and permissions, and assign prioritization to ensure access and management of data are done in the safest way possible.

Best Practices for Implementing a Cloud Access Security Broker

When it comes time to purchase a CASB for your organization, be sure to assess all of its features. The first thing to look at is how much visibility it will grant into your organization. You want to get detailed information about personal use of sanctioned cloud applications, as well as unknown (potentially risky) storage of confidential data.

Also, be sure to plan for adaptive access and identity integration. This way, you can integrate the CASB with current identity service providers you're using. This will enable access control based on the user, their location, and the time of day.

As you phase in the CASB control scope, be sure to establish metrics for success. For instance, you can host all of your company's sensitive information on two cloud services, then perform risk assessments to ensure the efficiency of the CASB.

You can measure success by looking at factors, such as end-user adoption, number of cloud services managed and monitored, blocked risky behaviors, and time it takes to detect data exposure threats.

If all looks good, you can expand the number of cloud services you use and monitor with the CASB.

Tags: Data Protection 101, Cloud Security

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Juliana de Groot

Juliana is a Marketing Operations Specialist at Digital Guardian. Prior to joining DG, she worked at Dell and CarGurus. She graduated Bentley University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing with a minor in psychology.