Tag Archives: file sharing

Use of Cloud Apps Creates Data Leakage

A large U.S. cable television company recently sought to better understand how its employees were using cloud apps to stay productive. Management had an inkling that workers routinely used about a dozen or more cloud file sharing and collaboration apps.

Ed note_CipherCloud_Willy Leichter

An assessment by CipherCloud showed the employees actually were using 204 cloud services that posed a security risk: 78 cloud storage apps and 126 collaboration apps, many of which included file-sharing functions.

Emerging risk: A major concern for the cable company was that sensitive information about customers and employees could leak unnoticed beyond its network perimeter.

Free cloud file storage makes it convenient to share data quickly and widely. The company learned that sensitive files had been moved into folders accessible to people who should not have had access to the information.

Wider implications: Like many organizations, the cable company routinely stores customer transactions data as well as employee healthcare data covered by HIPAA privacy rules. The rising use of free Web apps by employees has created many more opportunities for data leakage and could lead to sanctions and fines – or, worse, an embarrassing, expensive data breach.

The cable company set up sanctioned accounts with a popular cloud storage service-Box-for employees to use. It also has begun examining other steps it can take to impose tighter controls around sensitive company records.

Excerpts are from ThirdCertainty’s interview with Willy Leichter of CipherCloud. (Answers edited for length and clarity.)

3C: Can you outline how the rising use of cloud apps in the workplace is creating security issues?

Leichter: A typical process is one person sends you something from a Dropbox account, and suddenly you become a Dropbox user. Or, often, departments will say, “OK, we’re going to use Dropbox or Hightail for this particular project,” and it kind of grows department by department. It grows virally.

The challenge is the very nature of the whole file-sharing world. It’s like Swiss cheese. It’s designed to be very easy to share and to open up public links and to let another person in.

That’s where this cable company approached us. They had about a dozen different things they knew about and wanted to standardize.

3C: You found a lot more than a dozen cloud apps in use.

Leichter: We found well over 1,000 cloud apps, what we call shadow IT apps, that they were using. We have about 20 different categories of such apps; it could be software development tools, or it could be social tools. In one category, file-sharing tools, we found more than 120 apps. This one category is probably the most actionable category because file sharing involves sending people documents.

3C: How did this discovery help the cable company?

Leichter: They were trying to do two things. They were trying to standardize on two or three different file-sharing services and use monitoring tools on them. And they also wanted to shut down the worst offenders, which you can do easily enough.

3C: In general, what kinds of malicious or worrisome activity are you seeing in shadow IT?

Leichter: It’s kind of a spectrum. Officially sanctioned apps are being scanned in real time, using tools we and others make. That’s kind of a new world. We can give you all kinds of detail about who’s using all these apps. Then there’s the other 90% of the apps in shadow IT.

Anomalies can be where someone is sending huge amounts of files to some strange apps. Or someone is downloading stuff they shouldn’t be at two in the morning. Or it could be multiple people using the same account from different IP addresses. Someone is logging in from San Jose and then an hour later they’re logging in from Beijing. You can spot a lot of these and take steps to shut them down.

3C: What else surprised the cable company?

Leichter: One of the things they learned is why people were doing this. For the most part, it was because the company wouldn’t pay for them to use an account. So they were account hopping from one freebie to the next. It was because people just did not want to pay for stuff.

So now the company is trying to steer people to use better practices through outreach and education. And it also is buying them accounts.

Cloud Apps Routinely Expose Sensitive Data

An alarming number of cloud-based apps used by enterprise employees don’t encrypt data at rest or require two-factor authentication.

And an astounding number of employees are still uploading highly sensitive data to the cloud and sharing files on unsecured platforms, according to the Cloud Adoption Risk Report Q4 2014 from cloud security vendor Skyhigh Networks.

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The recent breach of 80 million records at health insurer Anthem was an example of how cloud services that don’t encrypt data leave personal records exposed to savvy cybercriminals.

The Q4 report was based on usage data from 15 million employees at 350 companies worldwide. It found that the average company used 897 cloud services in the fourth quarter of 2014, up from 626 the year before.

Data at Risk

While the number of cloud providers that have invested in key security features more than doubled last year, still only 11% encrypt “data at rest” — inactive files stored in data bases. Only 17% have multifactor authentication.

“In light of the recent breaches, that’s alarming,” says Kamal Shah, Skyhigh’s vice president of products and marketing.

“The Anthem breach is a great example of how, if you’re not careful, cloud services can be used to exfiltrate data out of the organization,” he says.

More than a third of users uploaded at least one file with sensitive information to a file-sharing cloud service, Skyhigh found. Some of that information included customer Social Security numbers (SSN), date of birth, credit card or bank account numbers and personal health records.

Skyhigh also found that 22% of files uploaded to cloud-based file sharing apps had sensitive or confidential information. At the same time, 11% of documents were shared outside the enterprise, and 18% through third-party email services like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail, which don’t encrypt data at rest.

File-Sharing Exposure

The growing trend in file sharing is driven by the limitations of email, Shah says. Besides having size constraints as files get larger, email is a static environment.

“File-sharing is much more active — a living, breathing space,” he says.

Less surprising in the study was the number of compromised identities — especially given the record number of breaches and vulnerabilities in 2014. Skyhigh found that 92% of companies have compromised credentials, with 12% of users affected, on average, at each company.

“A lot of people use the same passwords for their work life as they do for their personal life, and when they’re compromised, those credentials can be used to steal corporate data,” Shah says.

The trends driving the rapid cloud adoption are driven by legitimate business needs, Shah notes. Which means the old way of doing business — by simply restricting app usage — no longer works for IT managers.

“Shadow IT is not bad because employees are using these cloud services for the right reasons,” he says. “The old way of blocking services is no longer effective.”

What that means for IT administrators is the need to educate their employees about the risks of apps that are not enterprise-ready, he says. (Skyhigh’s definition of enterprise-ready includes cloud services that rank one to three on a scale to 10 based on attributes like encryption, two-factor authentication, legal condition of service and so on.)

Despite all the breaches, the use of cloud adoption will continue to accelerate rapidly, Shah says.

“For enterprises, there’s urgency to take action before it’s too late,” he says. “If you don’t act now, the problem will get bigger and bigger.”

This article was written for ThirdCertainty by Rodika Tollefson.