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Activities in the Cloud, and What They Mean

Nov 05 2015
Cloud Best Practices
Cloud Security
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Tools and Tips

Each quarter we report on aggregated, anonymized findings such as top used apps, top activities, and top policy violations from across our customers using the Netskope Active Platform.

While this season’s report highlights industry usage, especially data violations in industries like healthcare and retail, an important area we dug into was activities. Unlike perimeter solutions that articulate activity in cloud services in “gets” and “posts” and measure them in bytes up or down, we can tell the actual activity, like “share,” “upload,” “create,” “post,” “edit,” “download,” “approve,” and so on. Because we normalize these activities, we can see usage in aggregate, for example, all “shares” whether they’re in Cloud Storage, CRM, Business Intelligence, or Finance apps. This gives our customers a sense for where the non-compliant or risky activities are likely to be, what constitutes real data movement (versus just a chatty app), and potential data exposure, as well as enables our customers to know where to set granular, activity-level policies that address real risk (versus taking a coarse-grained, allow-or-block approach).

With that in mind, here are some activity-level aggregate findings (and my attempt at interpreting them!) that, when put into the context of their cloud app categories, are unexpected or at least put risk into stark relief. Here goes…

We start with Cloud Storage (apps like Dropbox, Box, Microsoft 365, and Google Workspace):

  • “Share” is the most common activity
  • For every “login,” there are four “shares”
  • For every “upload,” there are two “downloads”

Why do we care about “downloads” and “shares?” These are activities associated with data leakage and exposure. When IT doesn’t always have visibility into what apps are in use, much less what content is housed in them, data-exposing activities take on new meaning. Is that file that’s being shared a photo or a non-public draft of your quarterly earnings release?

Another category we looked at is HR (apps like SuccessFactors, Workday, Taleo, and Cornerstone OnDemand):

  • “Download” is the fourth most common activity
  • There are nearly as many “downloads” as “uploads”
  • “Share” is a top-ten activity

Why do we care about “downloads” in HR? Unlike apps that we hear a lot about, such as Dropbox and Evernote, HR apps are often not on IT’s radar. This means organizations often don’t know the extent of HR apps in their environment, who’s administering them, and whether the apps have proper access and data controls in place. With this lack of visibility as a backdrop, “download” of information can signal a policy violation and potentially exposure of sensitive employee information. What if the downloader is not in HR? What if they’re a former HR director who left the company two weeks ago?

Finally, we looked at Business Intelligence apps (apps like Qualtrics, Birst, or Tableau):

  • “Share” is the most common activity
  • For every data “upload,” there are two “shares”
  • There are as many “downloads” as there are “views”

Why do we care about “shares” in Business Intelligence apps? These apps often house confidential corporate information such as line-of-business performance metrics. While many such apps will have controls in place that prevent inadvertent sharing outside of the company, sometimes it is possible to share with unauthorized individuals within the company.

In short, activities can say a lot about the nature of the app, how and whether people are deriving value from it, and how risky it may be in an organization. Activities can signal out-of-compliant behaviors and, when taken with other data, such as our compromised account intelligence, can indicate external threats. Activities are essential!

Which combination of apps and activities are you most interested in?

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