App Controls for your Secure Web Gateway – API or Proxy?


For most organizations, over 95% of apps fall into the shadow IT area where business units adopt them without IT knowledge or administration rights.  Considering the average organization utilizes over 1,200 apps today, you likely have well over a thousand apps that are unmanaged with no IT administration rights.  For example, based on Netskope Research Labs’ analyses, an HR department will use approximately 130 apps on average working with personal identity information on a daily basis.

If your strategy to solve the application visibility and monitoring issue is with your secure web gateway (SWG) or next generation firewall (NGFW), you are likely to fall very short of your objective.  Additionally, if you rely on traditional API-only based cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions for application visibility, you’ll also not meet your strategic objectives. IT managed apps are often less than a dozen, and in many cases a CASB solution may support less via API integration.  Also, not every app has a published API, and more importantly a timely response for near real-time policy controls. So, again you are likely facing over a thousand apps not open to CASB API policy controls. For many, you may be using basic web security to allow or deny apps, however, this falls short for today’s app policy control requirements for content and context to limit data loss and theft, plus attacks using apps and cloud services for entry such as cloud phishing.

Consider the case of an employee with a personal instance and a business unit instance of the same file sharing cloud app outside the domain of IT control.  Your policy controls will need to know which account or instance the employee is using. You are likely to desire data loss prevention (DLP) on any uploads to the personal account to control data exfiltration while monitoring the business unit account for public file sharing posts or emails.  You may also desire threat protection for the corporate account to stop malware from spreading via app file sharing.

Accidents happen, the employee may use their personal account by mistake for confidential company information in this example, or malware infected personal data may be uploaded to the corporate account.  Without knowledge of the account type or instance, your policy controls are limited, and if you deny the unmanaged app, the business unit will use the next file sharing app they can find. Of course, you can also deny all file sharing apps except a managed one and coach users with alerts to use it.  However, what happens when a business partner desires some large company files in their file sharing app from an employee?

To solve the unmanaged app visibility and monitoring issue you should consider inline proxy app controls that understand custom app API-JSON based communications.  Leading CASB and web security solutions like Netskope support thousands of unmanaged apps via a custom app API proxy for inline controls, given these apps do not provide an API integration option, nor do they IT have administration rights.  This enables you to monitor unmanaged app use, content for threats or data loss, and provide granular policy controls for the user, group, device, app, instance, app risk rating, activity, and content – too list out some available policy attributes.

The answer for app controls in your SWG is actually both CASB API and CASB inline proxy so you cover both IT managed apps and unmanaged apps used by business units and users.  This enables the same policy controls to prevent threats, protect data, monitor acceptable use, and to coach users on app risks and preferences. Growing app adoption and use also drives the need to understand ‘content and context’ in your web gateway policy controls, and this brings in DLP to understand the data alongside activity in a unified policy.

Traditionally, Secure web gateways focused on allow or deny policies to prevent malware and control acceptable use with web filtering URL categories.  Now, with increasing app use and many web sites providing similar functions, we move into a larger grey area to determine risk and exposure in policy controls. The web is less about URLs and increasingly more about custom app API traffic for SWGs to address as 85% of web traffic is related to cloud services.  It is likely many security vendors in this solution area will respond with marketing claims of ‘any app’ support, and this can be a questionable approach as not all “all app” support is sufficient. There’s certainly a better way to approach this. Stay tuned as we will address this topic in our next web security blog.