Next Gen SWG Use Case #2 – Granular Control of Unmanaged Cloud Apps


This is a series of articles focused on Next Gen SWG use cases. This is the second in a series of six posts.

Flashback nine years ago to 2011. As a member of the security team, you have been asked to add exceptions to your Palo Alto Networks next gen firewall and Blue Coat proxy appliance to give employees access to Microsoft’s new productivity suite, Office 365. What started with Salesforce years earlier, the deployment of Office 365 is really where your business started on the path towards being “cloud first.” 

Fast-forward to 2020. In addition to Salesforce and O365, IT is now managing dozens of cloud apps such as Workday for HR, Confluence and Jira for engineering collaboration, and Slack for company-wide collaboration. In addition to the dozens of cloud apps managed by IT, your employees are now rapidly adopting cloud apps on their own. A recent Netskope cloud report found that, on average, an enterprise is using more than 2,000 cloud apps and most of that usage takes place outside of IT. From adopting apps like Evernote and Trello to improve productivity, to using their own instance of Office 365 and G Suite to store and share data, cloud apps adopted by lines of business and users outside of IT are helping to support your booming business. Shadow IT used to have a negative connotation, but today it enables your employees to better collaborate and move fast.

The only negative consequence is that the rapid adoption of cloud, combined with users being mobile and remote, has resulted in losing visibility and control, which is a huge problem. As a member of the security team, your job is to manage risk and protect your company’s data. This shift to the cloud is causing you to rethink your overall security program.

Legacy security vendors that provide security services from physical boxes that are entombed in your data center are also seeing this shift to the cloud and in an attempt to keep up, they are offering “cloud versions” of their security appliance. There are also security vendors that started in the cloud several years ago with a security service that is delivered from the cloud. Delivering security from the cloud only solves a small part of the challenge. The type of security you are delivering from the cloud is what really matters. If you are simply placing your existing legacy firewall or SWG controls in the cloud, then you are forced into the situation you had in 2011 where you are dealing with coarse-grained block vs exception policies. Only this time, those ancient policies are delivered from the cloud. The good news is that there is a much better way to address this growing need.

In a recent blog, I started a series covering the most common use cases our customers are covering with our Next Gen Secure Web Gateway (SWG). The use case I want to focus this blog post on is how to apply granular controls for the unmanaged cloud apps that lines of business and users adopt outside of IT.

Instead of disrupting the business by blocking the potentially thousands of cloud apps not managed by IT or increasing risk by simply whitelisting or adding allow exceptions, safely enable the cloud by applying granular controls and targeting risky activities. A Next Gen Secure Web Gateway needs to provide the granular control required to stop the bad and safely enable the good.

Unlike other security products, Netskope’s NG SWG was architected from the beginning to provide real-time granular visibility and control of thousands of cloud apps, including the ones led by lines of business and users. This enables you to safely enable the apps that the business relies on and do it in a way that is not disruptive to the business.

Here are some of the core capabilities of Netskope’s Next Gen SWG that are important in enabling you to provide granular control of unmanaged cloud apps, so you can stop the bad and safely enable the good.

See beyond ports, IP addresses, URLs, and apps

Next gen firewalls and SWGs, which rely on the identification of ports, IP addresses, URLs, and apps to find threats and enforce policy are blind to what is happening across a majority of web traffic. Given the rapid adoption of cloud, the language of the web has evolved and you need to not only inspect SSL and TLS traffic, but you also need to be able to decode the API/JSON that encapsulate cloud activities such as login, logout, upload, download, share, post, view, edit, etc. In addition to these activities, you get a contextual view of the user, device, location, app, app instance, app category, app rating, and content. Netskope’s Next Gen SWG can decode the language of today’s web and provides deep visibility for thousands of cloud apps. This enables you to better identify and stop threats and implement the granular controls needed to address risk, while not slowing down the business. 


One example of granular visibility and control is instance-awareness. Only Netskope enables you to differentiate between the corporate-managed, partner, and personal instances of cloud apps and reflect the instance in policy. A tip here is that when testing the security vendor’s ability to be instance-aware, be sure to use cloud apps that have a URL that persists across instances of the app. For example, a cloud suite like G Suite will always use making it difficult to determine whether a corporate, partner or personal instance is in use. There are dozens of cloud apps where the URL persists across instances and this renders all security tools except for Netskope ineffective. A handful of apps like Box and Slack change their URL for every instance so it is relatively easy for legacy security tools to apply policies based on the changed URL.

App categories and “allow” actions as part of policies

One you get the visibility you need, the next step is to use that information to craft granular policies. Netskope’s Next Gen SWG provides comprehensive support for granular, contextual policies and you can take a variety of actions. One common action is “allow,” which makes sense in scenarios where you may want to allow all activities to the corporate-sanctioned instance of Office 365 OneDrive, but force the personal instance of OneDrive to view only.  Bringing in category-level policies enables you to broaden your coverage and implement a policy that allows all activities for the corporate instance of G Suite, but makes all other cloud storage apps (400+ in database) view only. 

The ability to understand the language of today’s web and provide you with that visibility is critical in enabling you to craft granular policies and stop the bad and safely enable the good.  You can learn more about this Next Gen SWG use case and watch a demo here

Stay tuned for my next blog post covering use case #3, granular control of unmanaged cloud apps.