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Telling the difference makes a difference with cloud app instances

Aug 11 2015
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As part of the field team, I get to speak with customers across multiple industries, which is a great vantage point for observing common themes. A recent example is positive customer reactions over Netskope’s ability to differentiate between different instances of the same SaaS cloud app (i.e. telling the difference between whether a user logged into the “Coke” or “Pepsi” -or a personal- instance of Box). Not all cloud access brokers (CASBs) offer this ability, but judging by market response, it’s an important feature, especially as an organization decides to rollout a SaaS solution such as Box.

So why is telling the difference between instances of the same cloud app so important? I’m seeing three use cases, as explained below.

  1. Pre-production and production rollout of SaaS solutions. A large Fortune 500 insurance company I’m working with has explicitly built their deployment plan to use separate instance IDs of Office 365. The goal is to validate security policies in the pre-production instance of O365 before applying the policies into the production instance. The early validation will ensure a smooth user experience for the majority of employees who are using the production instance and mitigate any disruptions to workflows and the regular use of the app. A secondary application of instance IDs during rollout enables IT to continue using the pre-production instance while setting a message to notify the employee who might still be accessing that instance to coach, or even redirect him or her to the production instance instead.
  2. Privacy and compliance concerns, including audit requirements. This is a big one. A good example of this is with regards to European Union privacy laws. By being able to tell the difference in corporate versus personal sessions of cloud apps such as Box, IT can specify to only monitor content and data exchanged between the user and corporate instances. Conversely, IT can also monitor corporate data being passed to shadow IT/non-sanctioned apps to ensure compliance – such as preventing users from uploading corporate PII data to an unsanctioned cloud storage service or non-corporate instance of a cloud storage app. Either way, differentiating instances of cloud apps provides for a clear audit trail of cloud activity and data across corporate and personal cloud app transactions. This is especially important for highly regulated industries, as I’ve seen these requirements in both financial services and healthcare customers and prospects.
  3. Granular access controls. The importance of context shines through when managing security and DLP controls. And by context, I mean things like user, group, device, location, app or category, activity, and more so you can contextualize policy and control. Being able to distinguish between personal and corporate sessions to a cloud app provides value, but the ability to apply mitigating controls around personal sessions separately and distinctly from corporate session is powerful. I have one customer that identifies the consumer-grade instances of a sanctioned cloud app and blocks access to that while only allowing access to their corporate instance of the cloud app from company-managed mobile devices. In the same vein, organizations could set a security policy such that data uploaded into a corporate instance of a cloud storage app be automatically encrypted while data uploaded into the personal instance be left alone.

To summarize, instance differentiation can be an important part of any cloud app rollout within an organization, addressing privacy and/or compliance concerns. The key lies in managing policy control for both sides.

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