Cloud applications play a crucial role in our personal and professional activities. Every day, without even thinking about it, we access dozens of cloud apps, where we store all kinds of data from financial information to family pictures.
Netskope has coined the phrase “Cloud Data Sprawl” for this trend, and a few simple numbers summarise its extent:
- An organisation with 500-2,000 employees uses an average of 1,558 cloud applications per month
- 138 (9%) of these are used to upload, create, share or store data
- The number of cloud apps in use grows in parallel with the size of the enterprise; an organisation with 2,000-4,000 employees uses on average 204 applications for upload, creation, sharing and storage of data—a number that soars to 326 apps for organisations with more than 4,000 employees.
Now imagine you are starting a new job at a new “average” organisation. In your first few weeks you are likely to be assailed by requests to authenticate your new registration on a wave of apps—used for HR, productivity, finance, or team-specific tools. It is possible that you have already used some of these apps in past work experiences—or at least heard of them—however, in many cases you will find yourself in new territory, registering for new services you have never encountered before, or receiving unsolicited emails asking you to confirm your new account because someone behind the scenes (handling your onboarding) has registered you.
A conscientious employee will likely be driven to guilt for the number of times they have to check in with a colleague to confirm that these emails are legitimate. A less conscientious or under-confident employee will not want to be awkward and assume everything is safe and genuine.
If the process is not well managed by the organisation, and the registration steps to the cloud apps are unclear or ambiguous, the user may easily become confused, with serious security implications. And you may be surprised to see how little information is included in these “request to confirm registration” emails sent to your employees by your cloud service providers. The expectation of trust is high.
Mitigating registration fatigue
In a business environment, the IT department of the organisation should clearly indicate to new hires the list of cloud services in use and how to register (including, if possible, the exact activation date). This cloud app onboarding may be challenging for organisations with large amounts of business IT—unmanaged by central teams and often invisible to them—but it is easy enough if the organisation has the simplest of CASB tools.
It is equally important that cloud application providers make things clearer for users, and businesses should demand this support from the companies they contract. The application provider should insert as much context as possible into the account registration and confirmation procedure, clearly indicating the steps to be taken (and the contacts to be reached) to dispel any doubts. It is shocking just how little information is contained in a lot of account confirmation emails. Sometimes it is as little as an unfamiliar logo and a “click here” button, which directs to a page requiring emails and passwords—sometimes even more. Users need to be helped to understand the legitimacy of an email (for example “You are receiving this communication because your colleague X signed you up to use it, and you are now prompted to confirm it”).
For the new employee, we can certainly help them understand what is expected of them. Basic security training should happen on day one, as a precursor to being given full access to systems and data. Among other things, this should instruct them in good habits, such as not entering their credentials in every registration page (and certainly not using corporate credentials to access personal cloud apps).
From a technological standpoint, in addition to using multi-factor authentication (MFA) for business applications, organisations should adopt a ubiquitous, cloud-delivered phishing protection that is equally effective for web and cloud traffic. The risk that users end up “confirming” every request they receive (including malicious ones coming from phishing attacks) is very real, and an even greater risk considering the growing use of corporate devices for personal purposes.