The Sky is No Longer the Limit: Thoughts from the Cloud

Kevin Nikkhoo

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Blog Post

Casting Light on Shadow IT and ID

Watching vulnerability cracks in your network widen via unauthorized application usage

It's not a new term or concept. You probably recognize that it’s happening within your own organization. Shadow IT is the appropriation and use of IT assets and applications without organizational approval.  And it happens more than you know. Sally the sales rep gets a label template design application, Marco from HR downloads software that manages inbound resumes. Kelsey in marketing signs up for a WordPress page and social media accounts. All too often, employees are not going through corporate channels to get what they need to achieve their goals.

And every time they do, the vulnerability cracks in your network widen.

Now on top of the obvious issues with unauthorized applications is the creation of Shadow Identities. For all of these applications there are user names and passwords. Across an enterprise that could mean thousands and thousands of identities. And, because some are even using their personal commercial mail accounts to create these new IDs, you now have your corporate data going out through an external service with which you have no control.

The world of SaaS has exacerbated the security problem, but the cloud also provides the solution.

To understand how to best approach the quandary, you must realize that traditional concepts of IT are out of date.  At one time you just built a wall around everything. However, with SaaS, mobile users, customers, partners, the perimeter has been erased—you simply can’t open an LDAP query from your directory and plug in applications to your enterprise infrastructure.

Identity Management is the new Network Perimeter. And identity management from the cloud centralizes, ordains, and automates your corporate policies. The idea is when you can’t pull your curtain of protection around where the data resides, your only point of control is identity credentialing and authorization. You create the rules for access and entrance and then pass the user along to the specific resource.

In any organization this can mean dozens of applications for a variety of departments and niche users.  This means managing potentially thousands of passwords...and that’s not a place most IT professionals wish to spend their time. But rather than belabor the problem, let’s highlight the solution broken down by type:

Data has two general directions: inbound and outbound. The key is to create federated relationships. You need to ensure that those who you invite to access or add data to your network are properly vetted. And these can be broken into two very general categories: high and low risk. Lower risk would include partners and customers because you can automatically provision them to see just a small part of your network. Customers don’t need to access production, they simply want to process an order or maybe query the help desk…and that’s all they should be given.  For something like this all you really need is cloud identity management to control the reach and scope of their access. The same holds true with partners like VARs or suppliers.

Then there are higher risk transactions. These are usually driven by your mobile users and internal employees. They obviously need more access to things like payroll or benefit packages. For these, in the scope of identity management, you would be best served by using a multi-factor authorization.

It is obviously more complex than a 750 word blog can delve into but, the ability to automatically provision and deprovision, to manage countless passwords, to federate access to your data is easily handled by cloud-based security. If the goal is to rethink how IT works in order to make it more cost-effective and asset protective, then IT departments must evolve from a developer of stacks to brokers and facilitators of service. The mission is still to keep the data safe, but you are now analyzing where you once were building. You are now acquiring and integrating in concert with enterprise business needs and goals.  When that is the case, then security-as-a-service must be a consideration for your enterprise.

Now let’s also consider outbound data. Federation is not only important. It is the driving need to ensure the safety of this nebulous enterprise perimeter. Your users are accessing third-party applications like salesforce.com or ADP, Webex, SharePoint, etc and you must provide the access in support of business needs.  Whereas much of inbound can be federated using cloud-based identity management as a baseline, anything outbound must be SAML-aware.  You need to insist on SAML-based federation before you approve any outside program. If not, you better think twice about including it as an option.

If there is one takeaway from this, it is that unless you decide to evolve with the changing demands of business, your architecture will be compromised by an expanding creep of Shadow IT and their accompanying Shadow Identities. If you realize that now your data can be anywhere, you must centralize the access to that data. By taking full advantage of cloud-based security, you not only benefit from the cost-efficiencies, but your gain all the built-in federations and integrated resources, as well as best-of-breed password management and single-sign on.  Then there are the compliance and reporting needs and how a strong security-as-a-service offering effectively addresses that pressing requirement…but we’ll leave that for another day.

Kevin Nikkhoo
www.cloudaccess.com

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.