Protecting The Data, Privacy, And Security Of Students Across Cloud-Based Platforms Is A Mission-Critical Priority. Here’s How To Select The CASB Vendor Best Fit For The Task
For a long time, we heard the question: What is CASB? In fact, many school districts either don’t know that they exist, or that they’re actually using cloud applications that make using a CASB a requirement. Today, we’re breaking down the answer — and exactly how it can play a major role keeping your students safe.
Now, it’s common knowledge that a cloud access security broker (CASB) (or cloud application security platform) acts as a security policy enforcement checkpoint. Simply put, CASB security functions like an intermediary between a cloud application and its end users.
How do these security policies protect the students and employees within your school district?
If your district is using Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 (among others) for tasks like sending emails, storing files in drives or shared drives, sharing files via those drives, saving data in spreadsheets, and more—you’re using cloud applications! CASB solutions monitor and secure data shared in cloud-based applications, providing a critical layer of security for today’s digitally native student environment. That means that all data and documents entering or living on your cloud storage platform are authorized and observed.
In this guide, we’ll highlight the ways a CASB solution can protect digital data and reduce threats to your cloud-based infrastructure.
The Four Pillars of CASB Security
Now that you know what CASB security is, let’s take a look at its four core pillars:
School districts require a flexible approach to security policy enforcement.
A CASB provides visibility into cloud services being used by your end users in the district. In the K-12 space, a variety of accessible programs are available to enhance curriculums, improve faculty and staff productivity, and more. A CASB offers comprehensive insight into what is going on in these cloud services. This includes who is accessing accounts, who is sharing files containing sensitive information inside and outside your domain, where phishing and malware threats may exist in your environment, and more.
Further, the CASB security vendor you choose should allow you to create different policies and controls for specific user groups and access criteria.
For example, a first grader accessing rudimentary games or applications to enhance learning will require different monitoring and threat assessment than a district finance manager’s emailing and file sharing activities. A CASB encompasses and understands the functions of both, and controls the specific user access requirements for each.
A CASB vendor can customize the solution to ensure complete compliance with data privacy and education sector-specific safety regulations.
The ability to monitor and update compliance requirements in accordance with ongoing evolutions in Federal and local student data privacy and/or security laws provides you with some level of peace-of-mind that the latest standards are being upheld.
3. Data Security
Data loss prevention (DLP) provides enterprise security that encompasses all data in the cloud. A CASB will monitor and protect sensitive data, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, individualized education plans (IEPs), and more.
This coverage helps to reduce the risk of data leaks by following information as it moves in and around your district’s cloud environment.
4. Threat Protection
Most modern CASBs use machine learning (ML) that aggregates and comprehends typical usage patterns as defined within the district’s operational data flows. This allows you to identify and monitor malicious activities. Threat protection protocols defend against both negligent and malicious threats, reducing the attack surface and alerting IT when suspicious or irregular activities occur.
Thanks to malware mitigation, adaptive access control, and other functionality, cloud-based data is protected from further attacks. Geofencing, or the ability to limit access from specific locations, removes the possibility of further access once a threat actor has been identified.
This level of protection is required to secure sensitive data stored and shared in the cloud. As the world has shifted to cloud computing, a variety of CASB vendors and other solutions have sprung into the marketplace to fill inherent cloud computing security gaps.
How a CASB Works
In short, a CASB helps your district’s technology team secure, monitor and control activity in commonly used cloud applications, such as Google Workspace and Microsoft 365.
Many believe that they are covered by Google and Microsoft for the data that they store in the cloud. But, while both have extremely robust data security infrastructure in place, they do not protect the cloud environment from seemingly approved activity.
This means that if there is a malicious account takeover, or a misconfiguration that makes sensitive data public, system administrators often have no idea that data is exposed. Not to mention what data specifically is exposed and how the breach occurred.
This level of monitoring is essential to education providers seeking to stop the threat of data loss and mitigate the cloud-based attack surface. A CASB solution follows user activity, to trace what they’re accessing, and track which files they’re sending. From there, an IT policy is applied to prevent threats and conform to compliance.
Cloud access security brokers provide this essential layer of security and control over cloud applications that are not provided in the application itself (or is provided at a much more expensive Enterprise level).
CASB security provides school districts using cloud applications with malware threat protection, data loss prevention, and account monitoring and control capabilities that are specifically built for the cloud.
How Does CASB Protect Your Data?
CASB security technology enhances visibility and control over cloud-based data. This process is distilled down to three key steps:
CASB uses auto-discovery to compile a list of potential data security risks. This can include detecting sensitive information that is being shared via global link share, third-party cloud apps that have been granted access to your domain’s data and services, and more. This is important for schools, who are constantly expanding their attack surface with new cloud apps — not to mention those that students and teachers are using without consent.
After cloud usage is revealed, a CASB then assesses the risk level associated with each application.
Once a risk assessment has been completed, the CASB automatically uses this information to set security controls and take action when a violation occurs. Most CASB platforms will provide out-of-the-box policies to automate remediation. Most will also allow you to customize policies based on your district’s unique needs.
CASB Offers a Comprehensive Cyber Protection Solution
Students accessing cloud-based applications as part of the curriculum deserve the highest cybersecurity standards that are available today. From kindergarten through to grade 12, today’s digitally native children, teens, and educators are relying on technology to accomplish and grade their assignments, as well as source the information that is vital to their learning.
A CASB solution is designed to protect these and other cloud-based workflows. The benefits of implementing a customized school district cloud access security broker include:
Reduces the Risk of Shadow IT
Let’s face it, your students are always online. They may willingly or unknowingly approve unauthorized applications that pop up when attempting to access any number of file sharing sites or messenger platforms. With the presence of personal and BYOD devices in education facilities, and how they’re used to access cloud-based data remotely, each attempt to interface with the cloud requires authorization and is monitored. In fact, almost every district that we’ve done a free cloud security audit with in the past few months have discovered inappropriate apps like OnlyFans and Chaturbate in their domains!
Many SaaS cloud applications are risky, due to infrastructure security gaps that criminals can exploit to infiltrate customer accounts. Some applications have been built by criminals with this very purpose in mind. Once an unsuspecting user downloads the application and creates an account using their Google credentials, it opens up all kinds of access and permissions to these criminals that no firewall or phishing filter is going to be able to detect.
Increases access control
Cloud access security encompasses issues such as risk assessment, policy violations, shadow cloud apps, and other forms of account misuse. Districts using cloud services for email, file sharing, meetings, and learning management need CASB security agility to detect threats stemming from improper data sharing permissions and phishing.
By ensuring only authorized users have access, you’ll reduce the attack surface from unverified actors within the cloud. The ability to classify, encrypt, and restrict data sharing ensures unauthorized access to data is prevented.
Automated Threat Detection
ML algorithms and rules-based risks understand the typical operational behavior within the school district cloud, and will immediately alert administrators to unusual activity. By instantly restricting unauthorized access or data sharing, threats are stopped immediately, before gaining access information stored on the cloud.
This capability is critical: Once a threat actor has infiltrated a cloud-based platform, they have access to everything that the compromised account has access to, and can share malicious software, send lateral phishing emails to gain access to more accounts, exfiltrate sensitive information, and more without raising suspicion from any network-based security solutions (like firewalls, etc).
Why Does Your School District Need A CASB Solution?
Your school district depends on access to Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 to perform a variety of tasks. A reliable cloud security strategy is a must-have security measure to keep your operations performing.
These days, even the youngest students involved in the education system are familiar with digital technologies! Protecting their data as well as your connected hardware and software resources should be a priority.
While the vast majority of schools use cloud applications, very few implement appropriate cloud security measures to match. Some districts simply assume platforms such as Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 have sufficient built-in protections to safeguard their private data and information. This assumption continues to prove to be a costly mistake in the face of many data breaches.
School districts need to understand that their network security measures aren’t protecting cloud data either, leaving it woefully exposed to cyber risk.
Meeting these risks is a growing challenge for the average school technology team. Many education system IT departments are understaffed and under-funded to adequately monitor their growing cloud environment. Meanwhile, cybercriminals have their eyes fixed on sensitive and valuable school data, and they’re targeting it for profit.
CASB security technology provides districts an advantage. They enable schools to automate cloud security controls, enforce policies and multiply the power of their resources without multiplying their expenses.
What to Look for in a CASB Vendor
When you research CASB security vendors, you will find that there are two different types: proxy-based CASBs and API-based CASBs. These refer to the technology used to build the CASB architecture.
Proxy-based CASBs use legacy network technology to place a proxy agent between traffic and your cloud applications. This proxy will check all incoming and/or outgoing traffic and limit access to the application. In short, it’s basically doing the same work as your firewall or gateway, but duplicates it in the cloud.
API-based CASBs use cloud applications’ native APIs to secure access and activity within the app. This technology provides better, faster, and more reliable cloud security that is supported by Google and Microsoft. And it does not slow down your networks or end users’ access to information in the cloud.
All CASB vendors provide different functions, services, and more. It’s important to know what you and your information security need as you explore your CASB vendor options. Here is a high-level list of some of the most important features of a CASB solution:
Malware & Phishing Threat Protection
Email phishing is certainly the most well-known (and most common) external threat vector. But, it’s not the only one.
One of the few disadvantages of cloud computing is the inherently porous nature of the public cloud. Criminals have also found ways to use file sharing, browser extensions, applications, and more to introduce malware and other threats to cloud environments.
A good CASB vendor will allow system admins to easily identify risks within your cloud environment from all of these threat vectors. It will also provide the function to quickly quarantine and/or delete those risks — either manually or automatically based on your custom system configurations.
A good CASB platform will determine an applications’ risk profile using several methods: level and number of permissions granted, number of users who have sanctioned/unsanctioned the application, and machine learning through third party vendors that have assessed the app.
Impact on Network Performance
The impact on network performance goes back to the discussion around proxy versus API CASB vendors. A proxy-based CASB is going to slow your network down significantly. This is because proxys place a “man in the middle” of your cloud traffic, checking and scanning each request that goes through it.
API CASB vendors provide the same level of security without slowing down your network performance. End users rarely realize that a cloud security solution is in place. This benefit allows employees, clients, etc. to access information stored in the cloud without delays.
Affordability & Ease of Use
It goes without saying that the CASB vendor you select will have to fit in your budget. It’s important to keep in mind that there will be ancillary costs beyond the license agreement, for example its ease of use. When evaluating your CASB vendor options take into consideration:
- Can your current team manage it or will you have to hire an additional resource?
- How much time will it take to implement?
- How many hours of training will be required for your employee/team to learn how to use it?
- Is it reliable or will your system admin spend a ton of time validating accuracy?
- Does the vendor provide customer support, and is it an additional cost?
These factors and more impact any new platform’s affordability. Before you select your CASB security vendor, reach out to current and past customers (if possible) to understand the tool’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential hidden costs.
FERPA, COPPA, CSPC Certifications
K-12 and higher education institutions must be sure to select a CASB vendor that has certified that they comply with federal (and, in some cases, state) student data privacy regulations. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), like FERPA, is a critical piece of federal regulation that outlines how children’s data is required to be handled and protected by all types of organizations.
Choosing a CASB vendor that is independently certified in these areas means that schools can feel confident in partnering with a vendor that takes student privacy seriously. It also means that the vendor’s technology has been thoroughly and rigorously vetted by an independent organization to ensure it meets the highest standards of security and compliance.
Any platform or vendor that you decide to partner with is going to create some questions and challenges. An often overlooked selection criteria is the vendor’s customer support reputation.
Some CASB vendors will sell a license at a relatively low price — sometimes simply “throwing in” cloud security as part of a broader package. This type of deal can be tempting, but how good is a platform that nobody on your team understands how to use?
Is your data really secure if your CASB isn’t set up properly or if there is a bug that doesn’t get fixed because you can’t get someone in customer support on the line?
Customer support often comes as an afterthought, this can prove to be a mortal mistake when it comes to selecting CASB vendors. In our experience, this can be particularly true for school districts and other public institutions where your technology team is already stretched incredibly thin.
ManagedMethods Offers Customized, Easily Integrated CASB Solutions
Remember, when it comes to securing your sensitive regulated information in the cloud, it’s not just about checking a box and saying you tried to do it. It’s about securing the well-being and financial futures of your district, employees, students, and community.
With this in mind, ManagedMethods is proud to offer a free Google and/or Microsoft security audit for K-12 schools, higher education, and public institutions. By offering a no proxy, no agent, no extension and no special training required interface, your technology team can experience the difference a CASB security solution can make—100% free!