What Is CASB? A K-12 Guide To Cloud Access Security Broker

What Is CASB And Why Does Your School Need Cloud Protection?

CASB stands for cloud access security broker. It’s a relatively new term in the data security field, used to define an entire category of solutions that protect cloud data. Okay — but what exactly does CASB do?

According to Gartner’s definition, cloud access security brokers are security policy enforcement points, placed between a cloud service consumer and a cloud service provider. In simpler terms, CASB is a checkpoint between your users (i.e., students and staff members) and your cloud infrastructure (i.e., your cloud provider, such as Google Workspace or Microsoft 365).

Cloud access security brokers are designed to give organizations more visibility over who has access to their data and how they use it. That way, they can identify suspicious user activity and eliminate any threat to their cloud environment.

CASBs consolidate multiple enterprise security techniques into one cloud security tool, thereby protecting sensitive data stored in cloud resources. These include:

  • User authentication
  • Single sign-on
  • Authorization
  • Credential mapping
  • Device profiling
  • Encryption
  • Tokenization
  • Logging
  • Alerting
  • Malware detection/prevention

A brief history of data security

Why are CASBs necessary? To answer this question, you need to understand the past, present, and future:

  • Endpoint security: In the beginning, there was hardware (or endpoint) security. Device-level security controls, such as a username and password, protected the system from outside intrusion. Think of it in terms of the castle and moat analogy — in this case, endpoint security is the castle, protecting everything stored inside.
  • Network security: Once computers connected to each other through a closed network or the internet, organizations needed a way to safeguard data as it flowed through the network. You can imagine network security as the moat wrapped around the castle, providing a second layer of safety between sensitive data and outsider threats.
  • Cloud security: With the rise of cloud computing, students, faculty, and staff can easily store, share, access, and collaborate over great distances. The problem? Doing business in the cloud requires a third layer of security. Think about it: Castles and moats aren’t very effective when attacks are raining from the sky. Cloud security acts like a dome around your castle, protecting you from unseen cloud-based threats.

Bottom line: Endpoint and network security controls are important, but they aren’t adequate for cloud data protection. Thus, the cloud access security broker was born. According to Flexera, more than half of organizations are planning to move sensitive data to the public cloud. Surely, once they do, a CASB solution will be more important than ever before.

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Why your school needs a cloud access security broker

Yes, CASB began as an enterprise security tool made to protect corporate data — but, it didn’t stay that way. It quickly evolved into a must-have access control measure for school districts of all shapes and sizes. Here’s why:

K-12 education rapidly adopted cloud computing during the pandemic. In fact, over 90% of schools now operate in the cloud using Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, or a combination of the two. The only problem? Few schools implemented cloud security to match. Worse yet, cybercriminals targeted school districts in an unprecedented wave.

According to a recent report from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), school-related cyberattacks tripled during the pandemic. By all measures, the state of cybersecurity in the education sector is dire. Attacks are on the rise. Schools are understaffed. Fortunately, CASB is shining a light at the end of the tunnel.

The 4 Pillars Of Cloud Access Security Broker

CASB solutions use a four-pronged approach to securing cloud access. Each building block functions a bit differently, but all are required to effectively protect your school’s cloud environment.

Let’s explore each one and how it benefits your district:

1. Visibility

Simply put, you can’t monitor your cloud infrastructure if you can’t see what’s really going on. With so many users to keep track of and a growing list of applications entering your domain, it’s almost impossible to keep a line of sight on your cloud data at all times. CASBs give you a peek under the hood, allowing you to identify every cloud service in use and determine their corresponding risk factors.

Take shadow IT, for example. CASBs help you detect unsanctioned applications that students and staff use without the knowledge or consent of your IT department. This is a growing concern because third-party vendors are the cause of many data loss incidents. In fact, according to CISA, 55% of all K-12 data breaches between 2016-2021 were carried out against school technology vendors.

You can more effectively monitor user activity, cloud usage, and access control privileges with greater visibility.

2. Compliance

Schools are legally bound to protect student data privacy. That means keeping sensitive data, such as personal information, out of harm’s way. When a breach does occur, schools are required to notify affected individuals as soon as possible.

Cloud access security brokers can help districts maintain compliance by addressing regulations and determining areas of highest risk, then providing direction as to what can be done to mitigate the situation. Even better, district IT departments can customize the solution to meet their state’s specific data privacy requirements.

3. Data loss prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a core component of any CASB solution. DLP extends cloud security controls to all data at rest, in motion, or in transit throughout the cloud environment. By combining CASB with a cloud DLP program, you can effectively reduce the risk of costly data leaks by keeping eyes on cloud data as it travels to, from, or within your public cloud domain.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your business manager is emailing someone using their school-provided email address. The business manager mistakenly attaches a document containing sensitive information. CASB solutions can identify this risk, alert your designated administrator, and immediately kick-start your incident response workflow.

4. Threat protection

The truth is that students and staff members often unwittingly expose their district to cloud-based malware and other malicious threats through various cloud applications. Luckily, CASBs allow you to automatically identify and remediate threats in near real-time, such as when someone shares or downloads an infected file.

If credentials are compromised, CASBs can also detect anomalous user activity, such as erasing, copying, or downloading cloud data in bulk.

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How does CASB work?

As previously mentioned, CASB only works if all four pillars are working in harmony. This is done through a three-step process:

  1. Discovery: CASBs automatically compile a list of every cloud service in your domain, including any third-party applications that don’t belong and the affiliated students and/or staff members using them.
  2. Classification: Once discovered, CASBs assess each cloud app, identify its sensitive data, and calculate the corresponding factor based on the type of data and how it’s being shared.
  3. Remediation: Finally, the tool develops a custom security policy based on your security needs, then takes remediative action to eliminate any incoming threats or violations.

So, although CASBs use a variety of leading security controls, the process is relatively simple: Discover cloud usage, evaluate risk, and mitigate threats as quickly as possible.

Top K-12 Use Cases For Cloud Access Security Broker

When it comes to understanding the value CASB brings to the table, it’s important to see how it works in practice. Let’s take a look at three key use cases for cloud access security brokers in your district:

1. Discovering unsanctioned and risky third-party vendors

The more cloud apps you add to your domain, the more your attack surface grows. In other words, every cloud service increases your exposure to cyberattacks, data leaks, and other cybersecurity incidents. That’s why it’s important to vet your list of approved third-party vendors and continuously remove any cloud provider that doesn’t make the cut.

CASBs are the ideal solution for doing just that. Because they extend visibility across your entiren, you can easily identify risky applications. Whether it’s a third-party vendor using student data inappropriately or a student using an unauthorized app without your consent, a CASB tool empowers you to swiftly take action and keep your attack surface to a minimum.

2. Enforcing cloud DLP and compliance policies

Having a security policy is one thing, but enforcing them is entirely another. It’s no secret that students — and staff members — are prone to bending the rules occasionally, which is why you need a mechanism to ensure your policies are doing their job.

Let’s say a student is storing inappropriate content in their OneDrive folder. Not only could this be a compliance violation, it might also end up in the hands of a cybercriminal after a data breach. At that point, there’s no telling what can happen.

Luckily, CASB allows you to detect inappropriate content, flag it with your IT department, and investigate the incident with speed and confidence. You’ll know exactly where in your cloud domain the files are, where they’ve been shared, and who created them in the first place.

3. Protecting student safety

One of the great benefits of CASB’s data loss prevention capability is that it can double as a safety monitoring tool. Using keyword scanning and pattern recognition, the right CASB tool can detect evidence of self-harm, cyberbullying, and other toxic behaviors in your cloud domain.

For example, a student may be recording their thoughts and feelings in a Google Doc or Microsoft Word file. If the student discusses self-harm or suicide, the CASB tool automatically detects the instance and alerts the designated administrator, allowing you to investigate further and help the student however necessary.

Choosing A CASB Solution

Cloud access security brokers are the future of cloud security, but no two solutions are the same. Ideally, you should identify one that:

ManagedMethods is the K-12 CASB solution that integrates directly with Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. Why? To give you a seamless layer of protection between your users, their data, and cloud-based security risks.

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