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One Company’s Quest to Solve the Cloud Data Security Problem

GRA Quantum turned to Allure Security for help boosting cloud data security by addressing the lack of governance, auditing and logging when it comes to cloud computing.

With a focus on providing assessment, planning and managed security services to its customers, GRA Quantum puts a premium on keeping its clients’ data safe. To accomplish this, it partners with world-class technology, security and cloud services vendors.

But something interesting happened along the way in its pursuit to deliver cloud data security. In the course of its cybersecurity work, the company became enamored of Allure Security, which makes risk detection and response technology. GRA Quantum routinely recommends Allure's technology to its customers for tracking and analyzing cloud-based document access and sharing. The solution focuses solely on data, providing tools to detect and respond to incidents where data or files are inappropriately viewed, accessed or copied. It can flag potential risks, allowing validated users to drill down into each possible hazard directly from the dashboard to learn critical details needed to address those security issues.

The technology addresses what many believe to be the greatest weakness in cloud computing services: the lack of governance, auditing and logging. In essence, it provides more visibility into the access and control of protected documents by filtering and data cleansing events and then performing risk assessments on every event.

“One of the biggest challenges with cloud platforms and products is governance of those platforms—making sure that people are not accessing the platform if they aren’t supposed to be accessing it, and making sure users know how to properly share their documents without exposing them, even if it’s just out of ignorance,” said Jennifer Greulich, director of managed security services at GRA Quantum.

In addition, Greulich said, most cloud platforms have limited functionality for auditing and logging. “We realized that we had no way of seeing whether or not unauthorized access occurred on our sensitive documents because of the lack of logging and auditing within most cloud environments,” she said. “It’s actually quite shocking that cloud providers have gotten away with not providing logging and proper auditing of their systems for so long.”

Greulich said there have also been cases internally where employees were mishandling documents. For example, they might open a document, save it to their computer and then email it to themselves. “Without using a third-party tool, there is nothing that would tell our security operations center [SOC] that that happened.”

Before turning to Allure, GRA Quantum tried several other approaches to protecting its data assets. The company performed periodic audits on its file system to determine which documents had been shared externally and analyzed document sharing properties. But this required performing permissions audits and, even then, it was difficult to determine if a document had been accessed, downloaded or emailed to an external source.

The GRA Quantum team then looked into APIs and other third-party tools but found mostly cloud access security brokers (CASB). While these tools are effective, they are overkill for what the company needed in terms of both functionality and cost. What GRA Quantum needed, Greulich decided, was a simpler solution that focused specifically on protecting data and notifying the SOC if data had been compromised.

Getting On Board

It didn’t take long for GRA Quantum to come to the conclusion that what was working for its customers would work for them. What’s more, Allure was already certified to work with Office 365, which GRA Quantum uses extensively. Allure covers files stored in Microsoft OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams and OneNote. According to Allure, its technology reads log information from Office 365, including user names, file names and paths, and IP addresses. It then filters the log information, adds geographic and organizational insights, and stores them for the long term.

Greulich’s team has spent the last few months implementing and fine-tuning the technology. It uses risk scoring, for example, to evaluate departing employees and make sure they aren’t accessing proprietary data before leaving the company. It uses the geolocation technology to receive alerts about data access from other countries. For example, GRA Quantum was alerted that someone in Qatar opened a document, along with user information, the file and the file path. With that information, the company was able to determine that the behavior was acceptable and retune the alert. “But when we see a user in a place where we know we don’t have users, we know we will have an issue,” Greulich said.

GRA Quantum also uses Allure’s document beacon technology, which allows the company to track files even when after they are no longer in the Office 365 environment. This includes decoy documents that can detect leaks and breaches.

“We’ll bury documents within file systems that no normal user will be searching for and know that if somebody hits a beaconized document, we’ve got something nefarious going on in our network, because it’s an automated tool finding that document,” Greulich said.

Eventually, Greulich hopes to take advantage of the technology’s data loss forensics technology, which helps prevent the sharing and exposure of data. “Right now we are in detect-only mode, but we’d like to extend this in a way that we can prevent, not just detect,” she said. “We want to use it as a way to prevent data from leaving our organization in the first place, across our entire organization.”

Greulich also hopes to persuade Allure to broaden the appeal of its cloud data security product, both for its own company and for its customers. For example, it has asked Allure to consider supporting not only Office 365 but Google Drive, Dropbox and Box. The company also has requested a way to track documents on users’ laptops.

“There are countless times where users will open a cloud document and save or download or something because they need to edit it or maybe aren’t familiar with really how to use cloud technology,” she explained. “That means we have documents all over endpoints and there is no way to track that.

“At the end of the day, I want to see where is our sensitive data, who is using it and how can we protect it,” she added. “We think that this can go a long way for us to do that.”

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