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A cloud access security broker (CASB) is one of the many solutions that can help create a more airtight network security environment. While there are all kinds of functions and protocols for achieving this, cloud access security broker solutions do it in a few specific ways.

The underlying purpose of a CASB solution is to diminish the risks associated with shadow IT through a series of visibility and mitigation processes. There are a few ways a cloud access security broker accomplishes this. Here are the three key steps that define CASB solutions:

  • Blocking threats – There are tons of different types of network security tools and services on the market today. None of them do exactly the same thing. When evaluating a cloud access security broker, you need to know its ability to block threats is a hallmark to any system. A secure web gateway is going to be one of the main platforms used within the CASB framework to stop threats in their tracks. With a secure web gateway, it's possible to set parameters for URL filtering, as well as spotting and stopping any applications or sites that are shown to have malicious code.
  • Risk assessment – Your security tools are only going to stop threats if they can accurately assess their risk. A cloud access security broker should be able to assess the risk level of applications.
  • Blocking applications – A CASB doesn’t just block threats as they come in, it’s also there to stop users from even accessing dangerous applications. Through a proper risk assessment, your CASB can then automatically block apps based on your preset policy settings.

These are some of the basic elements of a cloud access security broker. But stakeholders and those deciding on a specific CASB implementation plan likely have more questions beyond these elementary explanations. Next, we’ll investigate why cloud access security brokers are important today, before ending with how to evaluate these platforms.

Why Are Cloud Access Security Brokers Important Today?

There are several reasons why cloud access security brokers are so important to enterprises today. Some of these are long-term trends, while others came on all the sudden.

It’s impossible to have this discussion without recognizing the elephant in the room: COVID-19. The Coronavirus pandemic unleashed unimaginable challenges for IT departments across the globe. All at once, teams had to shift to a totally remote environment, many of which had never done this before. About 20 percent of people worked from home before the pandemic. That number jumped to 71 percent by December 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.

But how does this relate to cloud access security brokers? It has everything to do with CASBs. When people are working remotely on enterprise networks, it almost always means at least one of two things: they’re using unsecured personal devices or they’re accessing potentially dangerous applications. Both of these situations can be dangerous for your organizational data.

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Most people don’t want to put the enterprise at risk. This is why a combination of effective security offerings, such as a CASB, along with employee education are key elements to safer networks.

As mentioned previously, however, there were trends in place even before the Coronavirus that were making CASBs an increasingly valuable asset. Even without the pandemic, many businesses were already implementing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that encouraged the use of unsecured devices on enterprise networks.

Another prevalent long-term trend in shadow IT has simply been employees seeking out tools to make their workflow more efficient. If some feels they can do their work better with web-based applications or unsanctioned software, they’re likely not going to think twice about it. Management needs to do a few things to combat this, the answer to which isn’t punishment. Beyond just educating people about the dangers of using unapproved applications, you have to actually give them the solutions they need in order to effectively do their jobs. And finally, having the right service in place, such a cloud access security broker, can make a huge difference.

How to Evaluate a Cloud Access Security Broker

Now that you see the importance of a cloud access security broker, you need to know how to distinguish between different offerings. Here’s how to evaluate a cloud access security broker:

  • Depth of risk assessment and analysis – In order for a CASB solution to be successful, it needs to have deep knowledge about the who, what, where, when, and how of application usage. By collecting and storing this information, it’s possible to both stop threats, but also assess behavior after the fact.
  • Expertise of security personnel – When you opt for a CASB service, you’re largely going to be beholden to the skill of whoever’s behind the curtain so to speak. You’ll only want to utilize a CASB that’s backed by industry-leading security experts. These will be the individuals who help create a safe operating environment for your enterprise networks.
  • High level of control and customization – You want your CASB solution to provide you the capability of controlling exactly what applications are allowed and who’s allowed to access them. Furthermore, having strong policy and governance features built into your CASB platform will ensure employees are only utilizing applications that serve practical purposes.
  • Integrated with your network infrastructure – Many organizations using cloud-based applications opt for a virtual network layer via software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). Whether you want to integrate a CASB with your current SD-WAN, or combine it through a larger service-based offering like a secure access service edge (SASE) solution, a CASB will be more effective if it’s able to exist within the fabric of your network.
  • Option to bundle more services – There’s no reason to stop with just your cloud access security broker offering if you’re utilizing services from a third-party provider. Bundling more services together doesn’t just reduce costs. It also creates cross-domain intelligence when various security protocols can communicate with each other. A great CASB and network security provider will be able to show these capabilities.
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You can probably see there’s a lot to consider when looking at cloud access security broker solutions. Knowing how to properly evaluate these services can ensure your organization ends up with a CASB to meet and exceed your needs.