HR Management & Compliance, Technology

Enterprise Social Apps: Securing the Digital Workplace

It’s hard to imagine a workplace without Slack, Teams, and other enterprise social apps that have made remote work possible and enjoyable. Since the pandemic, we’ve relied on these apps to replace in-person conversations and collaboration. While ultimately the benefit outweighs the risk, enterprise social apps bring with them new security challenges that simply can’t be ignored.

Digital Workplace

Securing enterprise social apps is a new paradigm, but it’s representative of a security woe that IT veterans have faced since the dawn of the internet—ensuring security mechanisms are active at the location of work. Today, that’s a more ambiguous target, ranging far outside the walls of an office or an on-premises network, in many cases.

A New Emergence of Vulnerabilities

As history has taught us, with new compute models come new attack surfaces. As a result, new security tooling has emerged to address these new vulnerabilities. While this is positive in the short term, patching necessary holes as we go, it does little for long-term gains. It also introduces challenges with legacy system integrations.

But, managing multiple solutions for every possible threat is no longer possible for IT and security leaders. As it stands, enterprises use upward of 110 SaaS applications on average, and as this number grows, so do the challenges of securely governing it all. Businesses need to get realistic about how to manage a host of new apps and tools, with most operating in a remote working environment. 

A New Generation of Security Tools

Fortunately, there is a bright spot: A new generation of security tooling built within the business platforms and processes enterprises already use. While specific endpoint technology will always be needed, solutions will become increasingly integrated with larger systems of action that are aligned with risk and employee workflow.  

While this is a step in the right direction, looser attitudes toward enterprise social apps can make this difficult to manage. Take Slack for example: On one hand, people tend to let their guard down a little more. They’re encouraged to joke and socialize, but it’s also a place to share company information, documents, and customer information. 

Enterprise social apps fill a much-needed cultural expectation and offer a quick means of communication once void from remote work. They increase productivity and help us get fast answers. But our casual attitudes, dispersed workforce, and lack of real policy around them contributes to security vulnerability. It’s a fine balance, but there are several ways to benefit from enterprise social apps while reducing the risk associated with them.   

Prioritizing Governance

First, you must ensure that individuals who have access are governed. Whether full-time, part-time, contractor, or another employment status, anyone who is using enterprise social apps must have the appropriate level of access. For example, if someone is no longer employed, their access should be removed. If they are a contract or freelance employee, consider the timeframe of their contract, or whether it’s necessary for them to have access to social apps to complete their project.  

This boils down to identity lifecycle management. To remain effective, this requires constant monitoring. While much of this can be automated, governing identity will never be a “set it and forget it” activity. The state of identity is always changing, and reevaluating what that means is crucial. Certain departments and roles have access to certain tools and systems, and certain assets should be taken away with departmental moves. 

The Fine Art of Finances

Beyond proper governance, there’s a financial component to how enterprise social apps are managed. Most social apps have licensing costs, and governance can help defray excess spending. For example, if an employee leaves your company and you don’t disable their Slack account, not only is there a security hole, but you’re burning money. Add this up across multiple accounts and applications, and depending on your organization size, it could be significant.  

The siloed nature of most businesses presents another challenge. In the early days, IT was a finance function, typically reporting to the CFO. There was alignment between business and operations, but now there are different needs, budgets, and reporting structures for folks in regulatory compliance, finance, IT, and other business areas. As a result, there’s less focus—or even awareness of—expenses and operational efficiency for the overall business.  

But it doesn’t have to be a trade-off between restrictive security and worker productivity. Strong identity governance practices lead to better security, efficiency, and cost savings. Enterprise social apps are not too different from other business software. Taking proper governance measures, constantly evaluating the state of identity, and acting upon these insights in a timely manner are all key to securing enterprise social apps. 

Jackson Shaw is CSO at Clear Skye. Shaw began his identity management career as an early employee at Toronto-based Zoomit Corp., a pioneer in the development of meta-directory products that Microsoft acquired in 1999. While at Microsoft, he was responsible for product planning and marketing around Microsoft’s identity and access management products, including Active Directory and Microsoft Identity Manager. Shaw has held various senior product management and marketing roles since Microsoft, including at Vintela, Quest Software, Dell, One Identity, and Forcepoint. He studied computer science at the University of Ottawa, Canada.