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February 11, 2022 | Updated on: November 13, 2023 | Reading time 15 minutes

Application Risk Assessment in Google Workspace Marketplace

Though seemingly safe, apps on Google Marketplace can contain hidden risks for businesses using them. We created a detailed guide explaining how to conduct an Application Risk Assessment and what automation solutions to use.

You Are Responsible for Your Google Workspace Data

You only have to browse through the list of productivity apps found in the Google Workspace Marketplace to see the tremendous amount of applications that are available to extend your Google Workspace (G Suite) environment and capabilities. Tools are ranging from apps for accounting & finance, administration, ERP & logistics, HR & legal, creative tools, web development, office applications, etc. In fact, there is a good chance if you need a particular application to perform a function in Google Workspace (G Suite) environment, most likely, there is an application that is available to take care of that process for you.

As with most aspects of the Google Workspace (G Suite) and other public cloud environments, you must realize you are responsible for your data when it comes to third-party applications and maintaining Google Workspace (G Suite) security for your data. In fact, Google makes this clear in their G Suite Marketplace Terms of Service.

This is clearly stated:
“Google is not responsible for any Product on the Market that originates from a source other than Google, and you should ensure that you read and agree to any additional terms that apply to those Products before accessing or using them”.

Google recommends that all businesses using Google Workspace environments evaluate a Google Workspace Marketplace app and its security before installing and using the app. Concerning evaluating the security of Google Workspace (G Suite) Marketplace apps, Google makes this statement:

You may wonder, why is there a risk from using third-party applications when they may be listed in the G Suite Marketplace? The risk factor from third-party applications comes from two different perspectives:

  • The third-party application may directly try to leak your data or have some kind of malicious intent
  • The third-party application may be legitimate in nature, but be poorly written. Poorly written applications may introduce G Suite security vulnerabilities that can lead to compromise.

How to Protect Google Workspace (G Suite) from Malicious Apps

While Google has a screening process for developers, as Google’s disclaimer mentions, “you are solely responsible for any compromise or loss of data”. Businesses must take hard and fast ownership of screening third-party apps for security best practices. What are the best practices that Google outlines for third-party application security?

How to Protect Google Workspace (G Suite) from Malicious Apps
How to Protect Google Workspace G Suite from Malicious Apps

Application Risk Assessment: How to evaluate vendors and/or Google Workspace (G Suite) applications

Google notes that you must evaluate a vendor or application and decide to use it for your G suite environment. To analyze whether or not a vendor or application is acceptable to use from a G Suite security perspective before you install the application:

  • Look at reviews left by customers who have downloaded and installed the third-party application. The reviews are listed for all G Suite Marketplace apps.
  • Look and analyze closely the third-party application vendor’s Terms of Service, privacy policy, and deletion policy agreements to ensure there are no unwanted, hidden clauses that may affect the security.
  • Contact the third-party application vendor directly with questions regarding any grey areas that may be questionable.

Screen Gadgets and Contextual Gadgets Carefully

What about third-party gadgets? What are the gadgets? These are full web applications written in HMTL, CSS, and Javascript that can run in the context of the G Suite environment. You can use Gadgets in Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Sites. What are the security implications?

  • A special class of gadgets is known as the Gmail contextual gadget. These types of gadgets can extract data from a Gmail message and provide contextually relevant information to you in the message pane.
  • Poorly written gadgets by third-party vendors may expose your business to potential risks in the form of phishing attacks and potential data loss or leakage.

Gadgets in general and specifically contextual gadgets should only be installed from vendors that you implicitly trust.

Use the Google Workspace Security Assessment Program

Google has a Google Workspace Marketplace Security Assessment Program that allows developers to submit their apps to a third-party security firm which then performs a full security and risk assessment of their application. Once an application has passed the security assessment, the application will be able to display a security badge in the Marketplace listing.

By following these Google-defined best practices for Google Workspace security, businesses can much better gauge the security of applications that are integrated with the G Suite environment. Another danger when it comes to third-party applications is your end-users. How is this the case? In general, your typical end-user is very trusting of any application that requests permission to access their data. Most of us are guilty of blindly clicking “Allow” to permissions requests on mobile devices when installing a new third-party application. Do most take the time to consider the security implications of allowing access? For most of your users, the answer is “No”.

Take Control Over Access to Sensitive Corporate Data

Now, think of that same mindset when it comes to accessing sensitive corporate data. Do you want the same type of decision-making to happen when deciding whether or not to allow applications to access important business data? This is a very real and present danger in today’s corporate culture of freedom to access business data with mobile devices, including BYOD, from various untrusted networks, etc. You must have the means in place to keep strict watch over and control of third-party applications to ensure the applications that are granted access to your sensitive corporate data are those that meet the criteria listed above and have all the characteristics of a trustworthy application that is not known for data leak or all-out malicious activity. How can you successfully meet the ever-increasing demands on IT professionals, not only in the area of operations but now with increasing security complexities?

Google Workspace Application Risk Assessment Automation

Why you need to automate security With the sheer number of threats, variants, complexities, hybrid networks, BYOD, and many other factors, it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible for you to rely on manual efforts for effective security. Humans are simply not as effective and efficient at parsing logs and manually correlating metrics and activities as “machines” or computers are.

Computers are much better at repetitive tasks that require monotonous activities such as crunching numbers and examining data than humans. Additionally, computers do not “get tired” and can work 24x7x365. Machine Learning is a new type of technology that businesses can make use of that uses powerful and complex mathematical algorithms to “learn” about an environment and determine what normal is and then recognize deviations from this fingerprint of normalcy. When used with security, machine learning can create a baseline of what normal activity is in an environment and build a baseline of activity.

If an activity is noticed outside of the normal behavior of both users and applications, this could be a red flag that there may be malicious intent with the new behavior. Let’s see how machine learning and intelligent artificial design making can be put to good use to protect the Google G suite environment from G Suite Marketplace security threats, including those that may be posed to your data by third-party applications.

SpinOne – Virtual Google Workspace Security Expert

Imagine if you could have a full-time “expert” security person working to secure your Google Workspace (G Suite) public cloud SaaS environment. Would you feel more confident about your business-critical data from a security standpoint? Absolutely! You can have such an expert security assistant working to secure your Google Workspace (G Suite) environment – SpinOne. Using the latest in powerful machine learning algorithms, SpinOne is a virtual security expert scanning the Google Workspace (G Suite) environment looking and watching for anything that could pose a danger to business-critical data.

SpinOne’s API-driven CASB technology integrates with Google Workspace (G Suite) seamlessly to become a hardened security layer in between corporate data and anyone or any device accessing it. This includes third-party applications that are allowed access to corporate data. Its AI-based approach to analyze third-party apps saves IT personnel and Google Workspace (G Suite) administrators tremendous amounts of time and energy protecting the Google Workspace (G Suite) environment.

SpinOne Analytics Engine

The SpinOne analytics engine provides unique expertise and fully automated scanning of over 20,000 apps and counting. With new improvements in algorithms and scanning technology implemented regularly, SpinOne is constantly improving the solution to provide the best possible security for businesses utilizing the Google Workspace (G Suite) environment. The bottom line is SpinOne allows automating the best practices recommended by Google when securing third-party applications.

Google Workspace Application Risk Assessment

Google Workspace application security assessment in SpinOne

AI-based Third-Party Apps Risk Assessment and Remediation

With the Third-Party Apps protection module and AI-enabled technology, the Apps Audit Policies allow creating effective rules that control how apps are allowed to be installed in the G Suite environment. SpinOne allows creating both a blacklist and whitelist of applications that are allowed or disallowed to access your G Suite environment.

This is a powerful approach that you can use to only allow certain applications to be installed or disallow a list of applications, or a combination of both. Notifications are proactively sent to administrators, notifying them of the event.

Under the Apps Audit Policies, the Blacklist & Whitelist allows configuring the following:

  • Application Name – This field contains the application’s full name, or part of the name, as found in the G Suite Marketplace or the Apps Audit section.
  • Application Category – Detects all applications under the defined application category.
  • Application Risk Score – Detects all applications under the chosen risk rate.
  • Remove Application – When selected, the application is removed.
  • Use Apps Audit Allowlist or Blocklist  Check – If this checkbox is enabled, it will compare detected applications with the blacklist in the Apps Audit section.

What SpinOne Protects Your Business From

What SpinOne Protects Your Business From

What are some of the common use cases SpinOne’s AI-based third-party apps protection module solves for businesses utilizing G Suite SaaS environments?

1. Unsanctioned data download – An employee installs an app that connects to the G Suite environment and starts migrating sensitive data from a corporate account to their personal private cloud storage account. This commonly happens when an employee decides to leave a company.
2. Unsanctioned third-party apps download – An employee installs an app that is not sanctioned for use in the G Suite organization
3. Employee Termination – When a company fires an employee, IT admins usually suspend the user account. When you suspend a G Suite account, all the apps still have access to sensitive data that was accessible by the user. This can be a potential for a data breach. SpinOne’s third-party app security solution is a must-have tool for HR Departments that have to take care of the most efficient way of OFF-boarding an employee by removing all the Apps that have access to sensitive data through a suspended user account.
4. Compromised third-party apps – An App can be hacked by cybercriminals. Developers may not be able to quickly identify the breach before it starts downloading or migrating an abnormal amount of data or changes the scope of permissions which constitutes abnormal behavior.

Automated Intelligence and Security Expertise for Your Google Workspace Environment

Third-party applications provide tremendous value to your business to extend the capabilities of your Google Workspace (G Suite) environment. With the capabilities of Google Workspace Marketplace apps, there are security risks involved.

Google makes it clear that if you decide to utilize third-party apps, you must take ownership of your data and by extension, any data loss that happens due to a risky third-party app. Implementing third party apps best practices can be involved, and require a lot of manual processes to be effective. To keep pace with the complexity and sheer pace of hybrid environments today, you must make effective use of machine learning and AI to be effective.

SpinOne provides the definitive solution for securing the Google Workspace environment and making intelligent decisions regarding third-party apps and installation in G Suite. By making use of intelligent AI-based technology, SpinOne is the virtual security expert that constantly watches your Google Workspace environment and enforcing security 24x7x365.

SpinAudit SaaS application automated risk assessment

Organizations moving to the cloud can be overwhelmed by security implications and concerns with cloud data and third-party applications. Performing a risk assessment of all cloud applications and browser plugins using manual efforts would be impossible. SpinAudit provides an automated way to assess third-party applications’ business, security, and compliance risks. Consider how SpinAudit helps to automate the risk assessment lifecycle of SaaS applications. It provides the following risk assessment automation:

Continuous risk level analysis of applications

SpinAudit detects when new apps are installed or uninstalled. It automatically reviews the application and identifies apps that have been blocked. Once SpinAudit has blocked an app, its access is revoked any time a user attempts to install it in the cloud SaaS environment.

User behavior analysis

Determine important cybersecurity information about user behavior, including when they are accessing, what applications they are using, which IP they are connecting from, and geolocation.

Understand how cloud data is accessed and shared

See which files are accessed and shared with whom. Easily see if the information is shared publicly. Capture events in historical dashboards. Identify sensitive information such as Credit Card Numbers (CCNs).

Implement security policies

Use granular policies in customizing apps and data audits, and domain audit-related policies. It allows for specific rule scopes, exceptions, and notification settings on a per-rule basis.

With SpinAudit and other built-in capabilities, SpinOne allows creating blacklists and whitelists of applications for sanctioned use. If the AI-based engine detects that a once-approved third-party app begins demonstrating malicious behavior, SpinOne provides notifications and remediation of the potential security event. SpinOne provides automated intelligence and security expertise to your Google Workspace environment, seamlessly, and in a way that provides confidence in making use of third-party applications.

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Vice President of Product

About Author

Davit Asatryan is the Vice President of Product at Spin.AI

He is responsible for executing product strategy by overseeing the entire product lifecycle, with a focus on developing cutting-edge solutions to address the evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats.

He has been with the company for over 5 years and specializes in SaaS Security, helping organizations battle Shadow IT, ransomware, and data leak issues.

Prior to joining Spin.AI, Davit gained experience by working in fintech startups and also received his Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. In his spare time, Davit enjoys traveling, playing soccer and tennis with his friends, and watching sports of any kind.

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