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Today’s interconnected digital landscape, where applications seamlessly integrate to enhance productivity, is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, information is more accessible than ever, requiring switching between apps and services, ostensibly increasing productivity. 

On the other hand, the importance of robust identity management cannot be overstated, and if you’re not careful you can lose track of who, what, and where you’ve authorized permissions — and with companies under 2,000 employees averaging more than 73 SaaS app integrations in 2020, it’s clearly a growing problem. 

It’s crucial to recognize the potential risks associated with OAuth (Open Authorization) grants and how they impact your organization’s data security. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of OAuth and shed light on the vulnerabilities that may lurk beneath the surface.

Broad OAuth access can mean identity sprawl

Many applications today build on top of each other, using the data from one to power the other. A common example is Google. Google is not one thing; it’s Gmail, Drive, Calendar, etc. And for each of these services, Google has a fine-grained API that engineers can use (usually read-only or read-write) to integrate with their products. OAuth is the standard authorization technology across services and is part of what makes an “interconnected” internet experience possible. For example, YeshID Onboard leverages OAuth APIs from Google, Slack, Zoom, and other platforms to streamline identity management for your organization. 

However, the devil is in the details when it comes to OAuth scopes, which are the permissions granted to applications. An alarming aspect is the breadth of these scopes. Some vendors offer OAuth APIs in an all-or-nothing approach, which hampers the ability to employ least-privilege access principles. This contrasts with providers like Google Workspace, known for their granular scopes, allowing for more specific permissions like manipulating mailbox settings, accessing sensitive files, and even user impersonation. However, granularity does not inherently mean restraint; vendors may still request more permissions than necessary, increasing potential risks.

Complicating matters, the risk of data exposure and account takeover is substantial if an OAuth-integrated application is compromised. This situation is akin to any custodian acting on our behalf; the extent of the compromise is proportional to the level of trust and access we’ve granted. So understanding the granularity and necessity of OAuth scopes is crucial in safeguarding your organization’s sensitive information. It’s imperative to assess not just what permissions are possible, but also what permissions are truly necessary for the task at hand

OAuth can introduce unintentional vulnerabilities

One of the major risks lies in users granting OAuth access without fully comprehending the implications, which can lead to unintended vulnerabilities. Consider the scenario of a vulnerability in a Single Sign-On (SSO) mechanism that allowed unauthorized access using Google credentials. Users, in their quest for convenience, might inadvertently expose sensitive company data by granting access without due diligence.

The accidental use of work credentials in personal applications further exacerbates the problem. This unintentional mingling of professional and personal spheres can result in a breach of company data, underscoring the need for user education on OAuth access and permissions. Here’s an example of what you might wind up with.

Navigating OAuth security concerns

Enhancing the security of your accounts can be achieved by clearly understanding the difference between “session length” and “grant validity period.” In OAuth, permissions granted to applications often allow extended, but not indefinite, access to company data, raising potential security concerns. This issue becomes particularly critical when applications with extensive permissions retain this access for prolonged periods. 

To mitigate risks like unauthorized access, data exposure, and account takeover, it’s essential for leaders to proactively manage and monitor these OAuth grants. Regular reviews and audits of the grant validity periods are key practices in ensuring these permissions are necessary and relevant, and in maintaining the overall security and integrity of your organization’s data.

Here’s a look at the OAuth request lifecycle to illustrate the issue:

One way to do this is by using your Google Workspace console and navigating the following path: Security > Access and Data > API Controls > Manage third party app access > View list. There, you can view apps with access, revoke access if needed, and just get a general view of what’s going on in your app environment. Check out the video below, where I walk you through it.

On the other hand, you can also easily track this information with YeshID. Our intuitive dashboards present a comprehensive overview of app licenses, showcasing the interconnected web of permissions across different applications. This helps leaders easily identify which apps or services have broad access to sensitive data and understand the potential risks associated with each OAuth grant.

As leaders in the SMB space, it’s imperative to understand the intricacies of OAuth and its potential risks. By educating users, understanding OAuth scopes, and implementing security measures, SMBs can fortify their identity management practices, ensuring a robust defense against the evolving landscape of digital threats. 

YeshID is your partner in this effort, showcasing the identity sprawl within your organization and aiding in the vigilant management of OAuth access. Want to learn more about how we can keep your identity and access management realm simple, effective, and secure? Get YeshID Onboard for free and start today.