Pagoda Blog

The Threat of Third-Party Apps and How to Manage Them

November 17, 2022

Your business’s success relies in part on innovation and motivated employees taking the initiative to improve productivity, automate monotonous tasks, and streamline their work. Sometimes, however, in an effort to achieve more and optimize workflow, cybersecurity can end up taking a backseat. Third-party apps can certainly help you achieve your business goals, but it’s important to stay aware of potential cybersecurity threats. 


What is a third-party app? 

A third-party app is one developed by a party outside of the device or website where it is being applied. In contrast, a native app is one developed by the device or website, such as iPhotos and Mail that come preinstalled on your iPhone or MacBook Pro. 


Third-party apps provide a variety of features and services that can improve the functionality of a device or website, especially in the age of remote work. Examples of third-party apps include survey forms like Survey Monkey, automated customer support like ZenDesk, and subscription billing like Recurly. These apps can be integrated with an email service like MailChimp, a cloud-based platform like Microsoft 365, or with your company website to expand capabilities. While useful for businesses looking to keep up with an increasingly online world, third-party apps also pose certain risks. Let’s take a look at some of these risks and how you can mitigate them. 


Primary threats of third-party apps

Perhaps the biggest threat of third-party apps is their availability. It’s easy for an individual without much tech expertise to integrate multiple third-party apps with the devices and services they use for work. Many of these apps grant API access to sensitive databases and systems, such as Microsoft 365 or other cloud-based systems. 


The ease with which these apps can be integrated means that they often don’t go through any sort of security review by IT. Instead, individual employees grant third-party apps access to company data, and even the entire company network, without any vetting or knowledge on the part of the IT department or your Managed Service Provider. This exposes the company to cyberattacks for which there may be no cybersecurity strategy in place.  


Beyond the apps’ accessibility and the lack of monitoring and review, there are several other primary risks to be aware of. 


1. Third-party apps can copy and store company data on their servers, exposing your business to a data breach. 


2. Third-party apps may share your data with other parties. 


3. Third-party apps may change how they interact with and use your data without your knowledge. 


4. It is often challenging, and sometimes impossible, to delete your data from a third-party app. 


When you introduce a third-party app into your company network or allow it to integrate with a company device or software, you lose control of your data. Apps require access to the data stored within the device or software they are integrating with in order to perform their desired function. Once they are granted access, this data may be shared with other third-parties and is often stored on the app’s server, whose security you don’t control. 


How to regulate and manage third-party apps

While it may not be realistic to ban employees from using any third-party apps for work purposes, it’s important to inform employees of approved apps and those that pose a risk to company data. You can typically trust third-party apps that have been created for official online app stores like Microsoft App Source, Google Play, or the Apple App Store. These apps must meet certain development standards and have been reviewed for malware. They also are typically reviewed on a regular basis which means the developers will release security patches and software updates to remedy any vulnerabilities that might emerge.    


How you regulate and track third-party apps across company devices should be added to your BYOD (bring your own device) policy and woven into the fabric of your company’s ever-evolving cybersecurity culture. Additionally, if you use Microsoft 365, you have the option of controlling third-party apps using Microsoft Defender. As an administrator, you can choose to block unsanctioned apps from individual employees, departments, or all employees. You can also govern third-party app access by adjusting certain settings in Google Workplace. This is an effective way to prevent potentially risky third-party apps from gaining access to company data. 


Feature photo by Dan Nelson on Unsplash


Related reading:

Do You Need Cyber Liability Insurance and What Does It Cover?

How to Encrypt Your Internet Connection and Why Encryption Matters

5 Ways a Data Breach Can Cause Long-Term Damage to Your Business


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