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Palo Alto Networks on Tuesday unveiled a new cloud security offering, its next-generation Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), which taps machine learning to bolster the protection of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and collaboration apps.

The company’s next-generation CASB platform will use ML and AI to provide capabilities such as the automatic discovery of applications and improved data loss prevention for sensitive data, the company announced.

The next-generation CASB is the latest product from the Santa Clara, California-based cyber firm to get a significant injection of ML- and AI-powered functionality, said Lee Klarich, chief product officer at Palo Alto Networks, in a briefing with reporters.

AL and ML are now used “across our products,” Klarich said—pointing to the company’s other products such as Cortex, which uses AI and ML to detect previously unknown malicious events and then automatically analyze them.

SaaS explosion

The launch of the new Palo Alto Networks CASB comes as the use of SaaS applications among businesses continues to climb. The average organization now uses 110 SaaS applications, up from 80 last year, according to a recent report from SaaS management platform vendor BetterCloud.

At the same time, security violations related to SaaS files have jumped 134% this year, the report found. And lack of knowledge about where sensitive data resides is a widespread issue, according to the findings.

With its next-generation CASB, Palo Alto Networks aims to enable businesses to tackle the SaaS security challenge with capabilities to automatically secure new applications, halt threats using detection and prevention, and protect key data in real time.

In terms of protecting data, Palo Alto Networks is using ML to get better at detecting sensitive data, and doing so more accurately and quickly, the company said. The platform, which also uses AI capabilities such as natural language processing, can thus serve as a replacement for manual pattern-based detection, according to the company.

This enables Palo Alto Networks to provide enhanced data loss prevention, protecting against the accidental or intentional removal of sensitive data, said Anand Oswal, a senior vice president at the company, during the briefing.

Automatic App Detection

When it comes to securing new applications, the next-generation CASB offering leverages ML to automatically detect and secure new SaaS applications in real time, replacing a formerly manual process, Oswal said. That is crucial because it allows companies to keep pace with the continual growth in usage of SaaS applications, he explained.

Critically, these protections are extended both to web-delivered SaaS applications and for collaboration apps, which have surged in usage for hybrid work but are not sufficiently protected by existing CASB products that only work for HTTPS apps, Oswal said.

Ultimately, to counter the growing cyber threats in the cloud, “we as an industry have to embrace and get really good at using automation,” Klarich said. “This can’t be [about] human power. We need people to focus on the really hard projects—we can use automation to deal with a lot of repetitive manual work that takes place in security.”

Palo Alto Networks said that its next-generation CASB is expected to be available in January 2022. It will be available through the company’s Prisma Access 3.0 platform and all next-generation Firewalls.

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