What Is Cloud Security? Best Practices, Risks & Solutions

What Is Cloud Security? Best Practices, Risks & Solutions

Cloud security has now become an established standard among both big corporations and small businesses. More and more businesses use cloud services in some form. Cloud platforms offer organizations the ability to quickly scale and streamline their operations and different forms of network security and data protection.

However, cloud storage also carries some potential risks. You want to be sure your internal data is safe and secure—whether it’s proprietary data or sensitive client information. We’ll share why cloud security is worth the investment, as well as ways to protect your data from any vulnerabilities.

What is cloud security?

Cloud security refers to the software and procedures used to control and protect data stored within the cloud from any potential threats. The data is stored and managed on a server hosted by a third-party service provider.

Businesses should have a detailed cloud security plan to prevent any data breaches and offer solutions in the event of a data attack or unauthorized access. A cloud security plan should outline specific privileges from individual users (identity and access management), describe how to recover data, and note any other protection measures in place (e.g., encryption).

Why businesses need to improve cloud security consistently

Technology is dynamic, and as it advances, cyber attackers learn new ways to exploit it. So a key security responsibility of any business is to consistently review and improve the cloud application you use to protect your data. Some specific reasons to continually revisit and improve your cloud security measures include:

  • Avoid compliance violations: When it comes to customer information, your business is dealing with sensitive data. Many industries have protocols to know who has access to your data and how it is protected. Revisiting your cloud security measures ensures you’re not in violation.
  • Detect any intruders: If you’re constantly improving your cloud security, this real-time monitoring will help you spot any irregularities. Being able to detect intruders early, for instance, will help you potentially avoid any disaster recovery later.
  • Ensure you have a backup data plan: Another reason you’ll want to improve your cloud security constantly is to ensure you have a backup plan for your data. No system is perfect, so be sure to constantly check back with your provider to ensure the platform has a backup plan for your data.

Is cloud computing secure?

Yes, cloud computing is secure. Although vulnerabilities like data loss and malware will always present themselves, there are many different controls you can put in place to help avoid these risks. For instance, you can make sure files stored on cloud servers are encrypted--making it hard for cybercriminals to gain access. Additionally, consistent security updates and built-in firewalls ensure protection from internal and external attacks.

Popular cloud-based systems

The increase in cloud adoption among businesses has led to the emergence of various cloud service providers. Services provided depend on your business-specific security needs. Options available include private cloud storage solutions, public cloud storage solutions, hybrid cloud storage services, and multi-cloud systems. Some popular cloud-based providers include:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Google Cloud
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Box
  • BT
  • OneDrive

Common cloud security vulnerabilities

Many of the security challenges faced by organizations with operations in the cloud are also common to traditional data centers. All organizations need to proactively look for vulnerabilities in the design of their systems while ensuring that sufficient authentication procedures are in place to prevent unauthorized access. In the cloud, though, these concerns are multiplied. Your organization is likely to share storage and computing resources with many other companies, which can leave your data exposed if their systems are compromised.

Security in the cloud falls on both providers and the organizations that use their services. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of each organization to ensure that its data is secure. The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), a not-for-profit organization that promotes best practices in cloud security, recommends that organizations use multifactor authentication and encryption to protect their data whenever transmitted or stored outside the organization. According to the CSA, encryption is critical for organizations in regulated industries like banking and healthcare, which have much stricter standards for storing and transmitting data.

Also, Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) are on-premises cloud security solutions that act as an intermediary between cloud service providers and cloud users. They ensure there’s always a high level of data privacy and provide remediation instructions when necessary.

Now, we'll look at some of the new security dimensions that storing data in the cloud introduces.

Physical security

One of the cloud's most significant advantages is virtualization, which allows organizations to expand their data centers without worrying about physical space. Instead, the responsibilities of maintaining a physical data center fall on the cloud service provider. At the same time, organizations don't have immediate physical access to their servers and routers.

At its physical data centers, the cloud service provider Microsoft Azure uses two-factor authentication, video surveillance, and regular access reviews to ensure the physical integrity of its servers. However, such measures can't protect against raids by security services and seizure of servers, regardless of whether your organization is the target of the search warrant.

Multitenancy

Multitenancy is a crucial feature of the public cloud. Your data is likely to be stored alongside data from other companies in the multi-tenant cloud environment, which could potentially include your competitors. One challenging part of cloud security is the potential for widespread collateral damage resulting from data breaches. Multitenancy, the sharing of storage and computation of resources across clients, means that your organization's data can be compromised due to another company's security failure.

For example, a poorly designed access policy in another tenant's application code could result in your company's data being exposed, especially in cases where multiple tenants' data is stored in the same tables. That said, businesses can mitigate this risk with rigorous security procedures. Some cloud service providers (Amazon Web Services, for example) offer dedicated servers (Amazon calls them "instances"), which are customizable, single-tenant solutions that put all of a client's data on their dedicated hardware.

API vulnerability

APIs are the ties that bind your systems to cloud services. Think of your data as a library. An API as the library card in this scenario gives another company access to your data library. It would be best if you made sure that these cards only provide them with access to the sections of your library you want them to see while keeping the rest roped off.

Unfortunately, the convenience and wide availability of APIs also represent a potential security threat. As more third-party systems rely on APIs, the more potential there is that a security flaw far removed from your system will compromise your data as well. Especially in regulated industries (like finance and healthcare), using APIs at all entails some risk, making the need for stringent security measures all the more pressing.

Vulnerability makes securing APIs a paramount concern. Both public and private APIs should have some combination of identification, authentication, and authorization measures to control who’s accessing what and what they're authorized to do with those assets. The more you can control access to your assets, the less likely they are to be compromised by vulnerabilities in your cloud infrastructure.

Misconfigurations

Misconfiguration occurs when a team member or user sets up computing assets incorrectly in a way that doesn't provide adequate security for cloud data. Cloud system misconfiguration often acts as a loophole to cloud-native breaches, allowing attackers to access the system successfully.

Inadequate measures put in place to restrict unauthorized access to your cloud infrastructure can put your business at risk. Your confidential data could be exposed for malicious use. To minimize misconfiguration and secure cloud data, ensure only experts configure your cloud resources. Additionally, use a specialized tool to double-check the security configuration whenever the cloud server is set up so that this vulnerability can be detected and fixed early.

Insider threats

Cloud service providers are responsible for the data of many different companies, making it imperative that the administrators and contractors who oversee those services can maintain the integrity of their customers' data.

Insider threats don't refer only to current or former workers who seek to compromise or misuse the organization's network or system intentionally. Damage can also be done by inexperienced or improperly trained workers who inadvertently cause data or security problems in their work. For instance, a network administrator could inadvertently delete essential data in the process of migrating from one database to another.

Whether the actions are malicious or unintentional, the effects can be profound. For cloud service providers, this makes properly vetting and training workers extremely important. For their clients, they must encrypt their data and maintain their logging and auditing systems.

Compliance and due diligence

Closely related to security is compliance. When choosing a cloud service provider, customers must ensure that the service level agreement (SLA) covers all their security and IT compliance requirements. The terms of the SLA will likely vary depending on the kind of services offered: IaaS (infrastructure as a service) agreements typically assign more responsibility for the software and data on the customer. In contrast, cloud deployment through SaaS (software as a service) agreements usually make software and data the provider's responsibility. PaaS (platform as a service) agreements fall somewhere in the middle. As a result, it's imperative that customers thoroughly evaluate their SLAs to understand their responsibilities and liabilities.

For enterprises in regulated industries, working in the cloud introduces a whole new layer of complexity. Any cloud solution used must also comply with relevant mandates, whether HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI-DSS, or European Union General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Regulations place an additional burden on the providers to ensure their systems work under regulatory schemas. Still, it's also the clients' responsibility to perform due diligence in choosing compliant providers. In addition, audit trails, continuity and recovery services, and record-keeping are features that companies in regulated industries may need to monitor.

How to keep your data safe on the cloud

There are many ways to keep your data safe when it comes to cloud security, including limiting access control, taking advantage of encryption, etc. We’ll take a look at some specifics below.

Infrastructure cloud security

Infrastructure cloud security refers to how your cloud security systems work, specifically the servers and networks used to store your data. There are different models available for your infrastructure—specifically, a public cloud model, a private cloud model, or a hybrid cloud model that combines the two. Each offers a unique set of advantages when it comes to securing your data. For example, a private cloud means only one user can secure their data, while a public cloud is a shared space among different users.

Credential management tools

Credential management tools are ways in which organizations manage who has access to their secure data. An example of these cloud security controls includes passwords. Credential management tools enable businesses to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. In addition, the ability to validate users ensures that your data remains safe from harm.

In transit encryption

In transit encryption refers to the practice of protecting data when it moves between two services or between your business site and the cloud providers. As a safety measure, before transmission, data is encrypted and the endpoint authenticated. On arrival, it is decrypted and verified.

Rest encryption

Data at rest encryption (DARE) refers to protecting data that does not travel through different networks—like data that sits within a hard drive. Rest encryption ensures that the data remains encrypted, and an unauthorized person cannot decrypt the data.

Zero-knowledge authentication

Zero-knowledge proof (ZKP) authentication is when users prove they have the requisite credential without necessarily transmitting this credential. ZKP is a specific form of encryption where each user has an original key to access data not shared with others.

Client-side encryption

Another way your business can secure data is using client-side encryption. The data is encrypted from the client-server in this cryptographic method and remains encrypted until it reaches the destination server through an endpoint. Client-side encryption prevents access to your files in addition to the loss of data.

Ransomware protection

Phishing and spamming are the most common ways ransomware is shared or distributed. Con artists use this tactic to get your personal information by sending emails requesting that you download a malware-bearing file attached to it. Anti-ransomware software is essential to protect your data from such intrusion. However, it’s also vital that you don’t click any suspicious link or download any file without either running it through the anti-ransomware software or verifying that it’s from a legitimate source.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is an authentication method that requires multiple methods of identification before accessing protected data. Multiple methods used can include a password, a security token, a specific location, etc. Requiring someone to cross multiple hurdles adds that much more to your data protection.

Generate cloud backups

With cyberattacks on the rise, cloud backups are essential in retrieving lost or stolen data. One of the steps a business can take in ensuring that lost data or files are not gone forever is by generating cloud backups. In addition, setting periodic automatic cloud backups will be helpful so data lost due to file corruption or malicious use by attackers can easily be retrieved and used again.

Run security audits weekly

A security audit is vital in assessing your business's potential security risks and mitigation measures.  It’s always a good idea to regularly run a security audit to detect a security breach on a cloud system. In addition, regular audits will afford you sufficient time to deal with the threats via distribution denial services (DDOS).

Employee security

Employee security is also essential to safeguarding data against theft, loss, and malicious use. Regular training sessions are a must to keep your team updated on the company's security posture and current cybersecurity threats, security issues, and security policies. Employees also need to be aware of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to understand what’s required to manage customer data.

General digital security training

It’s paramount that both business managers and employees get general digital security training once in a while. Training can range from risk assessment and management to the latest trends in digital security and what tools are available to your team.

Monitor user activity

Continuous monitoring of your cloud storage system is crucial in ensuring that your business data remains secure from any unauthorized users. Limit access to data only to users where necessary, and be sure that they’re in the know of the latest digital security trends.

Off-boarding processes

Whether someone is leaving voluntarily or otherwise, it’s also essential to have a detailed off-boarding process to ensure they don’t have continued access to your team’s sensitive data. Moreover, it’s important to deactivate an employee's access to your company's data on their last day. If they had access to any universal codes or passwords, you’d also want to change those.

Anti-phishing training

Phishing scams are one of the most common cybercrimes businesses face. They involve sending emails containing suspicious links to get access to your data. Anti-phishing training is essential to create awareness about easily identifying phishing emails and the best ways to tackle them. Some companies will test team members by sending an email that mimics a phishing email. If the team member clicks on the link, they have to participate in security training.

Two-factor authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security used to ensure that the user trying to gain access to your resources is who they claim to be. 2FA requires that the user provide another piece of information after their username and password. This way, it’s difficult for unauthorized persons to access your data or use them for other purposes. An example of two-factor authentication is entering a code sent to your phone after submitting your password.

Conclusion

Cloud security is essential to your business’ data protection, and it’s important to remember that data security is not a one-time project. It requires continuous commitment, regular updates, and new training to make sure your team uses the most up-to-date practices. Be sure to connect with top IT consultants to ensure your cloud security measures keep your data protected.



Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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