With data breaches making the headlines almost daily, it can feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending discussion about how secure data is in the cloud.
On one hand, cloud naysayers may be preaching cloud repatriation in response to the high profile cloud compromises of the last few years. On the other hand, being too sure of your data security is a major recipe for trouble — hubris has no place in cybersecurity.
Bearing that in mind, in this article we've attempted to separate fact from fiction for you. Today, we’re breaking down types of cloud security, benefits, risks and challenges and a potential six step framework for implementing astrong security posture in your organization.
Read on for a comprehensive exploration of all things cloud security!
What is cloud security?
Cloud security is a digital solution that addresses security threats in your infrastructure, and like anything else in the world of IT, its seen a lot of change in recent years.According to Sid Nag, Vice President Analyst at Gartner:
"Organizations today view cloud as a highly strategic platform for digital transformation, which is requiring cloud providers to offer more sophisticated capabilities as the competition for digital services heats up."
Cloud computing environments follow a dedicated approach — distributing the security responsibilities between the cloud service provider and the customer. This is structured in three categories: provider-based, customer-based, and service-based security measures.
- Provider-based security: Cloud service providers implement security measures at the infrastructure level, safeguarding the physical data centers and network architecture.
- Customer-based security: Users implement security controls within their virtual environments hosted on the cloud platform.
- Service-based security: Security measures, such as identity and access management tools, are implemented within the cloud services. It's neither solely the responsibility of the users nor the providers. (This is known as the shared responsibility model.)
Cloud security ensures only the right users can access the right stuff, and that you can employ specific access controls and authentication mechanisms to restrict who can access what information and when. This stops unauthorized users from leaking data and keeps the cloud environment safe and trustworthy.
Cloud security and cloud network security
Cloud security and cloud network security serve the same purpose — both keep systems safe from cyber threats. But, they differ in terms of what they focus on and the extent of their coverage.
Cloud security secures everything stored and used in a cloud environment, like apps, networks, containers, and servers. But cloud network security only protects networks from unauthorized access, changes, misuse, or exposure.
Importance of cloud security in cloud computing
Cloud security is convenient for users because it provides an all-in-one security solution with multiple layers, and they can access applications from anywhere and at any time.
But if you have weak security mechanisms surrounding your applications, it can expose confidential data to more vulnerabilities. Your infrastructure will be at risk of:
- Unauthorized access
- Malicious attacks
- Data leakage
So you should implement strong identity and access management controls to isolate and protect the data from potential threats. A robust strategy can minimize the negative impacts, improve compliance with industry standards, and build customer trust in your application. And it can:
- Prevent breaches
- Mitigate damage
- Improve compliance
- Build customer trust
Benefits of cloud security
Beyond keeping your data safe, a strong cloud security approach might afford some unexpected benefits.
Centralized security with cybersecurity consolidation
Cloud security consolidates your organization's cybersecurity measures into a centralized framework. This centralization provides a unified platform to implement and manage various security tools, policies, and configurations.
Instead of deploying security solutions on-premises for each application or service, cloud-based security services offer a more cohesive approach — ensuring consistent security control applications across the cloud environment.
Cloud providers offer security services as part of their package, so you'll have no upfront costs for purchasing and maintaining on-premises security hardware and software.
Such solutions require you to pay only for the resources your organization consumes. And this eliminates the need to overprovision resources for peak loads — that’s cost efficiency.
Many cloud providers offer compliance certifications that validate their security practices and adherence to industry standards. Leveraging these certified cloud environments can simplify the compliance process for organizations.
And you can inherit specific security controls and measures provided because it reduces the burden of compliance management and audits.
Threat protection against DDoS
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks overwhelm a network or application, causing service disruptions, but cloud security services provide specialized DDoS and DoS attack mitigation to fight against cloud security threats.
With this, you get DDoS protection services that use traffic filtering, traffic rerouting, and advanced analytics to identify and mitigate malicious traffic before it reaches the organization's infrastructure.
Cloud providers implement encryption mechanisms to protect data at rest and in transit. This encryption ensures that even if unauthorized individuals gain access to the data, they cannot decipher its content without the appropriate decryption keys.
It also offers data backup and disaster recovery capabilities to safeguard data against loss or corruption, reducing the risk of business chaos due to unforeseen events.
Cloud security risks and challenges
In implementing a strong cloud security framework, there are a number of challenges to consider:
Lack of visibility
On-premises security measures allow direct control and monitoring. And the shared cloud-based infrastructures complicate this aspect.
The 'shared responsibility' model is common with cloud service providers — while they handle certain security aspects of the infrastructure, users are responsible for securing their data and applications.
This limited transparency creates difficulties in identifying potential threats, detecting unauthorized access, and monitoring data flow. So you can implement the following to bridge this visibility gap:
- Logs analysis
- Advanced monitoring tools
- Security information and event management (SIEM) systems
Multitenancy is a concept that increases security risks because of the shared nature of resources among multiple tenants (organizations or users).
While the shared infrastructure improves resource utilization and scalability, it also increases concerns about data isolation and leakage between tenants.
The challenge is to ensure that one tenant's vulnerabilities don't compromise the security of another. To address this, cloud providers implement virtualization and containers to segregate tenants' data and workloads.
But you should also implement appropriate security measures at the application and data layers to understand your provider's multitenancy architecture and mitigate these risks.
Access management includes controlling and monitoring user privileges and permissions within a cloud environment. In the dynamic-nature cloud infrastructures, various stakeholders have varying access requirements.
And improperly managed access controls open doors to data breaches or malicious activities by internal or external parties. To address this problem, you should adopt the principle of least privilege, granting users only the permissions necessary for their roles.
Strong authentication methods like MFA (Multi-factor Authentication) and IAM (Identity and Access Management) ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive resources and data.
Different regions and industries have their own set of data protection and privacy regulations that organizations must adhere to.
And transferring data to the cloud requires them to assess whether the chosen cloud service provider meets their necessary compliance standards. This process can include contractual agreements, data encryption and detailed assessments.
So maintaining compliance becomes a bit challenging and requires:
- Continuous monitoring of regulations
- Robust internal policies and procedures
- Transparent communication with providers
Types of cloud security solutions
Cloud security solutions are used depending on each cloud environment's specific needs and requirements, and since it's a complex and evolving field, you must adapt to new technologies to keep up with the changing threats and challenges.
Here are some solutions you should put to use:
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
SIEM collects, analyzes, and correlates data from sources, such as logs, alerts, and events, to show you a view of cloud environments' security posture and activity.
It's a cybersecurity technology that provides a single, streamlined view of your data, insight into security activities, and operational capabilities so you can effectively detect, investigate and respond to security threats.
Identity and Access Management (IAM)
The IAM framework manages the identities and access rights of users and entities in cloud environments.
It's a set of technologies, rules, and practices that IT departments employ to manage control and give network access permissions. With IAM, your assets are protected by ensuring that particular users can access the essential assets in the proper context.
DLP monitors and controls the movement and usage of sensitive or confidential data in cloud environments. It prevents data leakage, exposure, or theft, by applying rules and actions based on data classification, content, context, and destination.
Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)
PKI is a solution that uses cryptography to secure the communication and transactions between users and entities in cloud environments. It can help you encrypt, decrypt, sign, and verify data using public and private keys, certificates, and certificate authorities.
Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP)
CNAPP provides end-to-end security for cloud-native applications that run on containers, serverless platforms, or microservices architectures. Here's how it secures the application lifecycle, from development to deployment to runtime:
- Scanning for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations
- Integrating with DevOps tools and processes
- Enforcing policies and compliance
- Detecting and preventing attacks
Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity (DRBC)
DR and BC help restore and continue cloud operations in case of a disaster or an attack. They can help you ensure data availability, integrity, and resilience by:
- Providing backup
- Testing capabilities
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)
CSPM monitors and assesses cloud environments' security configuration and compliance. It identifies security gaps, misconfigurations, and violations by providing:
Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)
SASE converges network and security services into a unified cloud-based platform. It delivers secure and reliable access to cloud resources from any device or location by providing the following capabilities:
- Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS)
- Zero-trust network access (ZTNA)
- Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN)
- Secure web gateway (SWG)
- Cloud access security broker (CASB)
How to secure your cloud computing: a six-step framework
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains six cloud service safety advice for your organization to protect your customer's data. Here's their 6-step framework:
1) Use cloud service provider security
Although cloud companies outline their security policies, you should understand and tailor them for your organization. It'll involve careful considerations based on the sensitivity of your data and how you utilize it.
Use multi-factor authentication and strong passwords to prevent illegal access. And never hard-code passwords in cloud apps or source code. Why? Because it is easy to steal them and access sensitive data.
2) Frequently audit your cloud storage
You can only protect data in the cloud if you know where it is. That's why data management requires frequent audits. Many cloud services offer dashboards and administration consoles to help you keep track of it.
Assess your security settings and increase them when you add data that needs extra protection, and test for misconfigurations that could endanger your data. You can do this by keeping comprehensive log files to monitor your cloud repositories.
3) Don't save unnecessary personal data
Cloud storage is cheaper than other ways, so use it wisely. Be brutal when asking, "Do we have a legitimate need to store this information?" If not, dispose of it. You also need to ensure that the data is properly erased so that anyone else cannot recover it.
4) Encrypt infrequently used data
Apply encryption to data you don't need to use regularly — say, backups or archives. When you encrypt this data, it's transformed into a format that can only be understood with a special key.
To do this, you can use the defense-in-depth approach, which applies multiple layers of security to protect your data.
5) Listen to warnings
Some cloud providers automatically remind you about internet-accessible cloud repositories. Such cautions may be sent to customers.
Or security researchers contact firms about exposed data online. So pay attention to these cautions and check your cloud repositories to stay alert.
6) Take care of your security
Using cloud services doesn't mean outsourcing security. Security is your duty throughout your company's data lifetime. You should have a written data security program that outlines your company's method for securing consumers' data.
Pro tip: analyze cloud contracts to clarify expectations and assigned staff.
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