Offering versatile tools and services, as well as scalable remote access to IT services and resources, the cloud has changed the way we work beyond all recognition. Last year, it was estimated that 60% of corporate data was stored in the cloud, which now makes the cloud the preferred choice for new enterprise infrastructure.
Another key advantage of the cloud is its inherent security. Cloud providers pour huge sums of money into the cyber defences of their data centres, with features like geo-redundancy and advanced intrusion detection and prevention (IDPS) systems, arguably making the cloud more secure than on-premises hosting.
While the security of cloud services isn’t in doubt, businesses must be aware of the distinct security and data privacy challenges that must be accounted for when setting up and managing a new cloud asset or workload. These challenges can be easily surmounted, but it’s important to be aware of the risks that are unique to the cloud environment, and the way these risks can be mitigated in order to secure cloud data against loss, misuse, and cyber attacks.
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The cloud has changed the face of business IT over the last ten to twenty years, giving businesses attainable access to the latest technologies, and allowed many to operate a lean, agile IT system that closely parallels business demand. In this article, we want to explain the distinct security challenges the cloud can present, outline the strategies that are vital to overcoming these challenges, and touch upon the security technologies that can assist businesses in defending their cloud assets.
Understanding ‘Shared responsibility’
In virtually any cloud project, responsibility for security is divided between you (the customer) and the cloud service provider, a concept widely referred to as the ‘shared responsibility model.’ The delineation of these responsibilities isn’t always clear cut, and depends largely on the cloud service model (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) and the deployment model (public, private and hybrid) of the cloud deployment in question.
However, in general, there are some responsibilities that are always the service provider’s, and some that are always the customer’s:
The Provider’s Responsibilities
Cloud providers are responsible for maintaining the physical integrity of their equipment, by implementing physical access controls to prevent trespass, and maintaining optimal conditions for the operation of server equipment. They’re also responsible for patching host software and applying site-level security controls (such as firewalls) to intercept threats that could cause harm to the infrastructure. Cloud providers have a vested interest in maximising the uptime of their service, and should therefore be proactive in mitigating any risks which could affect the security or integrity of their server infrastructure.
The Cloud Customer’s Responsibilities
As a cloud customer, the onus is on your business to apply data-level or application-level safeguards, to protect the information you store on the cloud against unauthorised access or malicious exploitation. This involves rigorously managing identities and access, applying appropriate security measures (such as encryption to protect sensitive information in transit), and securing the devices your employees use to access your cloud services, ensuring they feature secure authentication and the latest security updates.
Distinct Cloud Security Challenges
The cloud landscape presents unique challenges for security teams, necessitating an approach that differs fundamentally from strategies that work well on traditional hosting setups. The following are some of the security challenges businesses must account for when building a cloud security framework:
An Enlarged Attack Surface
The distributed nature of the public cloud environment presents a greater number of potential opportunities for attackers, in the form of poorly secured devices used by employees to access cloud-hosted resources. Because cloud access often takes place outside the confines of secured corporate networks, malware, zero-day attacks, and account takeovers are some of the very real dangers businesses need to recognise and combat.
One of the most attractive qualities of the cloud, is the way it removes the burden of infrastructure management from customers. While this can afford obvious benefits, it can make it more difficult to conduct security assessments and perform compliance monitoring, since detailed insights into the underlying components are concealed from view. The restricted visibility into the infrastructure layer is particularly acute in PaaS and SaaS deployments, with cloud customers relying on native security tools which offer limited granularity of control.
The flexibility of the cloud enables an agile IT environment that can quickly accommodate changing needs, but this flexibility can also render traditional security tools ineffective at enforcing security controls and data protections.
Cloud services require businesses to be proactive when it comes to privilege and access management. Remember, cloud services can be accessed from anywhere, so it’s vital that users are only able to access data and perform functions that are appropriate to their skill level and job role. Data loss, system disruptions, and compliance breaches are just some of the consequences that can result from poorly configured user privileges and access rights.
Many organisations operate public cloud assets alongside on-premises deployments and even private cloud systems. The distributed nature and complexity of such an environment requires the deployment of integrated security methods and tools that can unify security management across the various environments where data is being hosted.
5 Ways to Protect Your Cloud Assets
We’ve talked about some of the challenges that can emerge from operating in the cloud; now let’s look at some actionable security measures you can leverage to protect your cloud assets and the data hosted within them.
Classify Data and Apply the Appropriate Protections
Audit your cloud-hosted data. Assess the sensitivity of each data type, identify categories that fall within the scope of data protection regulations, and assign sensitivity labels to ensure users know when they are handling sensitive information. Use encryption to protect sensitive data, both in transit and at rest, and establish robust key management practices to prevent encryption protocols being compromised.
Identity and Access Management (IAM)
IAM forms a cornerstone of any good cloud security strategy. Extend privileges and access rights in accordance with the ‘principle of least privilege,’ which limits access and system functionality to the minimum required by each user on the basis of job role. Establish robust authentication protocols, such as multi-factor authentication, and create and enforce secure password policies to further reinforce account security. Consider the use of a centralised identity management system, to enable a unified view of user access, and to allow permissions to be managed remotely.
It’s important to factor cloud systems into your network security strategy, in order to protect sensitive data from hostile interception, prevent access by unauthorised parties, and ensure the integrity of the cloud infrastructure. Establish cloud-based firewalls, to introduce additional protection to your cloud environment and configure rules to block cyber threats from external sources. For Microsoft Azure assets, make use Network Security Groups (NSGs), which act as virtual firewalls. For workloads of an especially sensitive nature, consider using private subnets and Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs), to keep critical information out of harm’s way.
Security Event Logging
Establish cloud activity logging and monitoring capabilities, ensuring you have the facility to identify and investigate actual and potential security incidents. Consider the use of a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution, to unify log data and streamline security event analysis. SIEM platforms contain machine learning algorithms which are able to identify anomalous signals in security event data, allowing real-time action to be taken to frustrate escalating threats or imminent attacks.
Security Awareness Training
Implement security awareness training that delves into security risks in the context of cloud services. Stress the importance of mobile device security, including the requirement for staff to keep devices securely configured and updated, and the procedure for reporting a device lost or stolen.
Ensure employees understand their role in maintaining the security, privacy, and integrity of sensitive information. Provide instructions and guidance on secure data sharing, urge against the use of insecure public Wi-Fi networks, and enforce download restrictions to prevent sensitive files leaking beyond the control of your network.
Lastly, revisit the threat posed by phishing attacks, cover the manipulative tactics phishing fraudsters use, as well as the communication mediums they operate through, including email, text messaging, instant messaging, and phone.
If you’ve got concerns about the security of your cloud infrastructure, take proactive measures by engaging with your cloud service provider or IT team. Initiate a conversation to assess and enhance the security posture of your cloud systems, ensuring a robust defence against emerging threats. By collaboratively addressing these concerns, you pave the way for a more resilient and secure cloud environment tailored to the unique needs of your organisation.
Armco IT – IT Services, Support and Solutions for North and East Yorkshire Businesses
Based in Malton, we provide proactive IT support and services throughout Yorkshire, covering York, North, and East Yorkshire. With a proven track record across various sectors like manufacturing, design, professional medical services, and insurance, we excel in delivering impactful IT solutions. Our focus is on maintaining, optimizing, and securing your digital infrastructure, allowing you to prioritize your business’s growth and success. Reach out to our team today to initiate our collaboration.
Interested in enhancing your security posture? Contact us now for a complimentary half-hour cyber security awareness training session. Gain valuable insights to safeguard your invaluable digital assets effectively.