cloud security

Cloud Security: What it is and How it Can Help Your Business

Nowadays, more and more companies are leaving their on-premise infrastructures and migrating to the cloud for its convenience and flexibility, among other reasons. 

But where companies go, cybercriminals inevitably follow. For this reason, the threat of cloud security breaches has become increasingly pertinent in our modern digital age.

For instance, in December 2017, an Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) breach exposed the private data of around 123 million American households.  What ultimately set the groundwork for the breach to occur? The AWS S3 was misconfigured. 

This disastrous breach is one of the many negative consequences that can result from companies hastily jumping onto the cloud bandwagon. 

This isn’t to dissuade you from moving to the cloud—there are undeniable benefits—but such a transition should be done properly and with a clear cloud security strategy for fending off cyberattacks. 

What is cloud security? What challenges do companies like yours face when setting it up? And what other necessary considerations must be made to best defend your business systems and the data of your loyal customers? These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring today.

What is cloud security?

What is cloud security?

Cloud security refers to the security of your cloud infrastructure and its resources, the data within your systems, and the accessibility of those systems. 

Another way to think about it is that cloud security protects your house and valuables while also keeping out unauthorized and unwanted guests.

To support your business’s cloud security, you should implement and maintain certain policies, technologies, and programs that help protect your systems and infrastructure. This is pivotal not only for the continuity of your business but also for the security of customers who rely on you. 

Adhering to good cloud security practices will also support your ability to maintain regulatory compliance. Due to the complexity of the subject, cloud security tends not to be something businesses handle purely in-house. 

The providers of any security solutions you use should offer assistance with onboarding and upkeep to help you succeed with their product. Otherwise, your IT team or MSP will be able to take the lead on these issues. 

Why does Cloud Security Matter?

Data leak

As mentioned before, wherever there are businesses and customers, there will also be criminals, and unfortunately, cybercriminals are becoming incredibly sophisticated in their approaches to breaching your security.

As the number of businesses that move to the cloud continues to increase, the amount of proprietary information attached to those businesses becomes at risk of being compromised by tech-savvy criminals. 

Additionally, as the amount of consumer data that exists in the cloud grows, so too will corresponding compliance issues and regulations. 

At this point in time, the majority of organizations are already using some form of cloud computing, whether that involves Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or G-suite. Those companies that haven’t yet moved even partly to the cloud will likely be doing so soon.

All of this is to say that cloud adoption has become mainstream for businesses, so naturally, cloud security is becoming equally important. 

Without cloud security, you and your customers have no guarantee that your data and systems won’t be compromised by unwanted entities in your system—and lacking the right internal protocols, the threats outside your company may be as serious as the potential threats within. 

It isn’t as if the data security game has dramatically changed; businesses like yours have always needed to prioritize the safety and integrity of important data, such as secret documents, financial records, health records, etc. What’s shifted is the landscape in which the game takes place. 

With all of this in mind, you might be wondering why anyone would risk moving to the cloud at all without solid cloud security in place. 

One reason this happens is that ignoring cloud security leads to lower upfront and reduced operational costs. It’s simply a form of short-term thinking that the company has to pay for when a disruptive event inevitably interferes with business continuity and can cause many problems from financial, to legal and regulatory.

Cloud security challenges

Cloud security challenges

Hosting your company’s data and systems in on-premise servers comes with its fair share of challenges, and despite its convenience and flexibility, cloud servers have their own problems as well. 

This is partly due to the fact that public clouds don’t have the clearest security parameters, and the risks/responsibilities you have to deal with vary depending on your cloud type. 

Below is a list of some of the standard challenges your business will likely face when trying to keep your cloud systems and data secure:

  • Limiting access to your cloud systems — You don’t want just anyone going through your data and systems. We’re not just talking about external cybercriminals but also internal team members. For instance, if your organization does any work with the healthcare industry, you probably have to maintain HIPPA compliance, which requires that only designated personnel be able to access electronic personal health information (ePHI). Cloud user roles tend to be configured fairly loosely, which can make it difficult to grant users privileges to some information and not others. Misconfiguring is, in fact, what led to the data breach highlighted at the start of this article. 
  • Limiting control over your cloud data — The convenience that comes with having a third-party provider like AWS host your cloud servers requires them to have a certain amount of access to your private business data since they’re the ones who control the servers your data and systems are hosted on. 
  • The shifting landscape of compliance — Utilizing the cloud adds another dimension to compliance. Every major cloud provider adheres to PCI, HIPAA, NIST, and GDPR compliance regulations, but you, as a customer of their cloud services, still have to make sure that your business practices are compliant with whatever regulations related to your business. Due to visibility issues, you may have to rely on a third-party to help accomplish continued compliance checks that provide real-time alerts about any issues. 
  • The complexity of cloud breaches — Unlike on-premise breaches, cloud-native breaches often occur when cybercriminals take advantage of the native functions of your third-party hosted cloud platform. They do this by exploiting any vulnerabilities they can find without tripping any alarms using malware, and once they “safely” breach weakly configured/protected interfaces, they move on to exfiltrating any data they want. Misconfigurations lay the ground-work for cybercriminals breaches like this.
  • Changing workloads — When you upgrade your servers to an environment as flexible as the cloud, it’s a good idea to make sure that your security tools are just as flexible. The cloud makes it easy to increase and decrease resources as needed, but not all security tools are designed to handle such changes. 
  • Insider security threats – Though this isn’t a problem limited to cloud security, it’s still important to keep in mind. Employees who aren’t authorized to access certain data may maneuver their way into the private systems in the event they go rogue. 
  • Increased attacks — Because of its popularity, the public cloud environment has attracted a lot of bad apples. Many malicious threats such as Zero-Day, Malware, and Account Takeover are becoming more common problems that cloud users have to deal with. These hackers often take advantage of poorly secured cloud ingress ports, which can give them access to your systems where they wreak havoc. 
  • Lack of control over third-party actions — When hosting your data infrastructure on the cloud, your third-party host technically has access to that data. You have to trust that there won’t be a nefarious party in their ranks that might try to breach your privacy. 

Cloud security responsibilities based on cloud service type

Cloud security types

Regardless of which type of cloud service your business decides to adopt, your company will in some way have to take responsibility for your cloud security, even if the service type takes care of much of it for you. 

Below are three of the most popular types of cloud services and their associated security responsibilities: 

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) — Eg Google Drive or Microsoft Office 365, SaaS is a type of cloud service where computing and networking resources are managed by the service provider, allowing your company to simply use the software as if it was a locally installed program. With SaaS, your business is responsible for securing the company and customer data you enter into the software, as well as who has access to that software and the data inside it.
  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) — Eg Microsoft Azure App Service and AWS Lambda, PaaS is the type of cloud service where lower level resources up to the Operating System is managed by your provider, while you’re company is in control of the applications and their associated data running on the cloud platform, allowing you to install whatever applications you’d like and manage them as you prefer. With PaaS, your business is responsible for correctly configuring and maintaining the applications you deploy, in addition to securing the associated data and access as with SaaS.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) — Eg Microsoft Azure IaaS and Amazon Web Services, with IaaS your provider manages the storage, server, and virtualization resources that then enable your company to install, operate, and customize everything from the operating system to individual applications. This layers the responsibility of securing your chosen operating system (through proper configuration, maintenance, and access) on top of the requirements of PaaS.

What is Zero Trust and why it matters

Zero trust

Zero Trust, first coined by John Kindervag in 2010, refers to the networking idea that businesses shouldn’t automatically trust any person or entity within our outside of your cloud network—all incoming communication should be inspected, verified, and secured. 

This is in contrast to businesses that fail to properly vet incoming and outgoing information from their networks. As a policy, it helps to promote a least privileged governance strategy where users are only given access to specific resources they need to fulfill their duties. 

For instance, if you were to hire a freelancer to edit some of your articles, you would only give them access to specific documents they need to edit, not your entire G-suite account.

In addition to this, Zero Trust networks take advantage of micro-segmentation, which is a method of dealing with your cloud network security in a more granular way. The detailed a view you have into your cloud network security, the easier it is to accurately secure traffic. 

The 6 pillars of strong cloud security

Strong cloud security

By this point, you’ve explored how securing your cloud systems and infrastructure is going to take more than whatever default security options you get from your third-party hosts, whether you’re using Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) or others. 

A larger and more thought-out security plan is the best way to protect your business’s cloud networks, and when done properly, even SMBs like yours will be able to achieve enterprise-level protection. But you can only get there by utilizing an integrated security stack. 

Keep the following six pillars in mind as you’re building your stack.

Pillar 1: Keep your Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies and authentication controls granular across your cloud infrastructures

To make it easier to manage updates for IAM definitions throughout your business’s growth, try to work with groups and roles instead of dealing with definitions at the individual level.

When granting privileges to assets and APIs that are necessary for a group or role to carry out tasks, do so minimally to mitigate potential disruptions that result from errors or breaches. And don’t forget to enforce strong password policies, session/permission time-outs, etc. 

Pillar 2: Enforce Zero Trust network security across logically isolated networks, micro-segments, and maintain least privilege access

When deploying your apps and essential business resources, make sure to do so in logically isolated sections of your provider’s network. 

For AWS and Google, you would go with Virtual private Clouds. For Microsoft Azure, you would use vNet. You should also utilize subnets as a way of micro-segmenting your workloads and employ granular security protocols at their gateways for more secure communication. 

Pillar 3: Enforce virtual server protection protocols when handling change management, software updates, and patches

When considering a vendor for your company’s cloud security, be sure that they provide a robust option for Cloud Security Posture Management. 

Their option should consistently apply governance and compliance rules and regulations, as well as templates to help with virtual server provisioning, configuration audits, and automated remediation. 

Pillar 4: Utilize a next-generation web application firewall to protect all business applications, especially those that are cloud-native

Next-generation web application firewalls are essentially for properly monitoring and validating inbound and outbound traffic from your cloud servers. Whichever firewall you decide to go with should come with automated updates. 

Pillar 5: Utilize enhanced data protection

All transport layers, file shares, and communications should be encrypted where possible. Make it a point to continually monitor compliance risks and maintain good data storage hygiene so that it doesn’t become a pain to locate critical files when you need them. 

Pillar 6: Real-time threat intelligence

When your cloud systems encounter a threat, time is of the essence. Look for solid cloud security vendors that offer all the tools you need to visualize and understand the threat landscape and isolate any attacks. 

Any alerts and intrusions should come in real-time so that you can respond to threats as quickly as possible—some of the best cloud security tools will even have automated remediation-workflows that begin dealing with issues before you’ve even become aware of them.

Considerations when seeking cloud security solutions

cloud security considerations

Choosing to move to the cloud is not an easy decision for most companies, not least because you have more than a few cloud providers and cloud security solutions to choose from, each with its own pros and cons. 

You’ll no doubt find yourself asking your IT team/MSP questions such as: Who’s going to be using the cloud data and exactly what data will be stored there? Who will be assigned which permissions? Who will we share our data with? How will our solution fit into all this?

Those are all good and important questions to ask, but to help guide you during your search for your ideal cloud security solutions, keep your eye out for options that can handle: 

  • Collaboration controls — Make sure the right people are granted permissions for different documents and files. Your solution should help you manage collaboration controls so that you can add, remove, revoke, or downgrade user permissions.
  • Data classification — Data needs labels to be properly understood. Whichever solution you go with should be able to classify data at multiple levels (i.e., regulated, sensitive, public, etc.). 
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) — Stop unwanted parties and entities from gaining access to your data. A good security solution will implement a cloud DLP that does this and actively monitors suspicious activity. 
  • Malicious behavior identification — Catch thieves in the act by choosing a solution with this feature. It should be able to identify accounts that have been compromised and even detect insider threats with user behavior analytics (UBA). 
  • Encryption — In the unfortunate scenario where your data is breached, unwanted eyes shouldn’t be able to read or understand the data. Cloud encryption makes this so. 
  • User access control — Make sure the right users are authorized to access critical cloud data and applications—an essential feature for maintaining compliance. Using a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) can help enforce this.
  • Device access control — Only qualified devices should be allowed to access your cloud data. Whichever solution you choose must not give access to unknown or nefarious devices requesting to get in. 
  • Malware prevention — Application whitelisting, machine learning-based malware detection, and file-scanning are all techniques that should be implemented to protect against malware. It should also monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic for suspicious activity. 
  • Compliance Assessments — Stay within and up-to-date with compliance with a security solution that reviews your databases and systems for PCI, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other regulatory requirements.
  • Risk assessment — It’s easier to focus on problematic factors in your cloud services when your security solution can conduct risk assessments. 

It’s been reported that 70% of organizations that utilize public cloud services have suffered through attacks by cybercriminals. With the increasing amount of companies flooding to the cloud, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your company’s private data is secure. 

To achieve solid cloud security, companies like yours must evaluate their cloud security options and be deliberate in their choice, lest they become another victim of cybercrime. 

In summary: 

  • What is cloud security? — The security of your cloud infrastructure and its resources, data, and accessibility of your systems. 
  • Why cloud security matters — Lacking cloud security, there’s little guarantee that the data of your business and your customers will not be seen by unwanted eyes or exfiltrated altogether. This can lead to obvious problems for your business and can leave your company on the bad side of compliance regulations. 
  • Challenges of cloud security — There are many cloud security challenges to contend with, including the complexities of limiting access to your cloud systems, cloud data, the complex nature of cloud breaches, scaling workloads, insider threats, limiting access to authorized parties and entities, the increase in cloud attacks, and the lack of control your business has over third-party actions. 
  • Cloud security responsibilities by type — In a Saas model, your business is responsible only for the data of your company, customers, and who has access to this data. In a Paas model, you have the same responsibilities as in the Saas model, in addition to the data of your applications. Iaas models give your business even more responsibilities, like securing operating systems and any virtual network traffic. 
  • Zero Trust — This refers to the networking idea that your business shouldn’t automatically trust any person or entity within or outside your cloud network. All inbound communications should be inspected, verified, and secured. 
  • 6 pillars of cloud security — These are things your business should seriously consider when trying to secure your cloud systems and infrastructure: 
    • 1. Keep your Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies and authentication controls granular across your cloud infrastructures.
    • 2. Enforce Zero Trust network security across logically isolated networks, micro-segments, and maintain least privilege access.
    • 3. Enforce virtual server protection protocols when handling change management, software updates, and patches.
    • 4. Utilize a next-generation web application firewall to protect all business applications, especially those that are cloud-native.
    • 5. Utilize enhanced data protection.
    • 6. Use real-time threat intelligence. 
  • Additional considerations — Some topics your business should consider when choosing a cloud security solution include collaboration controls, data classification, data loss prevention, malicious behavior identification, encryption, user and device access controls, malware prevention, and compliance and risk assessments. 

When should you assess your business’s data and systems security?

cloud security assessment

Once your business is set up with a solid cloud security solution, you might be tempted to just kick back and let it do its continuous work. 

This is inadvisable as even the best security systems should be monitored to make sure they’re functioning properly. In fact, doing these types of checks should be part of the processes that build up your solid security stack. 

We recommend that you regularly make an assessment of your data and systems every 6 months to a year. These assessments can take a serious amount of time and effort, especially for larger companies dealing with unwieldy amounts of data. 

Luckily, Commprise can relieve you of that burden with our Managed Security Services. We deliver the technology, insight and oversight your organizations’ IT requires for top-notch security, and we tailor our strategy and solutions to your unique needs.