The cloud is the backbone of the contemporary IT world. Cloud computing is one of the most valuable assets to the entire IT industry and has spurred innovation for businesses and enterprises around the globe. The services offered by the cloud were earlier offered and handled by expensive local hardware. The flexible, easy-to-handle cloud computing solution is a cost-effective means of providing virtual services and is, therefore, used extensively by all businesses, both big and small.
Many businesses have already started using cloud services to save confidential data and to handle myriad business operations and services. With cloud computing, tasks that could take weeks of time using traditional local setups can be completed in hours with better accuracy and lower costs. The flexible cloud provides agility and scalability to any form of business.
However, there’s a catch. Reduced costs and increased flexibility offered by the cloud don’t come without any concerns. Security in cloud computing has always been a major worry for those who use it as a storehouse of confidential data. This is especially due to the recent experiences with cloud security breaches, which raises doubts in the minds of many about migrating to the cloud. According to a report from the Cloud Security Alliance, almost 73 percent of companies are holding back from undertaking cloud projects due to the security concerns.
So, is the cloud secure enough to house sensitive business data? The echoing voice of various IT professionals is yes, provided you give cloud security a top priority and constantly monitor it.
For those still worried about cloud security, here are the top five best practices to secure your cloud services.
As long as you’re dealing with the cloud, visibility remains one of the most important keys to security. It is crucial for every organization to know where its data resides, as you can only secure what you can see.
Most traditional security mechanisms such as firewalls, antivirus, and intrusion-detection systems work well locally within an organization. However, these tools don’t help much when dealing with a virtual infrastructure such as the cloud. Implementation of proper security can be done by constant visibility, because without this visibility, it becomes nearly impossible to detect vulnerabilities and enforce consistent policies.
Although knowing where your data is sounds very basic, many organizations fail to have a 100 percent visibility, which leads to several vulnerabilities. Also, the elastic on-demand nature of the cloud’s virtual infrastructure makes it very difficult for users to have a consistent and constant visibility on the data. Thankfully, cloud service providers can often aid you in getting better visibility of your data and assets. In addition to this, NetFlow is one of the best solutions to gain visibility on the network. NetFlow, an information-rich form of network traffic metadata, provides most of the crucial information such as sender and receiver’s IP addresses, real-time usage, duration of sessions, and more.
Proper data classification
Encryption and tokenization are the two most important and helpful tools to protect sensitive data in the cloud. However, before you start using these or any other security-related techniques, it’s very important to analyze the data and know where to implement security and where not to. In order to secure your data, you’ll first have to classify it and identify the levels of security required as per the confidentiality of the data.
Data classification is the process of organizing the data into different categories based on the business requirements. In simple words, data classification is tagging and indexing your data for quick retrieval and easy implementation of security. For example, an organization that deals with huge volumes of data in the cloud might have categories that include public data, internal data, external data, confidential, or highly confidential data for ease of handling.
This kind of data classification makes it easy to implement more appropriate levels of security depending on the confidentiality of the data. Implementing data classification will ensure efficient business activities and will also lower the data security costs to a great extent. Data classification will also help organizations and enterprises identify the risk and impact of cyberattacks based on the data affected.
Access control and constant monitoring
A large number of organizations and enterprises are moving toward the cloud primarily because it provides the ability to access data from any geographical location, provided you have an active Internet connection. But this advantage of the cloud is also its major disadvantage. If an employee of an organization can access the organizational data from anywhere, a hacker with the right set of skills and perseverance might also be able to access it. This fear is what keeps CIOs up at night.
This is the primary reason why access control plays an important role in cloud security. Proper access control helps to secure your cloud-based infrastructure. Implementing proper access control will also make sure that only the required access privileges are given to the employees based on their work. In most cases, the principle of least privilege will prove to be an efficient solution for managing access controls. This concept promotes minimal user account privileges on the system, strictly based on users’ job requirements.
At an organizational level, if one service is down, there might be thousands of users impacted by the service’s unavailability. Therefore, for organizations to address availability or to monitor the access controls of users they must implement an active monitoring solution. An active monitoring system helps in quickly triggering the organization in case of a service failure or a security breach. A constant monitoring system also aids access control management by regularly updating the roles and privileges of employees based on their work demands.
Security and encryption
When your data is stored in the cloud and you need to access it, you log in with your credentials and fetch or upload the data. This is one single transaction of either uploading or downloading the data from the cloud. Similarly, in an enterprise or an organization, hundreds of users may access the organizational content stored in the cloud simultaneously. And all these transactions if not secured creates a huge scope for attackers to get access to restricted data. Therefore, every transaction with the cloud must be protected, and all data being transferred must be encrypted to avoid potential cyberattacks.
Most cloud service providers feature strong encryption standards based on the data confidentiality. Cloud-based collaborative tools and services such as SpiderOak and Tresorit offer cloud storage services ensuring zero-knowledge data transfer and storage. It is also important to make sure there is a client-side encryption implemented so that all your data gets encrypted before it gets transferred to the cloud. This prevents various forms of cyberattacks, safeguarding the confidentiality of the data. Strong encryption techniques such as AES-256, SHA-256, or RSA 2048 must be used for safeguarding the data in a cloud-based environment.
Cloud backups are considered to be very safe and are a must for many businesses. However, just because your data is stored in the cloud doesn’t guarantee that you’ll not lose any of it. Even the data stored in the cloud can be corrupted or you can lose it for several reasons. Although most cloud service providers make timely backups of the entire data, it cannot always help you if you accidentally delete your data or some intruder hacks into your account and deletes your data. If you’re directly storing your data only in the cloud and not on premise, that means you have just one copy of all your data. By definition, if you have just a single copy of data, then the data is not backed up.
It is always safe to have your data backed up in either local storage units or in some other backup service providers. You can also identify alternative deployment locations for storing your data. This way, organizations can respond to any kind of data loss or damage with minimal business interruption and, more importantly, without any data loss.
Apart from all these practices for cloud security, it is also important to choose the right cloud vendor for your business. For instance, private cloud hosting models can be costlier than the public clouds, but they provide better security for your data. When dealing with the cloud, securing your data and services is possible but is not guaranteed. The cloud is still evolving and is getting better, and will presumably get more secure with time. Meanwhile, with these right practices, cloud deployment can be made safe enough for you to worry less.
Photo credit: Flickr / Nicolas Nova