Top Cloud Security Standards to Leverage for Your Business

An image of a man touching a button with the words "compliance." This button is connected to a network of icons that depict different aspects such as documentation and equality.
Comply with cloud security standards.

Cloud security standards are a list of best security practices out there. These standards are a must-have for your business and provide you with many benefits. Some of these benefits are:

  • Boosting your infrastructure’s security  
  • Preserving the privacy of your customers’ data 
  • Providing a structure to your operations 
  • Ensuring the optimal utilization of your resources
  • Building your trust and reputation
  • Unlocking many business opportunities for you

In this article, you’ll learn more about several cloud security standards and how to select the best one for your business. Let’s start with understanding the basics first. 

Understanding Cloud Security Standards

Cloud security standards support many organizational goals like portability, security, privacy, interoperability, etc. However, you’ll come across hundreds of standards in this space. One of the oldest is the ISO founded in 1946. All these standards range from de facto to de jure. Here, de facto means a set of best practices that are widely accepted. Conversely, de jure are the mandatory standards. For example, ISO and GDPR are de jure while the ACSC Essential Eight is more of a de facto standard.

Now that you know  what cloud security standards are and how they can benefit you, let’s talk about the top cloud security standards and frameworks.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) designed a cloud computing program. This is a set of best practices for optimizing, securing, and maintaining your cloud infrastructure. As a part of this program, NIST provides technical documents that companies can use to build their cloud infrastructure. Further, it designs and executes security assessments and technical documentation. 

This documentation evaluates the cloud security monitoring capabilities of a company. Many state and federal governments also rely on these standards to evaluate cloud initiatives and programs. Now, let’s look at some guidelines and standards relevant for cloud services.

SP 800-210

SP 800-210 is also known as General Access Control Guidance for Cloud Systems. It lists the steps you can follow to identify security challenges in LaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. It also provides recommendations for access control design and potential policy systems that can improve cloud security.

SP 800-53

The SP 800-53 framework provides the strategies, elements, and controls. This framework helps a company to boost its cybersecurity. In particular, it focuses on maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of federal information systems. 

Next, I’ll explain how you can conduct an NIST audit. 

How to Conduct an NIST Audit

To comply with NIST, simply follow the recommendations given in each standard. Additionally, make sure to submit the supporting documentation for different aspects. These aspects could be the sensitivity of your information, users who have access to the system, previous and current vulnerabilities, etc. 

Next, I’ll help you to better understand what the International Organization for Standardization is. 

International Organization for Standardization

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an organization that develops and publishes international standards across almost every area of business and operations. At the time of writing this piece, it has developed 24,362 international standards. Specifically, technical and subject matter experts develop these standards. They also help to efficiently deliver a service, build a product, boost security, maintain privacy, etc.

The words ISO written inside a globe-like structure.
ISO standard.

Out of these thousands of standards, only a few are relevant for cloud security and monitoring. I’ll discuss them below. 

ISO-27001 / ISO-27002

These are cloud security monitoring standards. They define the requirements for building, maintaining, and continuously improving the security of cloud systems. They also include assessments that determine compliance. 

Let me briefly explain the difference between the two standards: ISO 27001 is the cloud security compliance standard that you must follow for certification. ISO 27002, on the other hand, is a supplementary standard that addresses different aspects of your Information Security Management System (ISMS). Generally, that includes the selection and implementation of security controls.

ISO-27017 

The ISO 27017 is a cloud security standard developed to lower risks in a cloud environment. It is exclusively for cloud service providers. It also defines ISMS best practices for the cloud. Additionally, it’s built on the ISO 27002 standards, so it also includes additional security measures specifically for cloud environments. 

ISO-27018

ISO 27018 is a cloud security standard that focuses on privacy. Specifically, it defines the guidelines and standards to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of customers in a public cloud.

All the above-mentioned ISO standards are well-recognized, so compliance can greatly boost your business opportunities. This also brings up the question of how you can audit your cloud security compliance to these standards?

How to Conduct an ISO Audit

Please note that ISO doesn’t audit your compliance. Rather, it’s done by other auditing companies. Some aspects of these standards are mandatory, while the others are optional. Here’s a detailed article that talks about how you can conduct an internal audit for ISO 27001

Now, let’s move on to learn more about ISACA. 

ISACA

ISACA is a professional association that provides governance benchmarks and tools for cloud security. It also educates individuals and helps them to transform the security landscape of their respective organizations. 

What does ISACA offer? Let’s find out!

CCAK

ISACA offers the Certificate of Cloud Auditing Knowledge (CCAK) in collaboration with the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA). This certificate also provides vendor-neutral and technical education for IT audit and security professionals. In turn, this information enables them to choose the appropriate cloud services and deployment for their organization. 

How to Conduct an ISACA Audit

ISACA offers certifications, so individuals have to clear these exams and get the certifications. I also recommend that you go through the 3 phases in this auditing process: planning, fieldwork, and reporting. To learn more about this, you check out this article here.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The PCI DSS is a cloud security standard for companies that accept, store, and process credit card information. It helps organizations plug cybersecurity gaps, so cybercriminals can’t steal sensitive personal data. Compliance with PCI DSS also enhances your customers’ trust in your operations. Additionally, it can help to boost your reputation. It also ensures that you and your cloud service provider put the necessary security controls in place to protect your customers’ sensitive information. 

How to Conduct a PCI SS Audit

PCI audits are done by security assessors who look at point-of-sale systems and other IT infrastructure to determine compliance. Thorough preparation is also required prior to the audit. Check out this article here for advice.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an EU standard that applies to all organizations doing business or having customers within the EU. When it comes to cloud security, the GDPR states that personal data must not be stored longer than what’s needed. Further, it has defined approved codes of conduct related to data handling, security, and privacy. All cloud service providers and businesses must also comply with these requirements to continue their operations in the EU. 

How to Conduct a GDPR Audit

GDPR doesn’t specifically mention an audit. However, it’s a good idea for companies to hire third-party assessors to audit compliance. This is also important as non-compliance can attract heavy fines and penalties. 

A Circle with the words GDPR written on it.
Comply with GDPR!

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Security Rule (HIPAA)

HIPAA has established standards to protect the medical and other individuals’ PII. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) also have to adhere to this mandatory requirement, especially if they create, transmit, store, or maintain electronic Personal Health Information (ePHI) of individuals. 

How to Conduct a HIPAA Audit

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights conducts audits of businesses and other entities covered by this act. It’s also a good idea for companies to hire third-party professionals for a pre-audit check to ensure compliance. 

Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)

FedRAMP is a United States Federal government program that covers cloud security assessment, authorization, and monitoring. The aim of this standard is to beef up the security of cloud services across federal government offices and programs. It also provides an approach to assess risk and security for all cloud service providers that service any federal government office. Please note that this is a mandatory cloud security standard. 

How to Audit for FedRAMP

Every Cloud Service Provider (CSP) must conduct an assessment and submit the same to FedRAMP for continued compliance. The compliance requirements and the assessment procedure are also laid down in the FedRAMP guidelines. You can read more about it here

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

FISMA is federal legislation that provides data and cloud security standards and education. This legislation was introduced to bring down the security risks associated with information security and data handling in the cloud specifically. It also entails continuous monitoring, auditing, accountability, incident response, contingency planning, etc. 

How to Audit for FISMA

Like FedRAMP, federal agencies and contractors who must meet the FISMA standards must also submit documents that support their compliance to get the certificate.

System and Organization Controls (SOC) Reporting

System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 is a voluntary compliance standard developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It explicitly lays down the set of best practices for managing customer data. It also adheres to the AICPA principles of integrity, privacy, confidentiality, and processing. Although this is voluntary, compliance with SOC 2 greatly enhances your reputation. 

How to Audit for SOC 2

A qualified auditor of a CPA firm performs the SOC 2 audit. These audits are also regulated by AICPA. Based on the report, you get a SOC 2 certification. 

Australia: APRA Prudential Practice Guidelines CPG 234

APRA’s Prudential Practice Guide enables companies to implement security policies and practices. It applies to all businesses that operate under APRA-regulated industries. This also includes Authorized Deposit-taking Industries (ADIs) and non-operating companies that come under the Banking Act. 

CPG 234 is a mandatory regulation in Australia that also enables companies to improve their existing security policies to benefit everyone. In particular, it aims to protect the sensitive information stored by financial institutions and reduce the chances of cyberattacks.

How to Audit for APRA CPG 234

The Board of every APRA-regulated entity is responsible for compliance. It also has to submit evidence of compliance to APRA periodically. 

CIS Controls

CIS Critical Security Controls are a set of safeguards designed to reduce the chances of cyberattacks. These are mapped with the required legal and policy frameworks to ensure compliance with the safeguards. This standard is also developed by the global IT community. As a result, it’s well-suited for companies in cloud computing, virtualization, outsourcing, work-from-home, etc. 

How to Audit for CIS Controls

When proof of compliance is submitted to the Center for Internet Security (CIS), it evaluates the evidence and the supporting documents. Based on it, a certificate of compliance is issued. 

Cyber Essentials 

Cyber Essentials is a UK government-based program to boost your cybersecurity. This program offers two levels of certifications, and they are Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essential Plus. The first certification addresses the basics of cybersecurity and helps you to prevent some of the most common attacks. The second one, Cyber Essentials Plus, is an advanced certification program that includes adherence to technical controls as well. 

How to Audit for Cyber Essentials

Every Cyber Essentials certificate is valid for 12 months and has to be renewed. At the time of applying for the first time or renewing, an employee representing your company has to undertake an online self-assessment questionnaire. A board member must sign the answers. A qualified assessor will also verify the information provider. If everything is in order, the Information Assurance for Small and Medium Enterprises Consortium (IASME) issues the certificate.

ACSC Essential Eight 

The ACSC Essential Eight is a maturity model that helps your company to implement the Essential Eight principles of cybersecurity in a graduated way. These 8 principles are in the areas of:

  1. Application control
  2. Patch applications
  3. Microsoft Office macro settings
  4. User application hardening
  5. Restrictive administrative privileges
  6. Multi-factor authentication
  7. Backups
  8. Patch operating systems

How to Audit for ACSC Essential Eight

Organizations must submit proof of compliance to the Australian Cyber Security Center (ACSC). Based on this, a compliance certificate is issued. 

Thus, you can always find some cloud security standards to enhance the overall security of your infrastructure. More importantly, they build trust and reputation foryour company in the minds of your customers and partners. Undoubtedly, it can lead to more business opportunities. That said, implementing all of these standards may be unnecessary and even redundant. That’s why I’ll talk about selecting the appropriate standards for your organization. 

How to Select a Standard for Your Organization?

With so many cloud security standards out there, it’s hard to choose one over the other. Some aspects to consider are:

  • Nature of operations
  • Location of your business
  • Popularity of standards among your customers and partners
  • Current state of security

In general, opt for ISO 27001, SOC 2, and CIS Controls if you process sensitive data. Opt for PCI DSS if you plan to store the credit card details of your customers. 

Other than that, you must adhere to GDPR if you’re conducting business in the EU. Likewise, if you’re handling sensitive patient data, HIPAA is mandatory for you. If you service federal governments, FedRAMP is also something you must follow.

In all, start with the mandatory requirements needed in your country of operations. See if you’ll find anything else mandated based on the type of work you do and the kind of businesses/individuals you serve. After meeting all those requirements, do an audit to see if you have any gaps that appropriate cloud security standards can fill. Build your cloud security standards based on this audit.

Before we finish up, here’s a quick recap of what we discussed so far:

Final Thoughts

To conclude, cloud security standards are essential for your organization. They provide a ton of benefits like enhanced trust, access to more opportunities, etc. You’ll find many standards and frameworks that offer these benefits and I’ve explained a few of the top standards. It’s impractical to follow all of them, though. That’s why you have to decide based on what’s mandatory in your area of operations followed by the required ones for your nature of operations. Lastly, see if your customers require any specific standards, and add them to your list accordingly. 

Have more questions about cloud security standards? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

What standards are relevant for cloud security?

Some relevant standards are ISO, SOC 2, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, HIPAA, GDPR, CIS Controls, Cyber Essentials, etc. You should start with the mandatory ones. Then, move on to the standards that can help you best leverage cloud security for your business.

Do I need cloud security controls?

Yes, cloud security standards and controls provide a ton of benefits to your company. They help with legal compliance to mandatory laws and regulations in your country of operations andadherence to these standards enhances your overall cybersecurity. Your company will also gain the trust of your customers

What are cloud security standards?

Cloud security standards are certifications and frameworks. These standards include processes, policies, tools, rules, configurations, and platforms to improve your company’s cybersecurity. In the process, it also boosts trust and reputation in the eyes of your customer.

What is cloud security compliance?

As the name suggests, cloud security compliance is the steps that a company takes to comply with specific cloud security standards and frameworks. This compliance must be in accordance with your local laws and what your industry entails. It also provides additional benefits to your company in the form of improved security, privacy, new business opportunities, and more. 

Who is responsible for cloud security compliance?

Cloud security is a shared responsibility between the company that uses cloud apps/platforms and the cloud service provider. From a customer and regulator’s standpoint, both parties have to adhere to a set of policies that boost cybersecurity. That said, the providers and companies have to decide which aspects come under their purview.

Resources

TechGenix: Newsletters

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TechGenix: Article on Conducting an Internal Audit

Know how you can conduct an internal audit for ISO 27001

TechGenix: Article on ISO 27001 vs Cyber Essentials

Educate yourself on the differences between ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials.

TechGenix: Article on PCI DSS

Understand the PCI DSS standard

TechGenix: Article on Making GDPR Compliance Manageable

Learn how you can better handle GDPR compliance

TechGenix: Article on ISO 27001 vs SOC 2

Know the difference between ISO 27001 and SOC 2.

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