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October 14, 2019

Four steps to mitigating cloud security risks

By Derrick Johnson

The need for digital transformation has changed the mentality of decision makers who are now eager to benefit from the many advantages cloud services can bring to overall business operations. However, this cloud-first mindset has surfaced security concerns as 83% of workloads are expected to be in the cloud by 2020 and new cloud services appear daily.

Companies should be reminded to “look before they leap” when it comes to taking on digital transformations with cloud at the heart, or else risk being exposed to security issues. The most reoccurring problem of which involves the ownership and responsibility over security. Someone always seems to pass the buck, resulting in unprotected cloud systems.

Despite there not being a physical presence for cloud systems, networks and applications within a company, it does not mean that the mantra ‘out of sight, out mind’ should be adopted. Security and risk mitigation are both critical components that cannot be neglected and should be assigned and managed accordingly, whether that’s by the cloud service provider or the organisation itself.

Typically, the cloud provider manages the service they provide, whether it is the foundational infrastructure from which to build a network, or the software to consume. How the environment is set up and monitored, what is stored and how the data is protected is left up to the organisation. Yet, the most important aspect is how risk is managed and providing that cloud security is aligned with the overall security framework of that particular organisation.

Data protection in the cloud

Data privacy has been brought to light in recent years and leading the way for a better data-protected world is the European General Data Protection Regulation. Similar policies have sprouted up in some states in the USA with Arizona, Colorado and California, meaning organisations operating on both sides of the Atlantic are being faced with increased requirements to protect data across all areas of business.

Gone are the days of implementing a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solution in a data centre because it has now become too fragmented. With the cloud, there are now services, systems and infrastructure that are no longer owned by the organisation, yet still require full visibility and control.

Challenges also arise when managing cloud services that share or exchange information. For example, who owns the Service Level Agreements (SLAs)? Is there a single pane of glass that monitors everything?

DevOps has forced corporations to go as far as implementing micro-segmentation and adjusting processes around firewall rule change management. Additionally, serverless computing has provided organisations with a means by which they can cut costs and speed productivity by allowing developers to run code without having to worry about platforms and infrastructure.

However, if security is not handled across these virtual infrastructures, then issues can quickly manifest, leading to data leaks across multiple environments.

Cloud security risks: Be aligned

To achieve effective cloud security, the organisation should consider how to align its overall security frameworks to the cloud.

For example, security tended to be historically applied to companies’ on-premise data centres, which upon later review may not migrate effectively or even map directly to the cloud. And not having overall visibility and control over a hybrid cloud environment can lead to data being exploited.

Aligning cloud provider technology with cybersecurity frameworks and business operating procedures means a highly secure, optimised and more productive implementation of a cloud platform, giving better results and a successful deployment. Moreover, being able to do this while implementing the cloud technology can help demonstrate measurable security improvement to the business by giving a “before and after” implementation picture.

Get familiar

For defences to be effective, the personnel manning the security controls needs to be comfortable with the tools they are using. Otherwise, this can be a recipe for disaster.

IT professionals should treat systems the same as they would their Local Area Network (LAN) and Data Centre. If security configurations are already in place for there to be continuous monitoring, patching and segmentation, then these should also be applied to any cloud architectures.

Despite some of the main cloud service providers specifically outlining their security responsibilities, high-profile cloud-related data breaches have still occurred due to the customer not understanding their security obligations. To avoid such a situation happening, provide that regular security audits are carried out so, as a minimum, security best practises are being met.

Be vigilant about cloud security risks

It goes without saying that having a sound defence starts with recruiting the right security professionals. The only stumbling block is the skills gap.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to help with this problem and alleviate the strain already placed on security teams. Many are seeking the services externally, with outsourced Security Operations Centres (SOC) becoming a popular choice for businesses that need assistance in handling monitoring procedures, threat detection, intelligence, hunting and sharing, as well as incident response.

These defences can then be applied to the organisation’s cloud environment to improve security analytics and alert to any issues before they become full-blown security incidents. By having a coordinated effort by the many instead of a the few, is a positive step for any business.

Getting security right in the cloud doesn’t require a miracle, nor does it take magic.

What is needed is a proactive mindset to security which then requires a joint effort by the whole company, from the decision makers to the IT team, right down to the employees, and understanding that cybersecurity in the cloud is shared responsibility.

Security affects everyone, so getting the technology and processes coordinated are critical for any long-lasting success the organisation desires to have.

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