Published February 22, 2021 • By Reciprocity

As a growing number of companies shift operations to cloud environments or modernize their systems using cloud-based applications, the security of cloud computing is increasingly mission-critical. And as cloud security threats have become more sophisticated, cloud cybersecurity programs need to evolve too.

The security measures you implement, however, will depend on your specific cloud service provider (CSP) and the type of service you’re using. So will the determination of which security duties are the cloud provider’s responsibility, and which are yours. 

Cloud computing platforms usually occur as software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS). SaaS platforms typically charge a fee for you to use the application or software that a third-party provider manages. PaaS lets you choose which apps to deploy on the platform.

Cloud services differ, as well. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has one cloud infrastructure; Microsoft Azure has another; and Google Drive has a third. Some organizations use a public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service, while others use a private cloud environment. A combination of the two types of cloud platform, also known as the “hybrid cloud,” is gaining popularity.

Whatever platform you use, certain cloud security challenges are fairly common today. These security issues can not only jeopardize the safety, privacy, and integrity of your data and intellectual property; they can endanger your ability to comply with regulatory requirements such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Let’s explore a few of these challenges and talk about how best to tackle them.

Cloud Security Controls

Who’s responsible for security in the cloud? Many organizations make the mistake of assuming their CSP will take on that duty — and realize too late, after their data has been breached, that the responsibility is shared.

Different CSPs have different security controls and requirements. In general, your cloud server platform will secure the cloud environment against cyberattacks, but leave data security up to you. Any data loss you might suffer in a security breach is your responsibility.

Access Management

Deciding who gets access to what can be a challenge on its own. The real difficulty lies in implementing those permissions. For instance, AWS uses Identity and Access Management (IAM), which allows a company to create users and groups within the AWS system whose access can be controlled and monitored.

For best results, make sure you or your cloud provider controls access to IP addresses and uses multi-factor authentication. 

AWS lets you tailor access permissions according to your individual needs, and alter those permissions as needed. Google Drive also allows this type of access control. AWS recommends granting “least privilege” access, or the least amount of access users need to do their jobs. 

Monitoring and Alerts

Tools such as Cloud Watch, S3 Logging, and Amazon Athena not only log security events such as unauthorized access. They can also be automated to respond to those events and send alerts to the proper channels. 

There are many options for monitoring solutions, so explore them thoroughly before implementing them. They will be a lifeline to troubleshoot security flaws and data breaches. Using Amazon GlueCrawler and Athena to sort and filter log data will also be helpful.

Shared Responsibility 

Businesses often assume that by virtue of their solution being hosted on AWS or some other platform, it will automatically be compliant with the GDPR, or the PCI standard for credit card security, or some other framework. That’s not true.

Or, when asked by a customer to provide a SOC2 report on their data security controls, users of cloud computing may provide the SOC2 report for AWS— which only covers the services that AWS provides, not those that the business has built on top of the platform.

Don’t assume that your cloud-based storage will be PCI- or GDPR-compliant by default. The cloud service provider is responsible for its own infrastructure, but many elements of compliance—customer and client data, encryption, and firewall configuration, for example—are your responsibility. 

Data Protection

Here are some tips for effective cloud data protection:

  • Encrypt sensitive data at rest wherever you store it.
  • Protect data in transit using transport layer security (TLS) encryption. 
  • Data in use should have some Information Rights Management protection, although this typically applies to sensitive data used in the financial or medical sectors. 
  • Although data stored and transferred by most professional cloud services is encrypted by default, it’s best to conduct a professional security assessment or penetration test focused on data mining. Make sure to review your terms of use with your service provider before conducting a pen test; you might need authorization.

Backups and Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery capabilities in a cloud environment are often much stronger than those in on-premises data centers.

Most cloud services are hosted by large server farms in multiple geographic data center locations on redundant physical drives. 

Backups taken from Amazon EC2 servers should be: 

  • Stored in a secure vault or S3
  • Configured to run periodically
  • Set to be stored for a reasonable amount of time
  • Tested to see that they can be restored properly
  • Stored in multiple geographic regions

Get Help if You Need It

Knowing what you need to do to improve your cloud security is one thing; understanding how to put in place your cloud security controls is another. A good governance, risk, and compliance software (GRC) solution can go a long way toward helping you implement the controls you need and comply with the regulations and industry standards relevant to your organization.

ZenGRC uses color-coded dashboards to show where your cloud security is compliant and where you fall short, and tells you how to fill gaps.

Zen tracks your workflows so you always know the status of each compliance task, and generates surveys for your vendors to track their compliance, as well—and compiles their responses. 

Zen also conducts unlimited, one-click self-audits so you can assess your cloud security efforts. And using our ZenConnect plugin, it integrates with all your workplace applications to collect audit evidence, and keeps it in a “single source of truth” repository for easy retrieval.

Worry-free cloud security compliance is the Zen way. Contact us today for your free consultation.