Cloud computing has gained increased momentum in the past few years, and it isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
However, despite the cloud’s popularity, there are some challenges to making the switch to cloud-based operations. According to LogicMonitor, nearly two-thirds of organizations cite security as the biggest obstacle to cloud adoption and management.
While the cloud does pose some unique security challenges, they are not insurmountable.
Below we’ll cover four of the biggest cloud computing security challenges facing organizations today and how you can mitigate those risks and take advantage of a secure cloud environment.
1. Data breaches
A data breach is when confidential information is accessed and extracted without authorization.
Though data breaches are not unique to cloud environments, they remain a top concern for cloud customers. With the average cost of a data breach at $3.92 million, according to a 2019 report by IBM, businesses can’t afford to be sloppy in their cloud security measures.
By its nature, cloud computing requires the customer to cede some control of their data to the cloud provider who manages their cloud services. Sharing control of data (and the responsibility for its security) adds a layer of complexity and difficulty in managing cloud security and mitigating risks.
Since cloud providers have a vast amount of data from numerous sources, they are an attractive target for hackers. Hackers can gain access to secured data by exploiting technical vulnerabilities in the software as well as human error.
So how can you protect your organization from costly data attacks? Fortunately, there are a few key steps you can take:
Apply the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)
Least Privilege is the practice of restricting access rights for users, accounts, systems, and processes to only the minimum resources needed to perform routine tasks and duties. In other words, users (e.g., employees) are given the lowest clearance level needed to perform their job.
The goal is to reduce the risk of security breaches by limiting access to only those who need it. Forrester Research estimates that 80% of security breaches involve the theft of privileged credentials.
By implementing least privilege policy, organizations can significantly reduce opportunities for exploitation, limit the fallout from a breach, and improve compliance across the network.
Use multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security method for logins that requires two or more credentials from a user to confirm their identity before granting access. This is a simple but effective way to more tightly secure your data and strengthen your access points against potential hackers.
Encrypt data at rest
Data is at rest when it is not actively used and is stored on a hard drive. While these data are usually protected by basic perimeter defenses like firewalls, encrypting your hard drives (and other data at rest) adds another layer of protection.
2. Data loss
Another top cloud security concern is data loss. Data loss occurs when information is destroyed, altered, or corrupted by failures or neglect in storage, transmission, or processing. Data loss can also happen if you lose access credentials—the data still exists, but it remains out of reach without your password and other login identification.
Obviously, maintaining access to your data and keeping it safe at every level is crucial. That is why it is important to implement a robust data loss prevention (DLP) plan as part of your cloud security strategy.
Here are a few steps you can take as part of your DLP:
Backup, backup, backup
The number-one way to prevent data loss is to regularly back it up so you have a way to retrieve or recover it in the event of loss or leakage.
Use DLP software
With this software, you can automate your backup and loss prevention processes so your security measures don’t fall through the cracks.
Perform a risk assessment
Audit your data to discover where and how your data is stored on the cloud. Once you have an inventory of your data storage, create a data flow map to understand your data processes and identify potential vulnerabilities.
3. DDoS attacks
A DDoS or distributed denial-of-service attack is a malicious attempt by hackers to disrupt the normal operations of your service or network by overwhelming your server with a flood of traffic.
The goal is to make your server unavailable to its intended users, thereby disrupting operations (and your business). A successful attack can cause hours (or even days) of downtime, which can result in loss of revenue and customer trust.
To mitigate a DDoS attack and reduce the risk of downtime, you need to follow four steps:
- Detect: To prevent a distributed attack, your security service has to be able to distinguish between a high volume of real traffic and an actual attack.
- Respond: When an attack is detected, your security network will respond by throttling malicious bot traffic while leaving normal traffic alone.
- Route: To prevent a denial of service, your network needs to intelligently route the traffic into manageable chunks to avoid overwhelming your servers.
- Adapt: Your security network should improve over time as it identifies and adapts to attack patterns.
4. Compliance violations
Compliance is one of the biggest obstacles many organizations face when deciding whether to adopt cloud-based operations.
Regulatory controls focus heavily on cloud security, and compliance violations can have a significant negative impact on your business and bottom line (including potentially heavy fines, and even lawsuits).
Three key security challenges affecting compliance include:
Operational consistency and clarity
As you move into the cloud, it’s important to migrate your operational processes smoothly into the cloud environment.
The more consistent you are in your cloud operations and management, the easier it is to recognize and correct security issues (as well as other non-compliant areas) and respond to audits with accurate reporting.
Data visibility and security
Before the cloud, it was easy to locate your data—in the data center. Now, data is spread across servers and an increasingly mobile and distributed workforce.
This introduces challenges for organizations that must comply with strict data residency regulations in a global market. Getting a clear picture of your data is increasingly important and increasingly difficult.
Plus, the more distributed your data (especially across unofficial servers and applications, also known as Shadow IT), the greater the threat to your data security.
Another challenge of security and compliance is determining who is actually responsible for ensuring you meet those requirements.
The level of service and the cloud provider you choose will affect what responsibility you have to meet compliance regulations and how much your service provider will manage compliance for you. Clarifying these roles and ensuring there are no gaps in your compliance strategy and processes is critical for making sure you meet all regulations.
RELATED: See how diagrams can help make PCI compliance easy for your organization.
Overcoming cloud security challenge
While there are challenges to creating a secure cloud environment, there are a few ways you can overcome the most common obstacles. Use these tips to tighten your cloud security and mitigate risks.
Automate security notifications and alerts
When it comes to security, automation is your friend. Operating on the cloud provides numerous opportunities to implement automation that will increase efficiency and reduce human error.
As you build out your cloud security strategy, be sure to include automated security alerts and notifications in your processes. An automated security notification system will alert you in real time to potential or immediate threats, including attacks, vulnerabilities, and even gaps in your compliance.
Implement strong access controls and procedures
While vulnerabilities within the technology itself are a serious concern, a huge risk to your data security comes from your human resources. Lax access controls and procedures make it easy for hackers to sneak into your systems and wreak havoc.
Create strong procedures for access management (including multi-factor authentication and least privilege) to minimize risk around access points.
Visualize cloud architecture and key governance data
One reason cloud security is so challenging is that it is complex. There are many moving parts to security and compliance, making it easy for critical processes and information to fall through the cracks—leaving you and your organization vulnerable.
A simple way to cut through the noise is to visualize your data and processes. Lucidscale can help.
Lucidscale makes it easy to map out your cloud architecture and governance data so you can assess your current state, identify gaps in your security processes, and get a clear view of each area of your cloud.
Visualizing your governance data can also help you spot unencrypted databases, identify and track your security groups, and enforce internal best practices you aren’t caught out of compliance.
Cloud security concerns, particularly surrounding data security risks, are one of the top barriers to cloud adoption, according to a 2019 report by Synopsys. But by identifying and addressing key security challenges, you can create a strategy and implement steps to reduce your risk and increase security across your organization.
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