As cloud computing transforms how businesses operate, the emergence of new security challenges cannot be ignored. To step into the future of work with certainty, organizations must focus on identifying new threats and building expertise.
When we look back at the year 2020 in the future, in addition to holding several important lessons for humanity and businesses, it will represent a definitive and marked shift in how we live and work.
In the past few months, businesses all over the world had to set up remote operations and integrate the ‘work-from-home’ model in their processes. And these rapid changes were enabled, supported, and accelerated by cloud-based tech. In short, 2020 is the year when cloud saved the day and became an inalienable part of how we work.
The rapid changes in business models also warrant close scrutiny to enable a safe and frictionless digital transformation. More importantly, this will also ensure that the benefits of convenience and innovation are not marred by security threats. Let us take a closer look at what entails cloud security, what are the challenges and vulnerabilities of cloud-based environments, and how to minimize the risk.
Understanding Cloud Adoption and Security
In the past few months, cloud adoption has grown multifold, and the industry is expected to register a healthy growth for the next few years. Some service providers have grown by more than 700% in 2020, and the usage of cloud has increased, particularly in education, government, financial services, manufacturing, etc.
According to estimates, more than 90% of the world’s organizations use cloud in some form or the other, and most of them have adopted cloud services in the past few years. This is critical information as studies also show that nearly one in four enterprises using the public cloud have had their data stolen. Worryingly, nearly one in five have experienced an advanced attack.
Experts believe that despite cloud security management being a top priority, organizations are not investing enough in building cloud security capabilities.
Before diving into real-world business threats and challenges, it is imperative to understand what constitutes cloud security and how it differs in different types of cloud environments.
What is Cloud Security?
Cloud security is essentially the technology, tools, and infrastructure that protects the entire cloud environment against threats, both internal and external. Like cloud computing itself, these threats are also continually evolving, and even industry leaders have fallen prey to insecure cloud system vulnerabilities.
While the security solutions and practices vary across different cloud environments, it becomes important to remember that effective cloud security results from a successful collaboration between the service provider, organization, and users. Here is how cloud security management differs across environments:
Public Cloud: SaaS (users are responsible for data and user access), PaaS (users are responsible for data, user access, and applications), and IaaS (users are responsible for data, user access, applications, operating systems, and virtual network traffic)
Private Cloud: Organizations are responsible for the security of on-premise private cloud infrastructure and can also outsource it to third-party service providers as well
Hybrid Cloud: Specific security responsibilities are shared between different stakeholders
Cloud Security Challenges and Practices
Insecure cloud systems pose monumental threats to business operations, reputation, finances, and intellectual property. These challenges are multi-faceted, and their solutions require innovation and vigilance.
Cloud Security Challenges
Threat of Data Breaches and Loss: Data Loss or breach involves release, access, theft, or usage of sensitive and confidential data and information by an unauthorized individual(s). This may result in the public release of secret business information, like trade secrets, intellectual property, customer database, or high-level email exchanges.
Insufficient Identity, Credential, and Access Management: The human element continues to be the highest risk factor in cloud usage. Lack of identity management systems, failure to deploy multi-factor authentication, setting up weak passwords, or sharing devices can lead to credential and system misuse. If malicious actors gain access using legitimate means, they may also gain a parasitical foothold in the system for prolonged time periods.
Poor Security Stance and Tech Vulnerabilities: System-related tech vulnerabilities like inadequate safeguards for APIs, insufficient diligence while adopting and migrating to cloud assets, unresolved system bugs, etc., are detrimental to cloud security. These vulnerabilities can significantly endanger the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of the system as well.
All these challenges can result in significant and costly data losses and also may even permanently damage business operations. Furthermore, they give rise to commercial, legal, compliance, and other risks as well. As per estimates, the cost of data breaches has also been steadily increasing, and on average, breaches resulting from cloud transitions can cost up to $4.13 million.
Cloud Security Practices
Prevention Against Threats
Effective prevention against cloud security threats requires staying on top of security trends to identify new weaknesses and solutions. This practice of continuous learning should be adopted by all business leaders, users, and employees. Sustained training and support are vital to educate users about the role they play in ensuring cloud security.
Similarly, setting up strong passwords and deploying multi-factor authentication is also essential to secure the infrastructure. Organizations that want a greater degree of control over the security protocols can choose hybrid cloud solutions for maximum efficiency.
Ensuring Identity, Credential, and Access Management
Limiting access controls and security permissions by job function, devices, networks, and time sessions helps manage credential and access to the system. Training employees and managers to identify and report phishing attacks also reduces the human element risk.
Other beneficial practices include deploying Virtual private networks (VPNs) to semi-anonymize web activity and obscure information like location. Additionally, setting up IP-location restrictions and fencing of office and remote workers adds another layer of security.
Strengthening the Security Stance
Using end-to-end encryption tools for privacy enhances the security stance of the entire cloud infrastructure. In addition, other steps like regular security testing and building secondary, local, and encrypted data backups are equally crucial.
A shared security model that manages the architectural, operational, and security aspects of the cloud environment must be put in place. Other technical considerations, like bucket availability, patch management practices, and system auditing need to be taken into consideration.
Building in-house cloud teams & equipping them with the right tools and choosing the right cloud vendor that offers the best features and security support is also essential.
These are just a few ways to start minimizing cloud security threats and remove system-based vulnerabilities. You must build a comprehensive cloud security framework and continually improve it in response to new threats and challenges
As the dust settles on the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the business world has taken cognizance of a critical challenge as well: ensuring cloud security. The transition to cloud services across business functions has been accompanied by the adoption of complex protocols, serverless operations, remote access, and integration of different applications, which has opened unique system vulnerabilities and threats.
To solve these challenges and make the most of modern cloud solutions, organizations must build their capabilities and combine focused efforts, expertise, and commitment.
Take a hard look at these challenges and know some prominent ways to solve them.
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