As cloud continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of IT spend, there’s no denying the colossal benefits of cloud computing. From accessibility and scalability to low infrastructure and maintenance costs, cloud computing has become the new normal for businesses of all sizes and in all industries.
Although the advantages are undeniable, there is still one remaining barrier to cloud adoption: security. The myth that the cloud is not as secure as on-premise infrastructure continues to plague businesses today. This fear of unauthorized access, privacy violations, or sensitive data leaks comes from a general lack of understanding of the cloud — and that’s what we plan to resolve today.
Cloud-based infrastructure is very different from the traditional on-premise environment, and it requires a different set of tools and strategies to secure it effectively. In this blog post, we discuss some of the common cloud security threats to be aware of and the levels of security that come with private, public, and hybrid cloud deployments. Then we will debunk the myth of cloud insecurity by sharing all of the ways that cloud service providers safely store and protect your data.
How Secure is the Cloud?
The standard IT environment has always put control in the hands of the business owner. In order to successfully operate, every company had to manage and maintain physical servers that housed its operating system, business applications, storage, networking, and security. The cloud has stripped that down, and naturally, fears arise when the concept of ownership is taken away and placed in the hands of a third-party cloud service provider (CSP).
The truth is, there are a lot of different cloud deployment models that organizations can choose from nowadays. There are options where you have no ownership over hardware or data centers, and there are other options where you maintain total control. Here are three ways you can deploy cloud services and the unique security requirements to be aware of:
- Public Cloud: All resources are hosted in a public cloud, which means your data center and some services are shared with other customers. In this deployment, you save on capital expenditure and hardware costs, but there are some specific industry standards and security requirements that the public cloud cannot meet.
- Private Cloud: In this deployment model, you host and maintain everything in your own data center. Obviously, this is a more expensive scenario, but it can support any security and compliance requirements.
- Hybrid Cloud: Hybrid cloud deployment is the best of both worlds and offers the greatest flexibility. You can choose to host some of your infrastructure in the public cloud for cost savings and manage any sensitive areas of the business in a private cloud. It’s important to note that this type of environment can be more complicated to manage and often is.
Top Threats to Cloud Security
Cloud computing is designed for easy sharing, flexible resources, and faster innovation. By delivering software, servers, storage, databases, networking, and analytics over the internet, the cloud has provided an affordable platform for the rapid growth and strategic scalability of many businesses.
But for some businesses, the cloud is still full of uncertainty. Thanks to the rapid rise in data breaches and ransomware attacks, the biggest cloud security concerns are data loss, privacy regulations, and cybersecurity threats. For highly regulated businesses in the financial services, insurance, and healthcare sectors, cloud applications and environments are prime targets for cybercriminals looking to expose sensitive data.
While CSPs have taken many steps to improve the level of security they provide (which we will go into detail about in the next section), the reality is that cybercriminals are always looking for vulnerabilities in your network—regardless of if it’s in the cloud or not. That being said, here are some of the leading causes of cloud data breaches to be mindful of:
- Misconfiguration of cloud security settings
- Account hijacking due to weak passwords and user error
- Unauthorized access over the internet
- Insecure application programming interfaces (APIs)
- External data sharing
- Lack of control and visibility over cloud environment
- Cyberattacks Read more about different ransomware attacks here
- Denial of Service (DoS) attacks
How to Provide a Secure Foundation with Multi-Layered Cloud Security
Cloud security refers to the processes, mechanisms, and services used to control the security, compliance, and other usage risks of cloud computing (Gartner). It’s not much different from security in your on-premise data centers; only you don’t have to manage and maintain physical hardware or facilities. Instead, you rely on the security controls provided by your CSP to configure and secure your cloud environment.
You’ve likely heard that data stored in the cloud is more secure than conventionally stored data in solutions that are on premises. The reason is because major cloud companies like Microsoft Azure and AWS leverage multi-layered security across data centers, infrastructure, and operations. Their scale of investment in infrastructure, hardware, and cybersecurity experts is incomparable to anything that the average business can do to protect against cloud security threats.
Here are some of the ways that CSPs provide a state-of-the-art secure foundation across physical, infrastructure, and operational security:
- Maximum security data centers
Physical data centers are heavily fortified facilities located all over the globe that house a group of networked computer servers. Each facility has advanced security features like dual authentication systems, high-resolution cameras, electronic access cards, biometric iris scanners, etc.
- Geographic distribution
CSPs have a set of data centers arranged into regions. Microsoft Azure, for example, has over 200 physical data centers that all provide high availability, low latency, scalability, and the latest advancements in cloud infrastructure. The physical infrastructure and connective network components keep data entirely within the trusted Microsoft network, and IP traffic never enters the public Internet.
- Secure network infrastructure
Networks are shared in the public cloud, so CSPs have to have measures in place to keep networks segregated and secure. For example, Microsoft isolates management and customer networks in Azure to improve performance and ensure the traffic moving through the platform is secure.
- Integrated security controls
All CSPs implement security controls into firmware and hardware to ensure it is secure by default and continuously updated.
- Secure testing and monitoring
Large CSPs like Microsoft have thousands of cybersecurity experts working 24/7 to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities in the system. This includes regular testing and security patches.
- Technical security tools
CSPs use industry-leading firewall solutions and other tools that provide anti-malware protection, intrusion prevention, integrity monitoring, and logging to inspect and filter data passing in and out of your cloud environment. CSPs also provide additional security-specific tools and features across network security, configuration management, access control, and data encryption.
- DDoS prevention
Many CSPs have built-in mechanisms to protect against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks try to disrupt access to cloud services by generating so much traffic that it exceeds capacity. Microsoft Azure, for example, has built-in DDoS protections that continuously monitor traffic and ensure attacks do not bring down their services.
- Regulatory compliance certifications
Cloud providers can be certified to show they are compliant with healthcare and financial regulations that handle the most sensitive customer and business information:
- HIPAA = The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
- HITECH = The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act
- PCI DSS = Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard
Data and Access Security
- Data encryption
Data in storage, backup, or transit over a network can be encrypted so that it does not reveal sensitive information to anyone who does not possess the private key used to decrypt it. Cloud stored data is often safer than locally stored data, so Microsoft offers the Azure Key Vault to help safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets that cloud applications and services use.
- Authorization and permissions management
Many cloud vendors offer access and permissions control capabilities out of the box. Using these tools, you can set authentication regulations across your entire cloud infrastructure and monitoring services to determine who can access what data and from where.
Shared Responsibility Model
Despite some of the best efforts made by CSPs listed above, it’s important to understand your role in cloud security. While your CSP manages the security of the cloud, you are ultimately responsible for your data’s safety in the cloud. Cloud services are considered a shared responsibility model, which means you are accountable for setting up the controls and managing your own content, applications, systems, and networks.
Book an Expert Assessment of Your Cloud Security
To learn more about your specific cloud security responsibilities, you should ask your cloud hosting or managed service provider. When it comes to cloud security, we help our customers with the ongoing responsibilities of managing access control, monitoring your environment for security threats, and even training their employees on cloud security best practices.
We believe that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hosting cloud server and storage solutions. At Tigunia, our cloud specialists have managed and supported many cloud environments for our clients, including public, private, and hybrid hosting. Whether you are interested in migrating your on-premise infrastructure to the cloud, or you’re already there and need assistance—we can help ensure your cloud environment continues to meet your security, governance, and compliance requirements.