What is all this hype about cloud computing? Many day-to-day activities in a business have moved to the cloud. There are many benefits that an enterprise gets when its routine IT activities move to the cloud.
Therefore, the popularity of cloud computing has been rising and rising over the years. However, the primary advantage of cloud computing is removing various IT overhead costs like server updating, purchasing, and maintenance. Cloud has been of benefit among the small businesses that cannot afford the whole IT infrastructure. Since the cloud services are scalable, you can use them for virtually any application. Large corporations, medium, and small businesses can use clouds. With the cloud and the internet, a company can now globally operate, share files and applications. Hence, productivity is enhanced. Before diving into cloud security, let us first consider how the cloud works.
How does the cloud work?
At the core of the cloud is virtualization. Through virtualization, you can create a simulated virtual or digital-only computer that in all ways behaves like a physical computer having all components -the software, hardware, and networking. Technically, such a computer is called a virtual machine. With proper implementation, such virtual machines are sandboxed so that they cannot interact with each other at all on the same host computer. Therefore, you cannot see the applications and files that belong to a virtual machine from another in the same host machine.
This arrangement ensures efficient utilization of the hosting machine’s hardware. Through virtualization, we turned one machine into many. Therefore, one data center becomes a host of many other data centers and can serve many business organizations. It makes the cloud service provider provide services to many customers at once. Hence, they can offer the services at a low cost.
Cloud services are fault-tolerant. It ensures that even if one server goes down, it does not affect service provision. The cloud vendors back up their services on a multitude of other machines in various regions. Such replication ensured that your data is safe from damage since you can always retrieve it from another server. Regardless of what device you are using, be it a smartphone, a personal computer, or a desktop, you can access the cloud so long as you are online.
What is Cloud Security – Cloud Computing Security Defined
Also called cloud computing security, cloud security is a set of policies, technologies, procedures, controls that work in unity to protect the data, infrastructure, and cloud-based systems. Security measures are put in place for protecting cloud data, supporting regulatory adherence, setting the authentication rules for the devices and individual users. They also protect the privacy of the customers.
You can set the cloud security to the business from filtering traffic to access authentication. Since you can configure and manage these rules in one place, the overhead costs in administration are reduced. Hence, the IT team in a business can focus on other areas within the company.
The delivery of cloud security depends on the cloud vendor and the solutions for cloud security in place. However, implementing cloud security should be a joint venture by both the cloud service provider and the business owner. Let us first consider the three primary cloud computing services and the security considerations of each.
The primary services of cloud computing
The cloud offers various services to the clients like individuals, governments, corporations, banks, and health sectors. Such services may be in terms of the software, infrastructure, platform, or function. Therefore, it is critical to maintaining cloud security for the integrity of the data. Below are the significant services of cloud computing.
Here the client rents the aspects like storage and servers they require from a cloud service provider. Then, the client uses the infrastructure for creating their applications. We can compare IaaS to a company buying a piece of land. They can build anything they need but, they have to use their building materials and equipment. Popular IaaS vendors include Google Compute Engine (GCE), Microsoft Azure, Digital ocean, Amazon Elastic Compute (EC2), and OpenStack. We can use the infrastructure developed later in various areas like banking, real estate, among others. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure the security of this cloud service.
As a user, you bear the responsibility of securing the data, Operating System, user access, and the traffic on the network. Business often makes the following mistakes that leave them exposed to various risks.
Mistakes in configuration
Misconfiguration of the resources in the cloud is a common cause of various security incidents in the cloud. According to the McAfee risk and cloud adoption report, an average organization has 14 instances of IaaS misconfiguration. Although the cloud provider can provide the tool to secure various resources, correctly using them relies on the client’s IT professionals. Such misconfiguration may be:
- Exposing storage access to the internet
- Having the data encryption turned off
- Not activating Multi-factor authentication, and
- Improperly configuring the outbound and inbound ports.
Sending unencrypted data
Data moves between on-premise and the cloud in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. Therefore, to protect your data from unauthorized access or theft, encrypting it is essential. Various governments and industries require that any sensitive data remain encrypted at all times, both at rest or in transit. You can encrypt the data on the cloud or on-premise.
Permissions on user roles
We consider it good practice to protect access to the IaaS by giving the users access to only what they need in carrying out their jobs. Root account credentials should remain locked and inactive accounts deprovisioned.
Securing from Shadow services
Rogue cloud accounts are common in SaaS but can also arise in IaaS. An employee may use a cloud service provider to provide a resource or an application without informing the IT department. To ensure that the data in these services are secure, the IT department needs first to identify the users and services through a system audit. We can do this using the Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB).
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
In this model, a client pays for the resources that they may require to create their applications. PaaS vendors avail all the resources necessary to build an app, including Operating Systems, infrastructure, and development tools. Microsoft Azure and Heroku are good examples of PaaS.
Best practices for PaaS cloud security
Many threats within an application come early in the software development process. If a developer is conscious of security, they can identify and eliminate or patch the potential flaws within the application using threat modeling tools and practices. You can use the threat modeling tool offered by Microsoft and the information regarding threat modeling provided by Open Web Application Security (OWASP).
Check for inherited vulnerabilities in software
There can be various vulnerabilities in third-party software and applications. If a developer does not scan the platform for vulnerabilities, they can inherit them.
Use the provider resources
Many PaaS Providers have best practices and guidelines that you use to develop applications on their platform. They also offer technical support, integration, testing, and other help to developers.
Researching on the security of the cloud service provider
Today, very few of the cloud services in use meet the cloud data security requirements defined in the Cloud trust program. Inquire about the cloud security patch management plan that the cloud service vendor uses and whether they apply the up-to-date security protocols. Do they have an incidence response plan in place? What are the procedures for employee access to the physical facilities and IT systems? Remember to ask them what happens when the PaaS service goes offline to the application and data running on the PaaS.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Unlike the traditional models where you have to download each application to your device, SaaS saves you from installing the software on the device. You can alternatively access it over the internet. It saves you on costs in terms of the space that the application would reside. Slack and Salesforce are prime examples of SaaS.
Identity and Access Management (IAM) application
By having role-based access management and identity, you can ensure that no end-user has more access to a resource than they need to perform their duties. To determine the particular files a user is supposed to access, IAM uses user policies and processes. A business can use role-based permissions on the data. Hence the end users only see the data you have authorized them to see.
Encrypting the cloud data
By encrypting your data, you protect it at transfer, at rest, and in between cloud applications. In government, any sensitive data must always be encrypted. Such data include financial, health, defense strategies, and personally identifiable information (PII). Many cloud vendors provide some encryption. However, it is good to apply your encryption plan on top of the one provided by the cloud vendor, like implementing the Cloud Security Access Broker (CASB).
Monitoring collaborative data sharing
Use collaboration controls for detecting granular file permissions shared with other users. It includes even those outside the organization who use a web link. Intentionally or unintentionally, an employee can share confidential documents through team spaces, mails, and cloud storage sites like Dropbox.
Enforcement of Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
Using DLP, monitoring of the sensitive data within the SaaS is possible. It can detect and stop the transmission of sensitive data. They prevent the download of sensitive data to personal computers and blocks hackers from accessing your downloaded data.
Having looked at the three primary services on the cloud, let us now look at the importance of cloud security.
Why is Cloud Security Essential?
When a business considers changing to the cloud, it is imperative to consider how robust is the cloud vendor’s cloud security measures. Nowadays, security threats are constantly developing, and clouds computing is also affected, just like on-premise environments. Therefore, work with a provider with the best and in-class security measures that are customizable to your infrastructure. There are many benefits to cloud security, as we shall see below.
Reduces the costs
Using cloud storage and security saves you from investing in dedicated hardware. Besides reducing the capital expenses, it also reduces the cost overhead in administration. Where your IT teams were fighting various security issues reactively, cloud security offers proactive security measures. Therefore, your business remains protected 24/7 with minimal or no human intervention.
Centralization of security
Besides centralizing your data and applications, cloud security also centralizes your protection. Because cloud-based business networks comprise any endpoints and devices, managing them becomes challenging especially, when dealing with BYOD or shadow IT. Central management of these entities eases web filtering and analysis of traffic, reduces the software and policy updates, and ensures that monitoring of the network events is streamlined. It also enhances the implementation and actioning of a disaster recovery plan and when you implement the cloud security in one place.
When you implement a cloud security plan, it is a guarantee of ultimate dependability. By having the proper security measures in the cloud, the employees within a company can access the applications and data safely on the cloud. This is regardless of the place they are or the device that they are using.
Choosing the right cloud security solution frees you from the constant security updates and manual configurations in the security. Such tasks drain the resources massively. Moving them to the cloud ensures that security administration happens in one place and is managed on your behalf.
Securing the cloud data
Securing cloud data is increasingly critical as we move our IT operations, data centers, and business processes to the cloud. You can achieve data security in the cloud through organizational culture, using cloud security solutions and comprehensive security policies. If you want the best from the cloud, it is imperative that you select the best and the proper security solution for your business. Therefore, your business will be safe from unauthorized access to the data, data breaches, and various other threats. There are various cloud access security brokers that you can use to protect your cloud data and applications.
Any IT infrastructure is susceptible to security threats. Before moving your business and other mission-critical systems to the cloud, you must have suitable security provisions in place. By using cloud security, many benefits accrue, as we have seen above. Irrespective of whether you run an on-premise, hybrid, or native cloud, data security is essential. Besides offering traditional IT security, cloud security provides other advantages to a business and ensures that you meet the compliance requirements.