Guide: Data Security

Cloud Data Security: The Basics and 8 Critical Best Practices

What is Cloud Data Security?

Cloud data security involves protecting data at rest and in motion, while it is stored in the cloud or moves between environments. The goal is to ensure that all data—both internally-managed data and information managed by third parties—remains protected. 

Cloud vendors and customers share the responsibility for protecting information. Typically, cloud vendors secure the underlying infrastructure and provide basic security tools and features that enable customers to protect their data. However, this is typically not enough to provide the visibility and control needed to secure data.

Organizations are required to ensure that their data is protected and implement the necessary controls that achieve this goal. For example, organizations may need to classify sensitive information and set up encryption to comply with data protection regulations. In the end, the responsibility for data security and compliance lies with the organization itself.

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Why Do Companies Need Cloud Data Protection?

Today, organizations amass huge amounts of data, from highly sensitive customer, business, and financial to relatively unimportant data. They also transfer more of their information to the cloud and store it in more locations, for example, private, public, and hybrid clouds, software-as-a-service applications, cloud storage environments, and more. 

 

According to a Palo Alto study, 90% of cybersecurity personnel are concerned about security in the cloud. Their greatest challenges include safeguarding against data loss and leakage (67%), breach of confidentiality (53%), and threats to data privacy (61%).

 

High volume and movement of data over multiple environments is making it increasingly difficult for organizations to  protect and secure their information. Here are key cloud data security challenges:

 

  • Organizations no longer know the location of all their data and applications.
  • With data and applications located on third-party infrastructure, organizations often don’t know who is using and accessing their data and applications. 
  • Organizations have limited insight into how cloud providers secure and store their information.
  • Most cloud providers have cutting-edge security, but they are also vulnerable to breaches. Furthermore, most of the responsibility for data security lies with the cloud customer.
  • Cloud providers have different data services and capabilities, which can lead to inconsistent implementation of data security measures.
  • Most organizations are subject to some data protection and privacy regulation, such as the EU GDPR or HIPAA in the US. This means they need to enforce security policies over several cloud environments while meeting the auditor’s requirements.

The CIA Triad and Data Security in the Cloud

The CIA triad refers to three security attributes of any computing system, including cloud environments. It can be useful for analyzing and improving an organization’s security posture. The following table explains the CIA triad and how it applies to cloud environments.

Attribute
Definition
What It Means in a Cloud Environment
Confidentiality
Ensuring private data is not exposed to unauthorized parties.
Gaining visibility over all cloud data assets and ensuring they have appropriate authentication and perimeter defenses.
Integrity
Ensuring data has not been corrupted or modified, either accidentally or maliciously.
Cloud providers offer identity and access management (IAM) solutions that allow an organization to define who is authorized to perform specific operations on each cloud data asset. Configuring IAM using the least privilege principle can protect data integrity.
Availability
Ensuring data is available for its intended use when required.
Cloud systems are especially vulnerable to denial of service (DoS), because they are typically exposed to the Internet. Many other security vulnerabilities can be exploited to delete or shut down cloud data stores, affecting their availability.

Related content: Read our guide to data security management (coming soon)

8 Cloud Data Security Best Practices

Here are critical best practices you can use to better secure your organization’s data in the cloud.

Focus On Sensitive Data

From both security and compliance perspectives, the most important data to protect is your sensitive data. You should focus on knowing where this data is, and divert resources to better monitor and protect it. As data is continuously changing, you should be able to discover such sensitive data on an ongoing basis.

Secure User Endpoints

Endpoints act as access points to all cloud processes. Organizations should protect endpoints used to access the cloud. Endpoint protection involves securing end-user devices, including mobile phones, desktops, and laptops. By strengthening endpoint security, organizations can eliminate entry points into the cloud environment that cybercriminals can exploit.

Implement Encryption

Each time you use cloud services, you place your information at risk by sending it between the cloud and your network and vice versa. When you use the cloud, use the highest levels of encryption for data at rest and data in transit to keep your data secure.

Control User Access

Strictly control user access through guidelines and policies. This approach can help you manage users operating within your network and on the cloud. Today, it is common for organizations to “assume breach” and adopt a zero trust approach. Organizations should only grant users access to the required data and systems, and establish a clear division of roles with access to the specific resources each role needs.

Choose a Trusted Provider

Organizations should partner with a reputable cloud provider with robust security protocols and support for relevant industry standards. Prefer a cloud provider with security compliance and certifications for standards accepted in your industry.

Define and Monitor Cloud Usage Policies

Even if your organization has a safe cloud use policy, employees will often use the cloud without complying with the policy. To deal with this, track employees usage patterns and activities. By monitoring employees behavior, the organization can readily identify suspicious cloud activities, protecting against account takeover and malicious insiders.

Deploy an Identity And Access Management Solution

Unauthorized access is a major threat to public cloud security. An identity and management (IAM) solution can help manage this threat.

 

Organizations should seek out an IAM solution to set and enforce access policies according to the least privilege principle. Organizations must establish these policies on role-based permissions. Furthermore, organizations can also use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to minimize the risk of credential theft.

 

Use an IAM solution that works in hybrid environments. This can streamline end-user authentication and make it easier for security staff to enforce policies across IT environments.

Perform Audits and Penetration Testing

Organizations must conduct penetration testing and auditing to see if existing cloud security efforts are sufficient  to secure applications and data. This can be performed by an external security consultant, or by in-house security and compliance teams. 

 

Security audits should include analysis of the efficacy of existing security tools, a review of access controls, and simulated attempts to access sensitive applications and data in the cloud to reveal security gaps.

Cloud Data Security with Satori

Satori provides secure data access in a streamlined manner, and across all your data stores. Satori is decoupled from your data infrastructure, and does not depend on your specific data store capabilities. Click here to learn more.


Read here about Satori’s continuous data discovery & classification capability.