Each year, we see more and more services migrating to the cloud. With advantages like ease of access, scalability, flexibility and reduced costs, who can blame them? Despite these appealing advantages, adopting cloud services also comes with a range of challenges. One of the biggest concerns is the security ramifications of migrating to cloud-based services.

Businesses need to make sure that they have well-planned cloud solutions that take security into account before they move their services across. The systems need to be more than just compliant; box ticking is great, but it doesn’t necessarily bring about optimal security. Companies should have a comprehensive security policy that is actively managed by knowledgeable staff. This can be done in-house or with third-party solutions, but third parties still need to be monitored to ensure that they are acting diligently.

Each organisation needs to analyse their unique risk profile, the particular threats that they face and how they can combat them. They also need to limit and manage access to ensure that any security compromises are contained and addressed before too much damage occurs. Companies that use cloud service providers also need to be aware of the shared responsibility between themselves and their provider.

Managing Risks

Despite the host of benefits that come with cloud solutions, they also bring new risks to organisations. The concentration of valuable data and the intertwined access can bring about massive dilemmas if they aren’t managed effectively. One single breach can lead to the theft of millions of records. The fallout from this can be ruinous to a company, as they may have to notify the concerned parties, pay fines and face lawsuits.
Organisations need to have an array of security systems in place to protect their valuable data from insider threats and external actors. Old tricks like social engineering can unlock the gates and allow nefarious individuals to take their pick of a business’s data. Mitigating risks involves an overall security plan composed of many layers, as well as comprehensive staff training, and even a solid off-boarding process to make sure that disgruntled employees cannot take advantage of a company on the way out.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Managing access to systems and information can present unique challenges in the cloud environment. An organisation needs to make sure that it limits access as much as practical to reduce its exposure to risks. It is essential to have a dynamic system in place that can grant access when needed and take it away when it is no longer necessary. This is important for employees whose roles change, as well as for contractors.

Privileged users are another key concern because of their wider access to a company’s systems. It is important that they are restricted as much as possible without impeding their jobs. There also needs to be high levels of oversight to make sure that they aren’t accessing anything without authorisation.

Monitoring and logging access is another key aspect of maintaining of an organisation’s cloud security. This is important for auditing purposes and also for identifying the culprit in the case of a security breach.

Staying Compliant

Adopting a cloud-based solution can make compliance even more complex than normal. The specific regulations will depend on the industry and the individual business. To name a few, there is the UK Data Protection Act 1998, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulations and the Cloud Security Principles. Data privacy regulations are enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which can pass out fines of up to £500,000.

Managing sensitive data is always a complex process. Utilising cloud services brings about new complications that organisations need to prepare for. The particulars of compliance will vary depending on whether they use a private or a public cloud. If a company engages with a cloud service provider, they will need to know the whereabouts of their service provider’s data centres, because personal data cannot be transferred outside of the European Economic Area unless the country can demonstrate adequate protection.

The Shared Responsibility Model

Businesses can’t leave all of their security up to their cloud service provider. Under the shared responsibility model, security in the cloud is the client’s responsibility, while security of the cloud is the service provider’s. A provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) is responsible for the integrity of the infrastructure, including the databases and networking. The identity management, access management, encryption, data protection and more are still the responsibility of the client.

Many cloud service providers assist their customers with compliance, but this doesn’t shift the burden onto the provider. Often, they are just giving their clients tools to help them. It is still the client’s responsibility to make sure that systems are secure and that they meet any pertinent regulations. An example would be if a service provider offers an encryption service; it is up to the client to know what type of encryption is in place, as well as when and how it is used. If it isn’t compliant with relevant standards, then responsibility falls back on the client rather than the provider.

It is important for businesses to get a great deal of insight into their cloud service provider. The client has to make sure that providers meet regulations in a wide variety of security processes. Companies need to have a thorough understanding of their service license agreement to make sure that they are not only compliant, but that their systems are secure and there are no gaps or oversight between themselves and the provider.

The Unique Challenges of Cloud Security

While cloud services can provide businesses with unique and cost-effective solutions to a range of problems, these can’t be considered in isolation. Every organisation that plans to implement cloud services needs to look at them in their entirety and weigh up the negatives as well. With properly planned implementation, cloud services can provide effective platforms for a range of business processes. If there isn’t an effective strategy in place, they can open up a company to a range of security disasters.

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