Cloud computing continues to transform the way businesses serve customers and operate internally. Implementing cloud computing architecture has made it easier than ever for organizations to adopt remote working environments while providing the access to data and tools that teams need to collaborate. On top of that, businesses enjoy the cost savings, efficiency, and scalability that comes with moving from an on-premises data solution to a cloud computing environment.
While there are numerous benefits, businesses must also consider the various security risks of cloud computing. Companies that migrate their data and operations to the cloud — without a clear strategy that considers the potential downsides — leave themselves open for problems down the road. In fact, high-profile security breaches can damage a business’s reputation as well as create a negative impact on their bottom line.
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Organizations should not treat any security risk as insignificant, but some risks pose greater threats than others. Here are the top five security risks of cloud computing and strategies you can use to mitigate them.
Some Security Risks of Cloud Computing
1. Data Loss
Data loss, or data leakage, is at the top of the list for cloud computing security risks. A research study conducted by global intelligence firm IDC found that 79 percent of companies had experienced at least one cloud data breach within an 18-month period. Data loss includes everything from deleted or corrupted data and hardware malfunctions, to malware attacks, and loss of access due to natural disasters for which the cloud service provider (CSP) isn’t prepared. In addition to the loss of intellectual property, businesses may suffer direct financial impact by way of employee or customer backlash for not protecting their sensitive, personal data.
Just like in traditional data centers, malicious software, better known as malware, is at the core of many cloud security breaches. It is one of the most pervasive security risks of cloud computing as it infiltrates vulnerable systems using viruses, worms, Trojan viruses, spyware, adware, and ransomware (all examples of typical malware.) A McAfee Labs report noted an average of 588 threats per minute during the third quarter of 2020, ending at 648 threats per minute in the final quarter. This environment presents a unique opportunity for cybercriminals, as cloud computing architectures typically offer various potential weak links to exploit, including a large number of entities like virtual machines (VMs) and containers or storage buckets. In addition, as cloud adoption continues to grow, cybercriminals are refining and improving their attack capabilities to exploit cloud access through mobile devices.
3. Limited Visibility into Network Operations
One of the major trade-offs of migrating from an on-premises data storage model to the cloud is lack of visibility into network operations. In exchange for benefits like cost savings and ease of scalability with on-demand storage provisioning, businesses allow CSPs to control varying amounts of their technology infrastructure. That lack of visibility creates another key security risk of cloud computing.
The type of service model dictates the level of control CSPs have and what responsibilities businesses maintain in regards to data security. But whatever the shared responsibility model, the lack of visibility into cloud environments pose an ever-present threat for the businesses that rely on them for mission-critical data management.
4. Inadequate Due Diligence
Businesses trust CSPs with valuable enterprise assets. As such, inadequate due diligence leaves companies vulnerable to any lapse in security on the cloud service provider’s part. This can include both physical asset vulnerabilities at data centers, as well as online malware and access attacks. Migrating to the cloud too quickly is another form of inadequate due diligence, with companies failing to properly anticipate and map their service needs with the appropriate CSP.
Depending on the industry, businesses that move to a cloud computing environment must contend with a host of regulatory and compliance requirements intended to protect data. That makes ensuring compliance a top priority when considering how to avoid some of the security risks of cloud computing. HIPPA, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, FISMA, and GDPR are all examples of regulations that mandate specific data security measures. There are also corporate compliance considerations for companies that have implemented internal data security procedures. Because cloud architectures typically allow for large-scale user access, a lack of proper security measures puts organizations at risk of noncompliance.
How to Improve Security in Cloud Computing
When it comes to improving security in a cloud environment, eliminating or mitigating risks beforehand is the best strategy. Whether you’re still in the planning phases or have already moved to the cloud, maintaining the most secure environment possible is the best strategy for reaping the true benefits of cloud computing. Here are five ways to improve your business’s cloud security posture.
Choose the Right Cloud Provider
One of the most effective ways to reduce the security risks of cloud computing is choosing the right CSP for your business. The cloud provider’s capabilities and the service model you select sets the baseline for the level of security available to keep your cloud environment safe. Asking specific questions like “How do you secure the hardware used for the cloud?”, “What are your documented security policies?”, and “How do you encrypt data on the cloud?” is a great start for performing proper due diligence.
In addition, selecting the right service model plays an important role, as it should clearly specify what security risks both your company and the cloud provider will be responsible for guarding against.
Conduct Risk Assessments
Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment in a cloud environment will help businesses identify, analyze, and evaluate potential risks. This level of visibility allows you to develop and implement the right strategies instead of wasting time and resources guarding against the wrong cyber threats. The best risk assessments go beyond static checklists and use an organization’s unique business environment and objectives to determine next steps.
All data is not created equal. That means, when guarding against the security risks of cloud computing, understanding the importance and sensitivity of various data types will help prioritize security measures and resources. Classifying data also makes regulatory compliance easier to audit and maintain. Since highly-sensitive data requires the most stringent security, using a data matrix to evaluate and categorize each kind of data is an ideal place to start creating consistent security standards across all data types.
Control User Access
The strongest cloud security strategies implement user access control as a first line of defense. Assessing which permissions to grant particular user groups based on their unique roles (like employees, vendors, IT administrators, finance) provides the framework needed to ensure that users only have access to parts of the cloud they need.
This approach is in alignment with the zero-trust security model that has grown in popularity among security-focused enterprises. The zero-trust model assumes that not all users, even if allowed onto a network, should be trusted by default. Instead, the users are required to verify their identity before they’re allowed to access.
Even the best plans to reduce the risks of cloud computing can quickly become outdated or inadequate. To remain vigilant in the ever-changing cloud environment, organizations can employ continuous monitoring instead of point-in-time monitoring and maintain 24/7 visibility. Cloud functions like speed, application performance, and scanning for malware are examples of what to include in a continuous monitoring protocol.
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