Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 13, 2023 and has since been updated as of April 11, 2023.
Cloud computing offers numerous advantages, including flexibility, cost-effectiveness, scalability, rapid deployment and storage capacity. Still, there are inherent cybersecurity risks with cloud infrastructure, including data breaches and leaks, compromised credentials, and human errors that can compromise sensitive data. The complexity of cloud environments makes it difficult to not only secure data in the cloud but also to comply with the requirements of laws and regulations.
Here are seven strategies and tips for improving your business’s security in the cloud.
1. Improve Third-Party Visibility and Monitoring
Organizations grow, evolve, and merge, as do the employees, locations and projects. Sometimes, tools are integrated with legacy systems, creating more complexity in your organization. This creates challenges in maintaining a comprehensive view of your network, systems, storage and applications.
To increase visibility in your infrastructure, you can use solutions to monitor activity and detect early signs of compromised accounts or possible threats. You should not only monitor your employees for unusual behaviors, such as a login from a strange IP address during off hours, but also your third-party suppliers, vendors and service providers. If they have a weak link in their own security, it can leave your organization vulnerable.
2. Deploy Access Management Controls
No matter what cloud providers you use, you’re responsible for securing cloud user accounts and their ability to access sensitive data. Your security program should have identity and authentication measures like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access control (RBAC) to reduce the risk of account compromise and credential theft.
Outline expectations for employee cybersecurity habits, including using complex passwords and ensuring that passwords aren’t reused across accounts. It’s best to have a centralized password management solution to ensure these policies are enforced.
You should also manage user access privileges. Instead of providing unlimited access to systems and data, use the principle of least privilege, which gives users access to only the data or applications they need to perform their jobs. Then, if their account is compromised, there’s only so much damage the malicious attacker can do.
Another best practice is to use single sign-on (SSO), an authentication method that allows users to securely authenticate different websites or applications with one set of credentials. This is built on a trust relationship between the application and the identity provider, demonstrating a trusted source.
3. Apply Zero Trust Practices and Strategy
With the growth of the hybrid workforce and the migration to the cloud, Zero Trust offers a strategic approach to cybersecurity that’s rooted in the principle of “never trust, always verify.” It’s designed to protect cloud environments with authentication, authorization and validation for security configuration and posture before access is granted or continued.
Because there’s no network edge, networks may be local, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment. Along with continuous verification, Zero Trust can limit the “blast radius” if a breach does occur, whether external or internal.
4. Invest in Cyber Security Training for Employees
Data security incidents commonly involve human error through access control, misconfigurations or simple errors. It’s important to train your employees to identify and respond to cyberattacks in their various forms, including malware, phishing emails, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
Proper training can reduce the risk of breaches that occur from human error, so focus on establishing strict policies and procedures around cybersecurity. Train your employees on cloud-specific security tools, network behaviors, and perhaps most importantly, what to do in the event of a security incident.
Nothing is foolproof, but training ensures your employees are aware of the possible risks, exercise caution in their interactions, and know how to identify and report suspicious activities to mitigate the damage. As a result, you’ll not only enjoy some additional peace of mind but also potentially reduced costs related to data breaches.
5. Document Strict Off-Boarding Processes
Employees who leave your organization can expose risk in your storage, systems, customer information, data and intellectual properties if they still have access. Though often overlooked, ensuring that departing employees no longer have privileges for your data and applications is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity.
Through performing their job duties, employees have access to a variety of sensitive cloud applications and data, so you need a systematic off-boarding process to revoke access.
6. Encryption of Data in Motion and At Rest
Data encryption is a simple method to protect your data and limit the damage that an attacker can do in the case of a breach. It turns data into ciphertext, making it appear random.
Data can be encrypted at rest, in storage or in transit. There are two types of encryptions: symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption uses only one decryption key for encryption and decryption. Asymmetric encryption uses one key for encryption and a different key for decryption, which is kept private.
Along with being an effective cybersecurity measure, encryption is a vital element of data security for compliance with the standards for regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
7. Get Data Backup and Recovery Solutions in Place
Though most providers have robust backup plans in place to reduce the risk of data loss, there’s still a risk of loss from human error. Employees can accidentally delete data or malicious attackers can corrupt data, which is why you need a cloud-based backup and recovery solution of your own.
Having a backup and recovery solution helps you protect your information from not just human error but potential crises such as cyberattacks, hardware failures, power outages, and natural disasters.
Securing the Cloud
Staying aware of the unique cybersecurity risks in the cloud is the first step, but your organization needs a robust cloud cybersecurity position to prevent and respond to increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks as they evolve. Fortunately, these strategies and tips give you an opportunity to fortify your cloud security and safeguard your sensitive data and applications.
Joseph Carson is a cybersecurity professional with more than 25 years’ experience in enterprise security and infrastructure. Currently, Carson is the Chief Security Scientist & Advisory CISO at Delinea. He is an active member of the cybersecurity community and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Carson is also a cybersecurity adviser to several governments, critical infrastructure organizations, and financial and transportation industries, and speaks at conferences globally.
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