As more and more small and midsize businesses use cloud-based services, more and more security issues concern those businesses. Selecting secure cloud partners and employing security best practices will be key in measuring success going forward.
“Security vulnerabilities exist in all software products, because humans write code and they make mistakes,” says Lawrence Pingree, research director at Gartner Inc., who specializes in security technologies. “Since public cloud applications are exposed to the entire Internet, the attacker base is much greater.”
SANS.org lists a variety of best practices for cloud security in its white paper, “Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing V3.0.” Security rigor depends on whether the system is a public or private cloud, what kind of service it is, and the harm to the company if that data is breached. SANS suggests all data transfers be made over encrypted links using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure), and all stored data be encrypted.
“Cloud providers have controls and can help with encryption and authentication, but businesses have to select the right security controls,” says Pingree. “But since few small businesses have a security expert on staff, they need help configuring their security policies.”
Those companies falling under regulations like HIPAA for health records must verify cloud services holding that data are compliant as well. Providers will list these certifications, but someone with some security expertise should dig a little deeper. Will your stored data be moved between physical locations? Are all those locations within the United States? If the regulations over your data demand domestic-only storage (like for financial services data), verify those details with your provider.
“Decide who defines users and their authentication method—customer, reseller, or third party,” advises Pingree. Smaller businesses don’t have experience with multifactor authentication, for instance, so get a third-party to perform a risk assessment and recommend the best authentication fit. “If your organization can afford it, get a risk pre-assessment before selecting your cloud provider,” suggests Pingree. “Many VARs are now offering these services to customers, either as part of the sales process, or as an added service.”
Vulnerability response time highlights the capabilities of a cloud provider, says Pingree. “It’s not if there is a vulnerability, but how quickly they respond. Make sure SLAs for maintenance, updates, and configuration changes are in the contract language.”