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What is Cloud Security?

by Chris Brook on Monday July 20, 2020

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With more businesses running vital business computing functions in the cloud today, cloud security is a must as attackers seek to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of cloud security as well as some best practices to follow.

Definition of Cloud Security

Cloud security refers to a form of cybersecurity that covers policies, practices, and technologies for protecting cloud computing systems. It secures cloud-stored data and other digital assets against data breach, malware, distributed denial of service (DDoS), hacking, and other cybersecurity threats. It is also referred to as cloud computing security.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

Why are so many businesses turning to the cloud in the first place? Here are a few reasons customers (businesses and individual users) leverage cloud services:

  • Centralized security: Cloud security can provide the functionality of traditional IT security while letting customers enjoy the advantages of cloud computing securely and privately. As the cloud centralizes apps and data, the cloud provider can centralize protection and streamline its monitoring process. It’s also easy to perform recovery as the cloud provider can manage everything from one place.
  • Reduced costs and manpower: The cloud eliminates the need to buy and manage dedicated hardware.
  • Reliability and convenience:With cloud security measures in place, cloud customers can safely access their data and apps wherever they are or whatever gadget they use.
  • Other cloud security benefits, like flexibility, scalability, coverage, visibility, and proactive response.

Why is cloud security important? Companies can’t take advantage of the many benefits of the cloud while maintaining their security posture without adequate security measures for cloud-based applications and growing volume of data residing in the cloud.

Cloud Computing Categories

In understanding cloud security and some common cloud security challenges, you first should have an understanding of the various cloud computing categories.

Cloud computing is delivering various IT services – like hosting, storing, and processing data – over the Internet. For example, instead of saving your files on your hard drive, you can now save them to the cloud and access them anywhere, as long as you’re connected to the Internet. Cloud computing supports real-time collaboration, even for remote or distributed teams. For example, multiple team members can simultaneously work on a file in Google Docs instead of creating file in Microsoft Word and emailing attachments back and forth. This makes cloud computing a popular option both for businesses and individual users.

  • Public cloud: A public cloud is hosted and operated by public cloud service providers, like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services (AWS). You can access a public cloud through your browser.
  • Private cloud: A private cloud is dedicated to a customer (like a company or organization). That customer alone has access to its private cloud.
  • Hybrid cloud: A hybrid cloud combines certain qualities of public and private clouds. As compared to being hosted in a public cloud environment, the customer has more control over its data and resources but can still enjoy some benefits of a public cloud service.

Cloud services are also categorized into 3 cloud service models:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This model delivers cloud-based infrastructure resources (like network, storage, and OS) through virtualization technology. The customer controls the infrastructure without physically managing it. Examples of IaaS are Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS):This model provides an online platform where developers can build and run custom apps. Examples of PaaS are Google App Engine and OpenShift.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): This model delivers the vendor’s software services. In turn, the customer can access the services through a browser. Some popular SaaS offerings are Microsoft Office 365 and Dropbox.

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Cloud Security Issues and Challenges

Many cloud computing users expect their data to be more secure in the cloud than on their hard drives or local servers. Though cloud service providers have cybersecurity measures in place, that doesn’t mean they are invulnerable to data breaches, DDoS, and other cybersecurity threats.

Customers should remember that their choice of cloud service affects the level of control that they have. For example, customers who use a public cloud have less control as their data and apps are hosted by the public cloud provider. (Contrast that to a traditional IT setup, in which everything that happens to the customer’s data would depend entirely on the customer’s actions.) Customers, though, have the option to go the private or hybrid cloud route to gain more control as opposed to being hosted in a public cloud.

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS also offer varying levels of security control. In IaaS, the customers would be responsible for securing their data, apps, OS, user access, and virtual network traffic. In PaaS, there are fewer things the customers should watch out for: their data, user access, and apps. In SaaS, the customer is going to be responsible only for their data and user access.

How to Secure Your Cloud Computing Environment

Here are a few of the best practices to implement to achieve a top level of cloud security:

  • Have a working cloud security program in place.
  • Leverage data classification tools to identify sensitive or regulated data, then evaluate how that data is being accessed, used, and shared. Evaluate access permissions for files and folders containing sensitive data, as well as specific roles, locations, and the types of devices used to access that data.
  • Ensure that your most sensitive data is segregated from the cloud provider’s resources and those of other customers. A private cloud is often the best choice for highly sensitive data or data subject to strict regulatory requirements.
  • Leverage user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) tools to monitor for suspicious activity, so you can act quickly to protect your sensitive data in the event of unauthorized access.
  • Implement cloud security controls. In addition to data classification and UEBA, implement tools for managing permissions and access privileges, password control, disaster recovery, malware prevention, and encryption.
  • Perform regular monitoring, vulnerability scans, system audits, and patches to detect and fix cloud security risks.
  • Ensure that cloud data security practices are in line with industry regulations and compliance requirements.

The cloud is becoming the go-to choice for managing data and apps, emphasizing the importance of cloud security. That involves collaboration between cloud providers and their customers. Cloud providers usually do their part by implementing several cloud security services, like restricting access, backup and recovery, security features like encryption, penetration testing, and 2FA, among other things.

Customers should do their part too, like observing common security measures (like avoiding public Wi-Fi networks and using VPNs) and using tools (like cloud security solutions). Check out Digital Guardian’s Cloud Data Protection, which allows you to use cloud apps and storage while maintaining the visibility and control needed for compliance.

 

Tags: Cloud Security

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Data Insider. He is a technology journalist with a decade of experience writing about information security, hackers, and privacy. Chris has attended many infosec conferences and has interviewed hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site which is a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.