Cloud Security: An Introduction

Cloud technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 15 years. With the cloud becoming mainstream, cloud security has become all the more important. Cloud security is nothing but the ecosystem of people, processes, policies, and technology that safeguard data and applications operating in the cloud. In any kind of cloud environment-public, private or hybrid-cloud security builds and maintains actions and strategies to deal with any threat to cloud systems and applications.

Cloud security is a crucial requirement for any organization. As per a recent study, around 93% of businesses are concerned about cloud security with 25% of these reporting a cloud security incident in the past 12 months.

Considering the spate of cloud breaches in the last couple of years, it is vital to have a cloud security plan in order to alleviate the impact of suspicious activity and minimize damage.

Why is Cloud Security Important?

The massive adoption of cloud technology coupled with the increasing incidence of cybersecurity breaches has necessitated the demand for cloud security. Failure to consider the risks of cloud security can result in significant implications for your business. On the contrary, adopting a suitable cloud security strategy can bestow significant benefits on your organization. Let’s see why cloud security is a vital requirement for your business.

Rising Number of Cybersecurity Threats: The key driver for implementing cloud security is the rise in the volume and sophistication of cybersecurity threats. As per a recent survey by Accenture, around 68% of the business leaders feel their cybersecurity risks are increasing.

Avoid Data Loss: An important consequence of these cybersecurity attacks is the loss of business-critical data. As per a report by RiskBased, data breaches affected more than 4 billion records in the first half of 2019 alone. Loss of crucial data has considerable legal and financial implications for any business.

Prevent Compliance Violations: The inability to adhere to cloud security practices can lead to considerable compliance violations for businesses. Organizations have been fined in millions for violating the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Maintain Business Continuity: Robust cloud security is critical to the continuity of your business operations. Unforeseen events can bring your business to a temporary halt and affect your bottom-line drastically.

Implement Centralized Security: Cloud security solutions allow for centralized protection of your data and applications. This helps you enhance visibility, implement controls and prepare better against attacks.

Reduce Expenditure: With the cheapest cloud hosting provider such as Go4hosting, you can have built-in systems to secure your data round-the-clock. This eradicates the need for investing in your own infrastructure.

Reduce Administrative Work: By switching to the cloud, you can considerably reduce the time, money, and other resources spent in administering security. Your cheapest cloud hosting provider assumes the responsibility of providing security across storage, compute, networking, and physical infrastructure.

Cloud Computing: Security Threats

Now that we understand why cloud security needs to be an integral component of your cloud environment, let’s have a look at the security threats commonly experienced by cloud users.

Data Breaches: A data breach may be the primary objective of an attack or may result from poor security practices. It may involve any kind of information not intended to be disclosed to the public. This may include financial reports, personally identifiable information, health data or trade secrets. The implications of a data breach can be enormous; organizations suffering from data breaches may be subject to huge fines in addition to lawsuits.

Insecure Interfaces and APIs: Cloud service providers offer a set of user interfaces and application programming interfaces that allow clients to interact with cloud services. The security of cloud services depends on the security of these APIs. APIs and interfaces are the most exposed part of a system as they have IP addresses beyond the organizational boundary. So, unless there are adequate controls to safeguard them from the internet, they can be vulnerable to attacks.

System Vulnerabilities: These are bugs in programs that can be used to intrude a computer system for stealing data, taking control of the system or disrupting service operations. Vulnerabilities present in the kernel, system libraries, and application tools pose considerable risk to your business.

While system vulnerabilities can inflict considerable damage to your business, they can be minimized by following certain basic procedures: regular scanning, timely upgrades and installation of security patches can minimize the incidence of such threats.

Account Hijacking: When an attacker gains access to your login credentials, they can track your activities and transactions, manipulate data and redirect your customers to spurious websites. Phishing and exploitation of software vulnerabilities allow malicious users to hijack your account easily. Once hijacked, your account becomes a base for the attackers from where they can launch subsequent attacks.

Malicious Insiders: Malicious insiders can be anyone from a current or former employee, a contractor, a business partner or anyone else who has/had access to the network, system or data of an organization. These can be a threat if they deliberately misuse their access.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APT): Advanced persistent threats are a kind of cyberattack that infiltrate systems to establish their foothold in the infrastructure of an organization from which they steal sensitive data. In this kind of attack, the intruders achieve their objectives over an extended period of time and adapt to the security measures meant to defend them. They move laterally through data center networks and blend with the usual network traffic to accomplish their goals. 

Insufficient Due Diligence: Organizations selecting a cloud service provider need to exercise adequate due diligence. Failing to do so can expose them to a range of commercial, financial, technical and legal risks that can impede their business operations and throttle their expansion. This can happen when a company is considering switching to the cloud or merging with or acquiring a company that has moved to the cloud.

Denial of Service (DoS): Denial of service is an attack meant to prevent the users of a service from accessing their data or applications. The attackers force a cloud service to consume a huge amount of system resources such as processing power, disk space, memory or bandwidth, causing an application to slow down and leaving the users frustrated on why it is not responding.

Shared Technology Vulnerabilities: Cloud service providers deliver services by sharing infrastructure, platforms and/or applications. In a cloud model, the underlying components that create the infrastructure supporting cloud deployment may not offer strong isolation properties. This can create vulnerabilities that can be exploited in all cloud service models. A single vulnerability can affect an entire cloud.

Best Practices for Cloud Security

In order to ensure the security of your cloud-based systems, you need to adhere to certain best practices for cloud-based deployments. Below are some of these practices:

Understand your Shared Responsibility Model: When you choose a cloud service provider and move your systems and data to the cloud, it creates a partnership wherein both you and your cloud service provider share certain responsibilities. A crucial part of it is assessing and understanding your responsibilities.

It is vital to identify which security tasks remain with you and which ones will be managed by the service provider. The percentage of responsibilities you share will vary depending on the cloud service model you have opted for: IaaS, PaaS or SaaS.

Review your Cloud Contracts: Cloud service contracts are more than just a guarantee of service; they include terms and conditions and annexes that can affect your security. A contract can throw light on whether your service provider owns the data or is just responsible for its security.

In many cases, the cheapest cloud hosting provider does not specify whether the customer owns the data or not. This allows him to claim ownership of all the data. It is, therefore, vital to seek clarity on who owns the data and what will happen to this data if you terminate the service. Try to negotiate if you are not satisfied with the terms of the contract.

Train your Users: How knowledgeable your users are and how well they apply the security practices can make a lot of difference in your cloud security system. It is, therefore, vital to train the users accessing your systems on cloud security best practices. Make them aware of the risks of insecure practices. You can consider training and certification for advanced users who are directly involved in implementing cloud security.

Control User Access: Maintaining strict control over user access is also essential. It is good to follow a zero-trust policy wherein you offer users access to only the systems and data they actually need.

It is also important to secure your user end-points. Most of the users will access your cloud services through web browsers. By implementing client-side security solutions, you can secure these browsers from exploits.

Implement Strong Encryption: While it is always recommended to encrypt sensitive data, encryption becomes all the more important when working on a cloud. Encryption should be applied to the data in transit as well as at rest. In addition, you should apply additional encryption from your end using your own encryption keys before uploading data to the cloud.

Use Strong Passwords: Using strong passwords is one of the best ways to prevent unauthorized access to your data and applications.

All your passwords should have at least an upper-case letter, a lower-case letter, a number, a symbol and should be at least 14 characters long. Users should be enforced to update their passwords every 3 months or so. The new password should be different from the older ones. Such a kind of password policy will discourage users from using simple passwords and safeguard your cloud system from brute force attacks.

Another important element of a good security policy is multi-factor authentication where a user is required to authenticate his identity more than once to access a system.

Cloud Security Assessment Checklist

When choosing a cloud service provider, security is one of the most important factors you need to take into account. Making sure your data remains secure can be a daunting task especially if you don’t know where to begin. To help you, we have created an assessment checklist that you can use in evaluating a cloud service provider.

Asset Protection: Your service provider should offer advanced physical protection in their data center facilities to safeguard your data from unsolicited access. They need to ensure your data gets erased when any resources are disposed of.

Control and Visibility: A reliable cloud service provider will offer full visibility of your data including who is accessing it and when. They should offer activity monitoring so that you are able to track the changes made to configuration and security across your cloud environment.

Secure User Management: Your cloud service provider should offer tools for secure user management. This will prevent authorized access to management interfaces and procedures to make sure there are no data breaches.

Compliance: Your cloud service provider should fulfill compliance requirements validated by a third-party. They should follow industry best practices for cloud security and hold recognized certifications. Plus, if you operate in an industry where HIPPA, GDPR or PCI-DSS apply, you will need a service provider that helps you comply with these regulations.

Authentication: Your cloud vendor should ensure access to cloud systems is restricted to authenticated users only. Your service should include robust authentication features such as multi-factor authentication and TLS client certificates.

Your provider should offer authentication only through secure channels such as https. No authentication should be done over email, HTTP, or telephone as it can make your system vulnerable to unauthorized access.

Operational Security: Your provider should implement strong operational security to detect and prevent attacks. They should inform you of any changes that might impact your security to make sure vulnerabilities do not occur.

They also need to have advanced monitoring tools to identify any attack or misuse of the service. There should be an incident management process in place that can be instantly deployed in case of an attack.

Cloud Security with Go4hosting

When moving to the cloud, implementing the right cloud security strategy is a must. Your cloud strategy should have the right set of tools, processes, procedures and practices. To avail best-in-class cloud security services or colocation hosting in India, connect with experts at Go4hosting today.