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What Is Cloud Security?

It wasn’t long ago that businesses debated the value of cloud offerings. Organizations were concerned whether the tradeoff in data control was worth the added value, scalability and flexibility of cloud solutions.

These days, businesses are looking to implement and manage complex security solutions and models across multiple cloud solutions.

How Does Cloud Security Work?

Cloud security implements a combination of technical and organizational measures to protect the data and services of a business. Depending on the cloud offering, businesses can deploy custom firewalls or VPNs to control resource access and establish secure connections. There are some similarities in security between cloud and on-premises setups, but there are also considerable differences. To fully grasp these differences, it’s helpful to understand the lay of the land when it comes to cloud computing.

Cloud Computing Explained

Cloud computing refers to accessing computing resources over the internet instead of implementing and maintaining on-premises infrastructure. It’s an extremely cost-effective approach that improves flexibility and scalability.

The most common approaches to cloud computing include:

  • Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS: these are web-based applications accessed from a browser. Beyond the browser, everything is managed by the company providing the applications, including all the necessary hardware and infrastructure.
  • Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS: this cloud service is a platform for developing, running and managing applications without the complexity of the underlying infrastructure. It includes a complete development environment for creating and deploying applications.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service, or IaaS: in this model, organizations can design and build their infrastructure, which is accessed over the web. This includes custom network configurations and access to resources such as virtual machines and data storage.

Given the ubiquity of cloud computing, it’s no wonder that nearly every business with a significant technology footprint utilizes a multi-cloud approach. Even organizations with strict data controls and security concerns implement hybrid cloud infrastructures by keeping sensitive data on-premises and moving less sensitive information and workflows to cloud offerings. Cloud solutions still require updates and patches to address vulnerabilities.

What Are the Types of Cloud Security?

Despite the benefits of cloud computing, organizations need to consider the security implications when transitioning to a cloud solution. For example, rather than a local domain authority, companies use identity and access management (IAM) tools for both on-premises and cloud-based services by assigning digital identities to users. These identities enable monitoring and restriction during data interactions.

For data concerns, cloud security relies on data loss prevention (DLP) solutions to help prevent data breaches by providing alerts, encryption and other preventive measures. Meanwhile, security information and event management (SIEM) systems automate threat detection and response in cloud environments.

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions are critical for ensuring rapid recovery from disruptions. They help organizations minimize security events by ensuring mission-critical systems are quickly restored. Some BCDR solutions also include features such as data backup and replication, as well as failover capabilities to minimize downtime.

Cloud Computing Challenges and Risks

While most cloud services follow best practices, they’re focused targets for looming threats due to the inherent lack of transparency in data storage and movement. For businesses that process and transfer large amounts of data, this along with cloud backup security is one of the biggest challenges and concerns.

Other concerns include:

  • Access management: compared to on-premises access management, ensuring consistent access across users and devices in multi-cloud environments is challenging with web-based platforms and SaaS offerings.
  • Compliance: while compliance requirements across cloud platforms have improved, ensuring this compliance and providing consistent auditing can be difficult without full, transparent access to data in the cloud.
  • Human error: cloud offerings benefit from a singular focus on infrastructure, but these services aren't free from the possibility of misconfigurations caused by human error.

Cloud Security Management and Best Practices

You can split cloud security management into two categories: technical and organizational. On the organizational side, organizations need to reconsider policies, procedures and disaster planning. Meanwhile, companies with industry requirements face hurdles in maintaining compliance and implementing auditing processes. Fortunately, there are well-established models and frameworks for approaching security in the cloud.


Shared Responsibility Model

The shared responsibility model outlines the responsibilities of cloud service providers and customers in securing cloud resources. Under this model, the cloud service provider is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure. Meanwhile, the customer is responsible for securing their applications and data that run on the infrastructure.

While shared responsibility is a popular security framework, its implementation varies from provider to provider. To get an idea of the scope, review the AWS shared responsibility model.

The Zero Trust Approach

Traditional security models act as a fence that moderates access to resources within the fence’s perimeter. The zero trust approach, on the other hand, assumes the perimeter is always breached and places the focus on securing individual resources.

This all-or-none approach is especially important in cloud computing environments, since it lets organizations secure access to resources regardless of where and how those resources are implemented and accessed. Whether it’s a SaaS application or mission-critical workloads within a VMware environment, the approach is generally the same.

Pillars of a Strong Cloud Security Strategy

Though every organization’s security requirements differ based on the data and technologies used, there are frameworks available to ensure a level security foundation to build on. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed an assessment that helps companies evaluate security measures in both prevention and recovery. This assessment is built on NIST’s five pillars of cybersecurity: identify, protect, detect, respond and recover.

How to Choose a Solution

The approach to examining cloud solutions should proceed as follows:

  1. Identify security needs: before choosing a solution, it’s essential to identify the security requirements of the organization, including the types of resources requiring protection as well as regulations and compliance requirements.
  2. Understand shared responsibility: understanding how shared responsibility applies to each cloud service in question helps ensure the organization develops an appropriate approach.
  3. Consider the deployment model: whether an organization takes a public, private or hybrid approach with its deployment model impacts the choice of cloud service providers.
  4. Look for integrations: organizations need to ensure existing security solutions are compatible with cloud providers, including solutions for network monitoring tools and data redundancy.
  5. Consider scalability and flexibility: businesses need to ensure the resources provided are flexible and scalable and can readily adapt to evolving security requirements.

Organizations leveraging Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud can review each provider’s respective security platforms. The AWS Security Hub, Azure Security Center and Google Cloud Security Command Center each provide a central place for automating and managing security across multiple cloud deployments.

How to Get Started

Choosing a cloud security solution can be as complex as choosing a cloud provider. Because of the sheer number of available solutions and every business’s unique needs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s essential that organizations transitioning to the cloud carefully consider every aspect of their existing security and data protection strategies.

While the default security offers with AWS and Azure might work for some companies, many others will find they need additional solutions to augment their approach. In the universe of cloud computing, a cloud backup solution for sensitive customer information or ransomware protection for offsetting vulnerabilities makes a world of difference.

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