Understanding Cloud Security Demands Challenging Assumptions
Cloud computing offers organizations the opportunity to provide new technical capabilities with relative ease. Companies and businesses of all sizes are eager to take advantage of the benefits of the cloud. They are moving fast to add specific capabilities, integrate current solutions to better optimize resources and performance, or migrate fully to the cloud. But in the midst of a digital transformation, it’s all too easy to make faulty assumptions about cybersecurity and violate your principles. Tempering speed with thoughtful consideration about overall security posture is a must to avoid risky and potentially costly missteps.
It’s Not a Matter of What — It’s a Matter of How
The cloud is not drastically different from on-premise when considering what needs to be done — securing your data, protecting your users, and guarding your applications. An organization’s security posture (i.e. their general approach and level of security) should be consistent across the entire technology environment, including both on-premise and the cloud. That’s the what. The big difference with the cloud is how. Critical to understanding cloud security is recognizing that the cloud is a new technology frontier that requires new tools, processes, and approaches to implement the same controls.
For example, if you don’t let developers manage firewalls on-premise, don’t let them do it in the cloud. With identity management, there should be clear requirements for onboarding and offboarding personnel to your on-premise IT environment. Those same requirements must also be applied to the cloud. You can apply that idea to hardening servers, managing confidential data, monitoring critical assets, limiting access from the Internet, etc.
Failing to apply consistent controls in the cloud comes with dramatically increased risk given the integrated nature of the platforms and Internet adjacency. Last year, Accenture fell prey to a ransomware attack that resulted in the exposure of nearly 40,000 passwords and a ransom of $50 million. The breach came from a misconfigured cloud server that left critical information exposed. Hundreds of millions of Facebook user records were exposed on a cloud server in another instance of an exposed database that contained private information that could be used in targeted attacks or secondary hacking attempts.
Below are three assumptions about security and how addressing them can help businesses mitigate the risk that comes with leveraging the cloud.
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1. My Provider is Securing ItOne of the biggest assumptions about understanding cloud security is that the cloud service provider (CSP) handles all aspects of security. That is false. The cloud security model is built on the idea of shared responsibility. No matter what types of cloud environments an enterprise uses — be it an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS) — organizations must understand that the CSP is only responsible for securing what it provides. If you’re using a SaaS application, the provider will secure that specific application, but not the data inside it. If you’re using IaaS to provide new cloud servers, the CSP is responsible for securing the cloud data center, but not the virtual hosts themselves. In short, protecting your data, ensuring the proper configuration, managing and monitoring solutions, etc. is all YOUR responsibility.
2. Cloud Migration Means Less Security Work
This is simply not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. While your technical capabilities may now be hosted in the CSP’s data center, it does not lessen the diligence and attention to detail needed to secure those assets. Imagine buying a second home and thinking, “I locked the doors at my old place, so this new house should be fine!” Security teams need to understand and defend this entirely new environment while simultaneously adapting processes and tools built for on-premise workloads and continuing to monitor the existing on-premise environment.
CSPs — be it Amazon, Google, or Microsoft — all offer different security tools. Understanding what security capabilities your cloud provider offers and how they should be used is essential to maintaining a strong cloud security posture that addresses your responsibilities under the shared responsibility model.
Adding to this challenge, many organizations use a variety of cloud services to handle different aspects of their operation. This forces security teams to tackle some difficult problems: Do they try to duplicate the policies and processes used in one environment for all the others? Do they have the people and skills necessary to learn multiple new toolsets and implement the proper controls? Do they reprioritize investments to acquire multi-cloud security platforms?
3. A Digital Mindset Equals a Security Mindset
Being ready and willing to embrace cloud computing or a full-scale digital transformation doesn’t mean the business is well versed in the knowledge needed to secure that new environment. Put another way, a digital mindset doesn’t equal or automatically include a security mindset.
Leveraging digital tools, building digital products, and crafting digital strategies are skills that must be taught. Organizations frequently include a large learning component in their digital transformation roadmaps. Fundamental principles of risk management, compliance, and security by design must be taught alongside other digital skills to enhance awareness and enrich the security culture. Without every power user, developer, and administrator being cyber-aware and understanding cloud security and their responsibilities, the organization risks misconfigurations, unmanaged vulnerabilities, and enabling simple exploits that could derail your digital journey.
From IT to OT: Operational technology is interconnected with IT systems like never before. You need experts to manage these new processes and standards.
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