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A Risk-Averse Approach to Securing the Cloud

By Amanda Daly | Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

This article is featured in AIMA - The Alternative Investment Management Association's latest journal

A Risk-Free Approach to Securing the Cloud

Cloud products continue to evolve as adoption has increased rapidly over recent years. Top vendors such as Microsoft offer feature-rich cloud platforms, with transformational potentials for the global workforce. However, due to the perceived data security risks accompanying cloud usage,there are still many firms that have decided against ‘going cloud’. A report on cloud security published by Crowd Research Partners in 2018 highlights that 91% of cybersecurity professionals share these concerns. Fears around cloud security are not uncommon, and, unfortunately these fears do have a basis. An estimated 25% of public cloud users have suffered data loss, as per security software company McAfee’s ‘Navigating a Cloudy Sky 2018’ report. All things considered, businesses are still encouraged to leverage a cloud-based platform to accelerate the modernisation of their IT. And, trust that with a strong security net in place, applications and assets stored on these solutions can effectively be protected. Businesses are advised to embrace the following cloud data security best practices to secure their network.

Security Comes First, Always

A security-first approach to planning and implementation is the foundation to successful cloud migration. Firms will find it is more effective to move to a cloud solution with the necessary security layers in place right from the start. With a firm foundation in place, additional layers can always be added as required.

A security-first approach entails a lot of planning on behalf of the business looking to move its assets and applications to the cloud. Firms are encouraged to carefully consider the different cybercriminals and malicious entities it may face.

Another integral component of the migration process that falls under planning is research. Inhouse IT teams are encouraged to research cloud service providers and evaluate their respective data security protections to ensure complete security. It’s good practice to know how any partners work with clients, as the most secure cloud platforms result from both parties sharing the responsibility for protecting customer and employee data.

Handle Access Control Effectively

Unauthorised access is amongst the top cloud security threats. Reputable telecommunications entity, Verizon, reported that 28% of more than 53,000 system attacks recorded in 2017 involved malicious insiders. Cloud adopting firms are urged to mitigate the risk that comes with granting employees access to cloud-hosted applications or the architecture itself by putting into place strict access controls. Preconfigured access management features are included with most enterprise cloud services, allowing firms to govern system access control on a granular level.

Credentialed members of staff with good intentions can also pose a risk since many maintain poor login management practices. Therefore, for an added measure of security, firms and any IT partners are also advised to have strict guidelines for granting access, where permissions are matched to job duties.

Bulletproof Your Network with Digital Defences

It takes several protective layers to create a bulletproof cloud data security strategy. For instance, the system-level defences, which constitute the outermost layer, secure the so-called plumbing of the cloud, or the compute containers, networks, operating systems and the other overarching components that facilitate cloud-based connectivity.

Next, you have application-level security features, which encompass the above-mentioned access control policies explored instead of technical components. And, data-level protections form the final layer, as the last line of defence against cybercriminals on the technology front. Not forgetting the end users, who require training to ensure the security strategy is not compromised.

In terms of sharing the responsibility, cloudcomputing vendors are responsible for developing and deploying the data security features that make up the first layer, whilst internal IT teams or managed service providers must build out the two remaining layers.

Cloud adopting firms must take full responsibility when it comes to establishing data-level defences, and the vast majority start by employing encryption services. McAfee has reported that over 65% of data security experts agree that encryption is the best method for protecting sensitive information. Some firms have leveraged tokenization, which involves transforming valuable decipherable data into strings of random plaintext called tokens, and only users with access to token vaults can view the protected information in its unscrambled form.

Some established data security tools that have proven effective in addressing small-scale data security issues before they develop into disastrous flaws, include:

  • Access auditing – This backend protection software allows system administrators to view user network activity to pinpoint potential threats.

  • URL scanning – These data security modules evaluate active links embedded in emails to determine any malicious content.

  • Web filtering – Programs of this sort review webpages in real time and block any dangerous or unsanctioned assets.

  • Email protection – These applications integrate with industry-standard email clients and scanning incoming messages for potential viruses.

  • Multifactor authentication – This login method which requires users to employ multiple identify verification methods.

  • System environment monitoring – This technology enables IT departments or managed IT providers to scan enterprise computing environments in real time.

Overall, businesses must devote considerable resources in order to establishing system-, application- and data-level defences, as well as training staff on critical data security best practices.

Partner with Only the Best

Top cloud providers are increasingly providing addon features to their offerings to be the single source of all things cloud for clients. Whilst the idea of working with a single service provider may seem appealing, this is seldom feasible or realistic in addressing all security and feature requirements. A single vendor cannot be everything to everyone, which is significantly impactful to firms that have unique application, availability and security requirements. Additionally, firms should also consider that a single source strategy can result in increased risk due to a single point of failure.

Hence, businesses are advised to follow a best-ofbreed approach to utilise the best feature sets from an array of solutions and ensure high levels of security. Working with a managed service provider (MSP) is worth considering for firms looking to bundle cloud features with other best of breed solutions (i.e. multifactor, end point protection, next-generation firewalls), and get the best of both worlds. With this approach, firms can rely on their MSP to carry out the necessary product testing to select the best vendor for each security layer and then manage the environment. MSPs also often provide 24x7x365 help desks that can provide personalised support to businesses, meaning firms can rest assured knowing their infrastructure is always supported.

Take the Leap

Migrating to the cloud can be daunting, especially in the context of today’s ever-evolving digital threat landscape. However, the global marketplace demands the scalability available through the cloud, making migration almost essential for firms looking to stay ahead of the growth curb. The benefits of ‘going cloud’ are countless including; reduced IT costs, improved ability to align IT to business needs such as more frequent release of business features and the capacity to host all files and applications in one secure location, to name a few. Putting fears and reservations aside, businesses are encouraged to take the leap, and avoid risks by adopting the data security strategies explored in this article.

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