Cloud Data Security and Compliance Best Practices

Data Security Securing today’s technology solutions is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges looming on the horizon for organizations looking to secure and protect business-critical and customer data.

Additionally, compliance challenges are only going to grow more complex and difficult to satisfy. Businesses move from on-premises environments into the public cloud and now need to know cloud data security best practices to meet security/threat prevention, compliance, and data protection concerns.

Data Security

The infrastructure landscape is set to grow even more complex as many businesses will maintain a presence both on-premises and in the public cloud.  This requires many different tools, processes, and methodologies to meet the challenges of hybrid cloud infrastructures.

Following best practices for data protection, compliance, and threat prevention helps businesses meet these challenges with a high success rate. Let’s take a look at these recommended best practices for securing public cloud data to see how organizations can successfully secure and protect their data.

Data Protection, Compliance, and Threat Prevention – the Three-Fold Challenge for Business

Data is the new “gold” of businesses today.  Everything is driven from collected data.  Data is being stored in massive quantities and is being used for all kinds of purposes to further business interests and to make the customer experience more customized and tailored than ever before.

However, never before has data been under so much scrutiny from a regulatory perspective and in danger from security concerns and threats.  Businesses today must meet the three-fold challenge of data protection, compliance, and threat prevention in order to be successful at effectively using data in a way that is acceptable, useful, and secure.  Let’s take a look at why each of these three areas is critically important.

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Don’t Rely on SaaS Vendors for Cloud Data Protection

When thinking about protecting data, many organizations may not consider backing up their data as a critical best practice component of security planning.

However, backups are an extremely important part of the overall security of organization data.  At some point, data may be inadvertently or intentionally deleted due to user or attacker’s actions. A ransomware infection may render business-critical data completely useless without paying the ransom.  In these cases, backups are the only way to recover data.

Most businesses have some type of strategy when it comes to on-premises data essential to business operations.  However, once public cloud services and infrastructure are utilized, the processes, tools, and backup strategies can get overlooked or neglected in general.

How to secure cloud services? Well, first you need to know the misconceptions about what responsibility the public cloud provider has towards data and what protections they offer.  It is critically important for businesses today to understand the importance of proactively taking charge of data backups for critical data being housed in public cloud environments such as Software-as-a-Service offerings like Office 365 and G Suite. This means not relying on the public cloud vendor’s tools and offerings, but rather, making use of effective third-party tools that can protect data using best-practice methodologies.

Ensure Data Security to Meet Compliance Standards

Most if not all organizations doing business today fall under some type of compliance regulation(s).  Just last year, in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR compliance regulation was introduced.  GDPR makes it much more important for businesses doing business in or handling EU citizen’s data to protect this data.

GDPR has “real teeth” in terms of the penalties that can be levied against organizations found in breach of the new regulatory guidelines.  This includes penalties up to 4% of annual turnover or 20 million euros, whichever is higher.  This is no small penalty to be in breach of regulation!

GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, and other compliance regulations make it imperative that businesses make compliance an important part of the initial planning stages of new infrastructure including public cloud. One of the key aspects of GDPR compliance is “security by design”.

Cloud security policy as part of GDPR can no longer be an “afterthought”.  It must be a primary consideration when building out IT infrastructure, processes, and services today. Despite the penalties that can be levied against businesses in breach of compliance regulations, the end result is better security and a more focused approach to protecting customer data which is a good thing and a goal that all businesses today should and must strive for.

Hybrid infrastructure is making it more difficult for businesses to meet up with compliance regulations as public cloud tooling, processes, and required services such as backups are often missing from the solution.  This creates gaps in the ability of businesses to effectively meet compliance goals.

Employ Prevention Methods to Stop Security Threats

How secure is cloud computing? Well, every week it seems there is a notable or high-profile breach in security or ransomware attack.  There is no end to attack vectors or threat actors looking to compromise data.  The number of threats and those looking to steal, compromise, or destroy data is not going away any time soon.  Businesses today must be vigilant about security.  A huge part of security vigilance is threat protection.

Effective threat protection means organizations today go on the offensive and are proactive about security.  A reactive stance these days is not enough and is dangerous.  Businesses who take the reactive approach are often the ones that make high-profile data breach headlines.

Hybrid cloud infrastructure that spans both on-premises and public cloud environments make it more of a challenge for organizations to have the visibility and tools needed to properly manage, maintain, and secure their environments.

Often, small to mid-sized businesses are in the sights of attackers due to fewer resources both financially and in terms of technology and personnel to ward off attacks. A recent study by healthsecurity.com found that 71% of ransomware attacks targeted small businesses for this reason. Threat protection is a key area of securing today’s technology infrastructures since it means organizations are proactively looking for threats and remediating them.

How to Meet the Security Challenges 

Let’s talk about cloud application security. It is of key importance that businesses take a look at best practices in the areas of data protection, compliance, and threat protection as this goes a long way in ensuring the security of business-critical data.

Time and again, it is found that data breaches, leaks, and other security compromises such as ransomware attacks involve neglecting the basic security principles required to properly secure environments. Often, if best practice guidelines are implemented, security threats can be effectively neutralized before any real harm results.

Let’s look at a few basic best practice guidelines in the areas of data protection, compliance, and threat protection and see how these are important to the overall security posture of organizations today.

Cloud Compliance Best Practices

One of the most challenging aspects of compliance in either on-premises or in public cloud environments is taking inventory of all data that exists and determining if the data is “in scope” or under the purview of a certain compliance regulation such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, or GDPR.  Equally challenging when thinking of public cloud environments is monitoring data usage and sharing to see which data is shared both inside and outside the organization.

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These and many other challenges can certainly be obstacles to ensuring compliance regulations are successfully met.  The following compliance best practices can help organizations ensure meeting the most challenging compliance regulations being enforced on businesses today across their complex IT infrastructures involving public cloud:

  • Use effective tools to monitor and inventory data
  • Monitor sharing of data inside and outside SaaS environments
  • Use Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand potential unusual data usage patterns
  • Encrypt data in-flight and at-rest
  • Leverage identity and access management to prove identity

Using effective tools to monitor and inventory data

One of the most difficult things to do in public cloud environments is to effectively monitor and audit data.  While there are many tools found within the public cloud Saas environment, often, these can be cumbersome to use, have separate logins and dashboards aside from the SaaS environment and each produces information difficult to aggregate or correlate across the different tools and utilities.

To add to the complexity, public cloud SaaS environments can be vast, with thousands of users and various permission levels.  Users can be coming from multiple sanctioned locations or even the public Internet when accessing business-critical data.  Many businesses struggle with monitoring access to files and having the ability to effectively audit access to these resources.  If this cannot be done with native tooling, businesses must use third-party solutions to be able to effectively gather and consume the data needed to keep in line with compliance best practices.