11 Things You Need to Know About Cloud Security

Cloud storage is an amazing advantage for individuals and businesses. Most know about the many benefits it offers—reduced storage costs, incredible ease of access, improved team communication, and data shareability.

All the luster fades a bit, however, when the topic of security comes to the fore. While most know that the cloud prevents against physical data theft, (as the loss of a device doesn’t grant interlopers immediate access to all your files) concerns abound about whether data stored on a server could be accessed by unscrupulous hackers or violated through some questionable powers granted ISPs and online networks through the government.

cloud security

The following is a list of eleven things you should know about cloud security that will help put the concept in better perspective.

1) Threats to The Cloud Are Real, But May Be Overstated

Undoubtedly, much of the fear regarding cloud security comes from scattered headlines about data breaches and perhaps a less-than-clear understanding about what it all means. Big businesses being targeted, international political intrigue, and EVIL RUSSIANS are all great ways for news outlets to get clicks, but are the threats as serious to businesses and individuals as these stories might make you think?

There’s some interesting data that might paint a grim picture for some. For instance, this article reviewing hacking statistics from 2015 and 2016. It shows, among other things, that:

There were 312 security breaches involving business, accounting for more than 16 million records being exposed. Hacking of businesses accounted for 40% of the security breaches occurring in 2015.”

In addition:

63 security breaches involving the government or the military exposed the records of 34 million individuals, accounting for 8.1% of the breaches incidents that occurred in 2015.”

What’s important to note, though, is that cybersecurity and specifically cloud security are growing fields. More and more businesses and individuals are hip to the fact that collaboration with specialists is the way to reduce risk, and now close to half of those potential targets are taking the necessary steps to protect themselves.

Furthermore, regarding the cloud, it generally isn’t the end target, rather, a tool that hackers use to further their goals. As one feature from CIO succinctly puts it:

Cloud security breaches aren’t necessarily headline news, but there’s a good reason for that: Cybercriminals don’t always view the cloud as the target of an attack, but often as a resource to launch an attack.”

So, while the cloud certainly can enable some cybercrimes, it shouldn’t be considered the end-all-be-all, as the intended targets often span beyond its purview.

2) There’s A Reason the Cloud Has Vulnerabilities

We’ll get to the human aspects of cloud vulnerability in a bit, but it’s important to understand that experts already understand many of the vulnerabilities of the cloud as it exists currently. As you can see, many of them are rooted in technical aspects of the cloud itself.

Internal threats include things like susceptible APIs (application program interfaces) which are often accessible from the open web, and a prime target for hackers to exploit. Alternatively, attackers might target “bugs” in programs that, thanks to the interconnectedness of the cloud, enable them to weasel their way further and further into a network.

Indeed, the fact that cloud systems share much of their technology is a critical factor in their potential vulnerability. When one component is taken advantage of, it opens the rest to exploitation unless the proper steps to confine the risk are taken in advance.

3) Cloud Storage Might Be the Riskiest of All

Since its inception, computing experts have decried the potential dangers of storing data in the cloud. Now, years later, you can read just about any article or post about cloud storage, and sure enough, you’ll see it listed as a significant risk. This report from Cloud Security Alliance provides some interesting insight, as they noted more than half of respondents viewed cloud storage as one of their greatest threats.

Of equal note, though, is the fact that only about four percent had a data breach related to their cloud applications in the year prior to the survey, and close to eighty percent were investing heavily in enforcing policies to keep this data secure.

The takeaway? While cloud storage might indeed present a risk, employing the appropriate countermeasures and remaining vigilant about monitoring what’s going on might be the best approach in making sure the risk doesn’t translate to actual data theft.

4) The Internet of Things Compounds Security Risks

More and more devices are becoming connected. Fitness trackers, GPS monitoring, and the like. These gadgets are often connected with cloud-based solutions, making them susceptible to some of the same threats that other cloud computing tools are plagued by.

Again, the news paints a grim picture. GovTech states that “there are an estimated 23 billion Internet-connected devices in homes and offices worldwide, and many have little or no security shield.” They site the novelty of the IoT as a significant weakness, and provide examples of this cloud-connected technology being exploited:

Days earlier, hackers used this so-called “Mirai malware” to identify hundreds of thousands of home and office devices that had weak security. The hackers then stitched those devices into a network that sent a blizzard of messages to Brian Krebs, shutting down the popular website he runs to expose cyber crimes.”

Meanwhile, coverage from DEF CON showed that “47 new vulnerabilities affecting 23 devices from 21 manufacturers were disclosed during the IoT security talks, workshops and onsite hacking contests.” They also brought this chilling quote from researcher Fred Bret-Mounet:

By exploiting these flaws I can shut down the equivalent of a small to mid-sized power generation facility or I can use that device as a trojan within a target’s network to spy on them.”

It all sounds dark, but perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel? According to this report:

Every vulnerability or privacy issue reported for consumer connected home and wearable technology products since November 2015 could have been easily avoided, according to the Online Trust Alliance (OTA).”

Again, proper preparation and respect for security protocols is the key to shutting down threats before they can even occur.

5) Big Companies Understand the Risks & Seek To Mitigate Danger

With all this fuss over security, you can be sure that the big boys have taken notice. Cloud-storage giants like Google have gone so far as to release an entire whitepaper on the topic of cloud security, and while it might not be possible to delve into every single detail, the thrust of their argument is clear. Security is a big deal for big businesses, and they’re taking every precaution they can think of to keep customer data private and anticipate what vulnerabilities may yet lay on the horizon. You can be sure other large providers are following suit with similar policies.

On top of that, the cloud security market is a growing one. Both businesses and individuals are aware of the danger, and security solutions are following suit to give them the peace-of-mind they crave when putting their stock in cloud-based technology at an ever-increasing rate.

6) Public Vs. Private Cloud Isn’t as Critical As You Might Think

For what seemed like ages, one debated that raged in the cloud community was the difference between private cloud resources and public ones. Was one inherently safer than the other? Was there some way to bring parity between the two options?

As it turns out, there’s not as much of a difference as initially believed. Private clouds might provide better control over data, but that doesn’t mean public clouds are, by default, less secure. Both options require that companies and individuals develop the proper strategy for safeguarding their information to become safer prospects for their users.

7) The Human Element Is a Big Deal

Many of the dangers the cloud poses come from people becoming lax about proper protocol. Using weak passwords, failing to engage multifactor authentication, and falling victim to avoidable “phishing” tactics all fall in the category of human-based risk. Nearly 60% of security incidents in 2015 were the result of employee negligence. This is unsettling, and amplified as the trend towards remote work and using personal devices continues to grow, but its only part of the human-related issue.

In addition to negligent employees, downright pernicious ones can wreak havoc on a business through a desire for revenge against a company or mere greed. With their insider knowledge, they can deftly manipulate or steal sensitive cloud data and severely disrupt operations. Like with all cloud-based challenges, though, preparation is the key to avoidance.

Rigorously training employees on proper protocol and taking steps to limit the damage that current and former workers can do to your systems is the way to go if you want to curtail instances of human-born catastrophe on your cloud systems.

8) Get to Know Hybrid Options

Hybrid cloud systems are a mix of the public and private solutions that make up cloud computing and have emerged as a method of providing greater flexibility and enhancing security. By splitting resources, some organizations have found that they aren’t as susceptible to total failure if one aspect of their network is compromised.

For instance, you could keep mission-critical devices (security cameras and the like) on the private network where they are easier to integrate while using the public systems for offsite data that might not be as crucial. There are multiple ways in which the hybrid option can be deployed, so getting familiar with cloud adoption practices before taking the plunge.

9) The Long Arm of The Law Poses Some Challenges

Earlier, we briefly mentioned the role of new laws in the privacy and security landscape. Some stances taken by lawmakers have caused alarm in those that value issues like data sovereignty and the ability to safeguard sensitive information from unsavory access by third parties. How the chips will fall isn’t an easy matter to predict, but one thing is clear—the law is going to factor into what steps companies and individuals will have to take in the future to keep themselves as secure as possible.

10) You’ll Benefit by Taking Some Matters into Your Own Hands

One thing that can hardly be overstated is the importance of taking control of your own security future. It starts with familiarizing yourself with the jargon. Getting to know the difference between your SSL, TLS, AES, and the meaning of terms like two-factor authentication, encryption, etc., will make you better equipped when it comes time to start your journey into the cloud computing sphere.

When you’re engaging an IT provider, make sure to ask the important questions: What cloud security policies do they adhere to? Where do they house their servers? Is the site secure? The list goes on. You’ll need to carefully build your security team, document your assets, and take measures to test your own vulnerabilities, locate serious issues, and correct them before they become a problem that outside influences can exploit. On top of that, it’s up to you to employ best practices in-house.

We talked about the human element earlier. Make sure you (or your employees) know the importance of using strong username/password combinations, don’t leave data lying around, and have some idea of how to detect possible attempts from the outside to phish for sensitive information. You should get in the practice of using encryption before uploading information to the cloud, and invest time into learning about industry standard protocol security to keep yourself safe.

The bottom line? Planning and preparation are crucial factors you can’t afford to overlook. Risks are inherent in any kind of computing, but you can navigate them by having the right tools for the job well in advance.

11) The Cloud Is Probably Here to Stay

Like it or not, the cloud has made a huge impact on computing and isn’t likely to just disappear anytime soon. The best approach? Making sure that you understand the ins-and-outs of this technology the best you can. Where applicable, get professionals in your corner who can assist with bolstering your security efforts and do your best to evolve with the rapidly changing landscape.

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