A few decades ago, a medium-sized or large business would typically maintain an in-house data center. Small businesses might not even have a proper data center, but this has changed dramatically. The modern economy runs on data, from fast-paced internal communications to client information and complex analytics.
Today, cloud is a convenient, scalable resource that helps countless businesses operate more efficiently. However, it also comes with its own risks that the client shoulders partial responsibility for. Understanding these risks and your responsibility as a user of the cloud is essential to protecting your organization and your customers.
Understanding the Risks of the Cloud
The cloud is often described in vague, grandiose terms that can obscure its function and purpose. However, it’s simpler than you might think, and having a foundational understanding of the cloud will help in developing security measures.
How the Cloud Works
A cloud system is essentially a pool of computing resources that clients can access digitally. One cloud server might represent several individual data centers and support numerous clients, each of whom can increase and decrease their data usage as needed. Today, you can use cloud applications for storage, computing, processing, and much more.
This resolves several problems for clients, such as the perennial problem of always having too little or too much in the way of hardware resources. It also avoids major security vulnerabilities that come with maintaining physical, on-site storage and computing resources that unauthorized individuals can access more easily.
Your Responsibility as a Client
Using cloud resources entails outsourcing several elements of data security, and some providers may offer additional security features. However, you’re typically responsible for all operational elements of security, such as encryption and managing vulnerabilities in your system. Likewise, backup data storage and protection falls to your company in most cases.
No matter what responsibility the cloud provider takes for the underlying infrastructure, though, your company bears ultimate responsibility for its data.
Vulnerabilities and Risks
There are several events that can compromise your cloud data, each with its own threats and methods of risk mitigation.
Malicious Attacks, Natural Disasters, Power Outages
Cyber attacks, such as phishing that aim to plant malware, are the most talked-about threat to data, but they’re not the only risk. Data centers are vulnerable to adverse events such as earthquakes, flooding, and power outages, and this still applies to cloud data centers. This can result in the data that your company uses being inaccessible, or even being lost altogether. The two main risks that can come from such events are data theft by malicious actors or an inability to maintain normal operations.
Compromised User Data
Some of the most dangerous cyberattacks are hard to notice as they don’t aim to disrupt your companies’ operations. Instead, they silently monitor your data and steal information from your organization and its clients. These sorts of situations have persisted for years at a time with disastrous results for the victims. For instance, MasterCard suffered a devastating infiltration in 2005 that may have compromised the accounts of 40 million users. Compromised data can lead to enormous financial losses and severe reputational damage for the target. According to IBM, the total long-term damages from a data breach average out to more than $4.24 million, the same report outlines that it takes an average of 287 days to identify and contain a data breach.
A related, but different form of cyberattack involves hijacking a server to use the server itself. Without actually needing to access your data, malicious actors can use your server to send outbound spam to the wider internet. This can go on unnoticed since it doesn’t harm your operations directly, but it can result in internet service providers blacklisting your server as a source of fraudulent communications.
One type of cyberattack that’s become increasingly common in recent years is the ransomware attack. In this case, the attacker will aim to extort a target by either paralyzing their operations or threatening to leak captured data. There are several tactical means that cybercriminals employ to achieve this goal, such as overwhelming servers with excess activity or planting malware in your system.
While ransomware attacks were rather obscure not long ago, the frequency of these attacks and the demands of the attackers have increased astronomically. The average ransom demand is $133,000 and experts with Cybercrime Magazine estimate that one attack will occur every 11 seconds in the coming year.
While there are other risks in the digital space, these encompass many of the major threats. Additionally, the same three steps will be enough to help your company achieve general data security.
The Three Steps to Complete Data Protection
While the malicious actors of the world have grown more adept at stealing data, the defensive mechanisms available have advanced accordingly. A comprehensive data protection, monitoring, and recovery system can save your company from the losses that come with a data leak.
1. Protect Your Data Via Encryption and Security
Encryption, data security, and proper organization are your first line of defense against data leaks. Maintaining separate levels of authority and access will reduce the consequences of a compromised account. Furthermore, you can train employees on proper data security protocols to mitigate the risk of such leaks happening at all. The other first-line risk that can contribute to a leak is a poorly-designed system with security vulnerabilities. Securing your data with a tight, effective system will round out your defenses against cyber attacks.
Encryption serves both defensive purposes and helps protect your company against human error and malware attacks. Essentially, it encodes and hides data as it lays in storage or as it moves in transit. With proper encryption, potential attackers won’t be able to make use of your information even if they successfully steal your data. Ideally, you’ll encrypt data locally before transmitting it to the cloud.
While the silent, long-term harvesting of data in transit via malware is a major threat, encryption also tackles this problem. Even if your system is compromised for weeks or months, they won’t be able to use it without cracking your encryption. In the meantime, active security monitoring can identify abnormalities and seal the breach.
2. Monitor Activity to Detect Threats and Unusual Behavior
While building an initial line of data protection goes a long way, you shouldn’t take a fire-and-forget approach. Active monitoring of your system by IT experts is an essential second line of defense, as it can help monitor ongoing threats and identify potential leaks. After all, certain attacks such as outbound spam are subtle and can go unnoticed basically indefinitely.
Today, the Zero Trust framework is a typical method for achieving security in cloud operations. In this framework, nothing is left to trust and your organization maintains an internal security apparatus or works with a managed security provider. Technical security solutions can have vulnerabilities, and human error can create new openings as well. The monitoring and detection mechanism provides a critical layer of protection that detects and contains potential threats. This active defense is a vital complement to the other two elements of data security.
3. Bounce Back with the Cloud Data Backup
Backup data protection is the final key to achieving data security. Without a backup of your data, your company can experience paralysis as it attempts to negotiate with the perpetrators of a ransomware attack. Backing up your data on a regular basis provides you with a tool to respond to a crisis in an agile, self-contained manner.
This is fundamentally similar to finding that your personal computer has been infected with a virus, at which point you load a pre-infection backup. Applying this concept on an organizational level is of course much more complicated and entails some efficiency loss, but far less than the damage that comes with totally frozen operations. It’s also necessary to note that backups also protect your organization from data center failures that can follow natural disasters or power outages.
That said, it’s not enough to simply maintain a backup. You need to follow several key best practices, such as:
- Storing the backup on a separate cloud or separate server than the one your day to day operations relies on
- Monitor the backup on a daily basis to verify the sanity of the backup
- Maintain proper active security measures so that you don’t save an already-compromised version of your system
Managing a backup and adhering to industry best practices to ensure your business will be resilient in the face of disaster is a challenging, involved process. As such, it’s advisable to work with experts to achieve comprehensive cloud security hardening.
EXEO Offers Comprehensive Cloud Security
Each of the three steps to achieving data security complement each other and make up for potential vulnerabilities in the others. As such, EXEO works with clients on every level of data protection to help them build secure systems. Our managed security services entail the latest in threat detection, user identification, and encryption. This can take the form of a short-term project to strengthen your security or a long-term partnership.
As your partners in data security, we can provide strategic guidance on new threats and technological developments in the digital security space. Our certified, trained personnel can help you with tactical execution and essentially fulfill the role of your digital security officer. Much like the cloud itself offers scalability and dynamism in business, our managed security services provide you with the level and depth of IT security support you need.
Reach out today to find out more about how EXEO can help your company stay safe in the information age.