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How to Develop a Cloud Security Policy that Eliminates Vulnerabilities

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

An effective security policy is essential if firms are to make the best use of cloud resources. Here are a few key steps that must not be overlooked.

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Cloud computing is a primary option for almost every business today. Indeed, according to Gartner, worldwide spending on public cloud services is set to reach $227.8 billion in 2020, while Cisco forecasts that by 2021, 94% of workloads will be processed by cloud data centers.

But despite the fact cloud is now mainstream, some concerns still remain, and one of the most common questions IT leaders will have surrounds security. Cybersecurity training specialist (ISC)2 found that 93% of organizations are moderately to extremely concerned about cloud security, with the leading worries including:

However, most reputable cloud providers will have highly robust security provisions in place to answer these concerns. While breaches do occur in the cloud, it’s often due to poor practices or configurations at the customer's end rather than any inherent vulnerabilities within the service itself.

Therefore, it's vital that any company looking to migrate data, applications, or processes to the cloud has a strong cybersecurity policy in place to address any vulnerabilities. But what should this look like? Here are a few essential steps you need to take to create a successful policy.

1. Understand your vendor's offerings

The first step must be to gain a clear understanding of what security precautions your cloud provider will handle, and which will be left up to you as the customer. Misconfigured or insecure default settings that companies aren't even aware they have control over are among the top causes of cloud data breaches and can be costly.

Cloud security is a shared responsibility, but not all services are equal, so take a deep dive into the service level agreement to be certain of what your part will be.

2. Have a clear access policy

To ensure only those with the right level of authorization have access to sensitive cloud-hosted data or applications, you should create a series of groups for your users that have clear permissions and levels of access.

Some people may only need read-only access - for instance, if they need to compile a report - while others will need administrative and ops access. Cloud providers may have a variety of roles that can be applied to different users, which allow you to develop a fine-grained security system that meets the needs of everyone in the organization without giving people higher levels of access than they need to do their job.

3. Secure your connections

A potential weak point for any cloud-based system may be the devices that are connecting to the cloud and the networks they use, so this should be a key focus point for your security policy. The use of firewalls to restrict access or tethers that only enable people to connect from a whitelist of approved IP addresses can greatly reduce your exposure to hackers, while it's also important to have strong endpoint security, such as mobile device management solutions for any personally-owned devices looking to connect to cloud services.

Strong encryption protections are also essential wherever data is being moved to and from the cloud, as well as when it’s at rest on a cloud server. However, this must be supported by other transport protections including secure sockets layer (SSL) and virtual private network (VPN) requirements and network traffic scanning and monitoring to ensure the risk of interception is minimized.

4. Improve your authentication

At a minimum, access to cloud services should be protected by two-factor authentication (2FA) to prevent common issues such as poor and reused passwords leading to breaches. All major cloud providers should offer a range of 2FA options that firms can employ to improve their access management, and there’s no reason not to use this.

You may also consider making public key infrastructure (PKI) part of your cloud security policies. This relies on a public and private key to verify the identity of a user before exchanging data, so by using PKI in your cloud environment, many of the inherent weaknesses of passwords are removed.

5. Monitor and audit frequently

It's important to keep a close watch on your ongoing cloud operations to ensure policies are being followed, spot any unusual or suspicious activity, and activate a swift response to contain any potential breach. Many cloud providers offer a range of logging and monitoring tools that can give businesses more visibility into their operations and even, with the latest AI tools, stop breaches before they occur.

This should be backed up with a frequent auditing process that reviews and updates cloud security policies, checks that all configurations are correct, and all components are patched and upgraded to the latest versions as quickly as possible.

It's important to remember there's no one solution that can solve a company's cloud security concerns. A holistic approach that integrates a range of services and solutions will be essential if cloud operations - which are essential to the success of any firm today - are to be as secure as possible.

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