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How to Protect Data on the Cloud: Challenges and Best Practices

Cloud

September 30, 2022

Even on a most sunny day, it’s usually a cloud that’s surrounding or governing your everyday life. From the apps you use to the mails you send or receive, from the funds you transfer to the purchases you make, the table you book, or the post you put on your feed, the cloud isn’t just pervasive; it’s omnipresent. It’s the power behind newer possibilities that could make our life, work and play even better.

Everyday, almost terabytes of data is processed or flows from the cloud (also referred to as cloud computing), making it the single-most important entity for and businesses, governments and individuals to function. But that’s the big picture. Let’s narrow down to the scope of data on the cloud from a single business entity’s perspective. To put simply, for any enterprise data the cloud helps to unify and connect to a single copy of all their data with ease by creating an ecosystem that extends beyond its own borders – interconnecting with other players, customers, gateways etc. to share and process data with agility and efficiently. Thus, a typical cloud makes the humongous and constantly growing data to be connected, accessible, and available. However, there’s one aspect that overarches above all else: data security.

Whether it is a public or private cloud, or even hybrid, protecting data on the cloud is the stuff of nightmares for almost all CXOs. Not only does inadequate cloud data security is an open invitation to malicious attack, it also has the potential to shut down any enterprise in a matter of seconds, the financial and reputational damage notwithstanding. Of course, many countries and enterprise have laid guidelines for conforming to cloud data security. However, attacks may still occur due to other reasons like:

  • Insecure APIs
  • Malicious Insiders
  • Abusive use of Cloud Computing
  • Outdated OS, Databases and Applications
  • Multi-tenancy Nature
  • Data Loss and Leakage
  • Service Account Hijacking
  • Data Breaches

You just can’t do with Cloud Data Security

Whether your cloud is public, private or hybrid, protecting data on the cloud is a major concern for enterprises of any scale. Not only does absent or an inadequate data security posture on cloud pose a clear and present danger to operational integrity and other reasons stated above, enterprises may also have to face severe legal ramifications arising out of such breaches. On a broad level, the need for optimal cloud data security comprises the following reasons:

  1. Securing Cloud against Security Breaches: As mentioned earlier, breaches of any kind are highly detrimental for any enterprise. And with more data getting interlinked between private and public clouds (in addition to the thousands of kinds of end-devices), it has become even more imperative to ensure breaches of any kind do not occur at all – including cloud infrastructure perimeter security breaches and vulnerabilities presented due to outdated operating systems, databases & applications hosted on cloud, however minute or insignificant. Sure, the cloud provider’s responsibility includes this to some extent, but in the real world with real scenarios, it’s usually the enterprise that has to go above and beyond its own role to protect your data on the cloud.
  2. Managing Remote Work and Work from Home (WFH): One of the greatest advantages of the cloud is its ability for anyone to access data from anywhere. The caveat is how this access is controlled and who gets it. In the new normal, when best practices and SOPs are still evolving, some employees may willingly (or unwillingly) not subscribe to the security protocols laid down while using public or home WiFi. In such instances, a security gap may present itself and make the data susceptible to malware, phishing, ransomware or any other newer ways that hackers may use to shut down enterprises or individuals. Even poorly designed cloud landing zones that are loosely aligned to Zero-Trust architecture may present a significant security gap. In such instances, the organization’s data on cloud becomes susceptible to modern-age security attacks. Proper cloud security protocols that are deeply embedded can help prevent these to an extent.
  3. Disaster Recovery: Let’s face it. Murphy’s Law can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere. Enterprises should be well aware of this fact on a 24/7 basis. So, if and when disaster does strike – be it natural or manmade, business resilience shouldn’t be hit as well. In case it gets hit, services should get back on in the minimum amount of time with the least disruption and minimal loss of data. This is when the issue of safely securing multiple copies of data on the cloud becomes paramount, which can be prevented by deploying additional security measures available in the market.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Governments globally have woken up to the importance of data security and laid down strict standards to protect the general public from getting their data misused or without their explicit consent. As digital transformation gains more ground almost everywhere and in almost all businesses, it was deemed fit to bring into law certain data protection standards that businesses must comply with to even operate in the market. The new standards like HIPPA and GDPR are prime examples of how lawmakers are getting extremely intolerant of any deviation in the data protection standards. And as you read this, more governments are mulling similar laws for their own countries too! The function of these laws is to ensure the company’s integrity and maintain security when they opt for cloud. In case customer data does get compromised, the cloud security provider will not be blamed. In fact, no blame game will occur. Instead, they will be held legally liable. For large financial organizations, health, insurance, social media etc., such exacting standards make obvious sense.
  5. Eliminating Weaknesses and Generating Access Levels: Despite many cloud data security precautions in place, it is evident that many enterprises have still leaked important/sensitive data to the public, the reasons for which may vary. We come across such instances almost on a daily basis, as seen and read in the news. Irrespective of the reasons behind such leaks, it has significantly affected their integrity and brand image – thus negatively impacting their future growth prospects. This is another solid reason to deploy best-in-class cloud data security systems that enforce access controls on employees and/or anyone who officially has been given data access privileges. Such measures make it tougher for other outsiders or insiders with malicious intent to leak data.

Though the above-stated reasons may resonate with your needs and help you as broad guidelines, ultimately, the decision on how to protect your data on the cloud depends entirely on you. But the need to protect the data is a foregone conclusion, especially when technology is evolving almost continuously and so does the entire ecosystem of processes, functions, devices, and the people in the loop.

So, what are the Best Practices for Cloud Data Security?

Cloud security may appear like legacy IT security, but this framework demands a different approach. It is much more intensive and holistic than that. Cloud security is the whole set of technology, protocols, and best practices that protect cloud computing environments, applications running in the cloud, and data held in the cloud. To properly address cloud data security, one must understand what exactly is being secured and the diverse systems that comprise the cloud.

Typically, the backend development against security vulnerabilities is the responsibility of your cloud service provider, who, for obvious reasons, should be selected on the basis of their security consciousness. Over and above, any enterprise should focus on proper service configuration while inculcating safe use habits amongst each and every employee internally. When it comes to hardware and the networks they operate would require a high level of security. The full scope of cloud security is designed to protect the following, regardless of your responsibilities: physical networks, data storage, databases and data servers, virtualization frameworks, Operating systems (OS), middleware, runtime environments, data & applications and end-user hardware which includes a growing mix of computers, mobile devices, IoT, wearables, etc. But overarching is the cloud data strategy that envisions and governs the environment holistically and in totality. These are:

  • Container and Kubernetes Security: With adequate container support available, it’s easy to establish internal agents to run inside each monitored container. For scalable environments, it’s also essential for enterprises to install automated threat detection mechanisms that start and stop based on container events.
  • Cloud Native Application Protection Platforms (CNAPP): For secure access, CNAPPs are an integrated set of cloud-native application security tools such as tools for container scanning, infrastructure as code scanning, entitlements management and runtime cloud workload protection tools, while also enabling integrated offerings to protect the entire lifecycle of a cloud-native application. What’s more, you can also have identity and access management solutions to limit access to authorized users only and provision for audit, monitoring, governance, and incident reporting, which must be done at the service level.
  • Develop Intelligent Mechanisms for Increased Cloud Complexity: As cloud environments get even more complex when more services are added, each service should be designed with built-in ML-based anomaly detection mechanisms. Orchestration platforms such as Docker and Kubernetes have integrated secret management techniques. It must be ensured that secrets are distributed only to the containers that use them when they need them. Unauthorized commands should be intercepted and blocked immediately. Also, application deployment pipelines must have security scanning and automation testing included in the cycle – where DevSecOps tools can greatly mitigate risk. Plus, to reduce network attacks, it is imperative to follow specific precautionary measures such as planning for geographic redundancy and data backups within the cloud, automatic rotation of passwords, and strengthening encryption standards.

Securing your Data on the Cloud is about Securing your Future

Evolving technologies. Persistent threats. Increased scrutiny and regulations. Higher stakes. All these challenges demand a concerted approach towards cloud data security, both from the enterprise perspective and the provider’s as well. A whole new, proactive way of dealing with security threats is the need of the hour that also puts one foot forward towards the future. At Hexaware, we are constantly engaging with clients to successfully address their cloud data security challenges with cloud-native security solutions like the cloud-native security platform that controls and protects the workloads running on the cloud-native platform. Its features include image verification, immutability of containers, continuous monitoring and an integrated cloud SecOps platform. Together, they provide a robust, continuous and smart digital fortress for securing your data on the cloud. Even during scenarios of cloud migration, modernization of monolithic applications & related databases to new-age cloud native services, Hexaware’s automation-led amaze® platform helps customers to minimize the attack surface by identifying outdated operating systems, database versions, applications, including related libraries and updating them to latest supported versions in an automated way. This, in turn, not just brings down the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) on the cloud in the long run but also significantly improves overall cloud security posture.

Sure, challenges abound. But so do countless opportunities. And for enterprises that leave no stone unturned when it comes to data security on the cloud, the future is ripe with disruptive innovation, transformative results and stellar growth.

Can you spot your opportunity yet?

About the Author

Neeraj Singh

Neeraj Singh

Neeraj Singh works with Hexaware Technologies as a Technical Architect in the cloud presales team, primarily solutioning for North America, Europe and Asia Pacific customers. With over 8+ years of IT experience in multiple domains like banking, telecommunications and consulting, his expertise includes working in emerging technologies like multi-cloud security, cloud migrations, digital transformation, enterprise architectures and data analytics. He has worked extensively on IT infrastructure modernization, large-scale data-center migrations, cloud optimization and operations.

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