The number of businesses that have been adopting cloud computing services went through the roof – with more than 90% of organizations that hosted at least some of their IT environment in the cloud in 2020. Despite the widespread use, compliance and security standards of cloud data remain a hard logic puzzle to solve.
Lack of visibility or unclear responsibility are just a few of the common issues organizations always try to successfully mitigate. Secure infrastructure and enforcing cloud security tools are just the cornerstone of cloud compliance.
Let’s uncover the best practices that lead to strong cloud data protection and regulatory compliance programs.
What is Cloud Security Compliance?
Any cloud computing provider needs to always check and get updated with regional, national, and international laws that apply to the use of the cloud. In addition, there’s compliance on the user’s part that’s equally important. Cloud users should also always make sure they use the cloud service in a compliant manner. That would be the meaning of cloud security compliance in a nutshell.
With the cloud’s unevenly distributed nature, cloud compliance challenges aren’t easy to handle. One of the main critical challenges is creating a company culture where all cloud users are responsible for the cloud security, instead of leaving this solely on the cybersecurity team’s shoulders. Along with online threats that become more sophisticated by the day and the increase in cybersecurity regulations, cloud security and compliance are more important than ever.
That’s why organizations should keep cloud compliance at the top of their priorities list, especially as many of them keep migrating and performing operations within the cloud environment.
Risks of Cloud Non-Compliance
Cloud non-compliance brings with it risks on several fronts, from financial loss to reputation damages. Three major risks are:
Loss, or leakage of data
Data loss and leakage is one of the biggest cloud security concerns and it comes due to the fact that organizations have to give up some of their controls to the cloud provider. In other words, someone outside your IT department is responsible for a significant part of your organization’s security process. If the cloud service provider faces any security incident, your organization will not only lose its data and intellectual property but will also be held responsible for the damages.
Cloud non-compliance doesn’t only lead to loss of data or reputation, it also leads to financial losses. For a US-based company, fines for being non-compliant can range between $16,000 and $250,000.
Apart from fines, there are the overall company costs related to money spent recovering from a security incident, which involve adding new security tools or equipment, training or hiring new employees, etc.
With an internet-connected cloud environment, your organization is open to a wide range of cyber threats. Estimates show that the more cloud usage increases, the more chances to experience data breaches. User error, improper configurations or lack of securing privileged access accounts.
To name just a few of the most famous cloud data breaches:
2021: Cognyte left an ElasticSearch database unsecured without authentication protocols exposing 5 billion user records. The irony, in this case, is that the exposed database actually included data of previous data breaches. The compromised information included user credentials like names, email addresses, passwords, and vulnerability data points within their system.
2020: Similar to Cognyte, Marriott’s hotel chain insecure reservation system went undetected for months and became an entry point for adversaries that used email spoofing.As a result, contact details, like names, email addresses, loyalty account numbers, and other personal information of around 5.2 million guests have been compromised.
2017: An insecure AWS S3 configuration from one of Verizon’s third parties set the cloud storage to allow external access. Compromised data included customer names, addresses, phone numbers, account information, and, in some cases, PIN codes that customers use to verify themselves to phone-based customer-service teams.
And some worrying statistics related to cloud security:
- 96% of web app attack-based data breaches involve cloud mail servers
- 98% of organizations experienced a cloud security breach in the past 18 months
- 65% of cloud network security incidents are due to user error
- 83% of cloud breaches are a result of access vulnerabilities
Cloud Compliance Regulations and Frameworks
When you move business data and operations in any cloud environment, it’s essential that you know and pay attention to how your chosen cloud provider helps your company comply with your specific industry regulations. Below are just examples of the most common cloud regulations and frameworks.
General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
Since 2018, EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has made a significant change in terms of data privacy and integrity. And regardless if your company activates in the EU or not, as long as you have EU-based clients, you must adhere to GDPR terms. GDPR imposes harsh penalties for noncompliance; just a few examples are:
- In January 2019, when Google received a fine of nearly $55 million for not properly informing users how their data is collected.
- In August 2021, WhatsApp received one of the biggest fines due to the fact that it illegally shared users’ personal data with Facebook and Instagram; WhatsApp users never explicitly gave their consent to this data sharing.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) mandates the security and privacy of individuals’ electronic healthcare information, any health-related information, and information access for health insurance. If your company has to manage and protect health information (PHI), you must have security measures in place to ensure HIPAA Compliance, with enforcing only authorized access to this data as the most essential measure.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is the benchmark for any company in the business of processing credit or debit card payments. This set of standards should flawlessly protect card users against credit card fraud and identity theft. So, if your company stores sensitive credit card information in the cloud, your team should enforce specialized cloud design and security; encrypting the transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks and assigning unique IDs to every user with computer access would cover as some of the security norms.
This is the most widely known standard for information security management and was developed by the International Organization for Standards. Companies certified with ISO 27001 reduce the risk of suffering a damaging breach, and provides users and potential customers the proof that companies take data protection seriously.
Check the entire list of cloud service standards.
Cloud Security Alliance Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM)
Cloud Controls Matrix covers many security domains, including application and interface security, identity and access management, and threats and vulnerability management. CCM shows compliance controls indicating which CCM model type (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) or cloud environment (public, hybrid, private) the control applies to, differentiating responsibilities between a cloud service provider and cloud customer.
FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program)
This is a standardized cloud-specific program for security assessment and evaluation essential for any company doing business with a federal agency. FedRAMP aims to ensure all cloud deployments used by the Federal government have the minimum level of security protection for data and applications.
SOX (Sarbanes–Oxley Act)
SOX is a specific regulation that monitors how publicly-traded companies report financial data to protect customers from errors in reporting or fraud. SOX covers a set of guidelines related to the integrity of financial disclosures.
6 Cloud Compliance Best Practices
Here’s a checklist of some of the most important cloud security compliance best practices.
Create a set of rules and principles on the best use of cloud services and remember to include not only solutions related to processes and technology but about people in your team as well. Cloud governance should define cloud structure, ownership and responsibility, and financial controls.
This set of rules should help your organization in three major aspects:
- make more efficient operations
- avoid risks and perform secure cloud operations
- reduce cloud costs
Both the customer and the cloud service provider should share responsibilities over the aspects of cloud security and privacy. A clear allocation and delimitation of responsibilities removes the risk of leaving vital parts of the defense controls properly protected. The split of responsibilities depends on the cloud service model used; as an example, a client who uses an IaaS cloud system will have more security responsibilities than one who uses SaaS.
Strong authentication and authorization
This best practice is available for cloud and any type of service: organizations need to ensure that only authorized people access sensitive data relevant to their work. The fact that sensitive cloud resources can be accessed from anywhere online is just an extra argument for the need to always know a user’s identity.
That’s why identity and access management controls like role-specific access based on a zero-trust model, strong passwords, MFA, biometric identification are just a few of the basic measures for robust authentication.
Secure and complete data deletion
If you change your cloud provider or move your data to a new environment, you risk deleting your customers’ data in the process. Even if you’re covered by backup copies of data, these may sometimes be mixed with other customers’ data, leading to a difficult erasure process. Ask information from the cloud provider regarding all the delete options to ensure you safely remove and delete data from any legacy system.
You should also make sure your service-level agreement covers all the details about how and when files and copies of files are moved and deleted. A cloud compliance audit can check your storage provider’s deletion policies and procedures, and the technology used for this process.
Apply end-to-end encryption
Encryption adds a multiple layer of security to any sensitive data and it has become a standard security practice. Encryption considerations should apply both to data at rest and also to data in transit, as they significantly help protect your data from man-in-the-middle attacks and unauthorized access.
Managed services like AWS KMS offer an easy solution to implement encryption keys and use them for virtual machines, databases, storage resources and any piece of data at-rest. Similarly, they offer a straightforward process to release and manage SSL/TLS certificates, making in-transit encryption a piece of cake.
Perform security threat modeling
Routine tests of your cloud environment for security weaknesses and threats are vital. These tests can include security audits along with penetration tests and vulnerability scanning to discover potential threats and blind spots in your system architecture.
Additionally, you can rely on security tools that make automatic and real-time checks of irregularities, suspicious behavior, and vulnerabilities.
Due Diligence is the Key to Cloud Security Compliance
Whether public, private or hybrid cloud, this service is definitely here to stay. The important questions to ask yourself when using the cloud are:
- Who could potentially have access to your data?
- What are the data protection requirements of your stakeholders?
- Do third parties that host your data protect it according to your data security requirements?
- Are your governance policies and processes updated to reflect the cloud risks?
As a well-managed organization, understanding and mitigating the risks pave the way for better leveraging cloud computing initiatives. It starts with defining your company’s sensitive data and making a decision to protect that data actively. That way, you avoid all the struggles related to lost cloud data or lack of data integrity.
At Softbinator Technologies, we’ve been partnering with many companies and helped them build scalable cloud architectures for many years. Additionally, as many of our clients are in the healthcare and fintech industries, we provided support and consulting services so they could meet HIPAA compliance and PCI compliance respectively.