Even before cloud adoption became mainstream, it wasn’t uncommon for IT security needs to conflict with both business strategy and end user preferences. Almost everyone with a background in security has found themselves in the awkward position of having to advise on going against a technology with significant appeal and value because it would introduce too much risk.
In my time working both as a vendor and as a risk management consultant, few IT leaders I’ve come across want to be a roadblock when it comes to achieving business goals and accommodating (reasonable) user preferences and requests. However, they also understand the costs of a potential security or non-compliance issue down the road.
Unfortunately, many IT security teams have also experienced the frustration of being overridden, either officially by executives electing to accept the risk or by users adopting unregulated, unsanctioned applications and platforms, introducing risk into the organization against their recommendation.
In today’s world of cloud computing there are more vendor options than ever and end users often come to the table with their preferences and demands. More and more I speak to IT and security leaders who have been directed to move to the cloud or have been pressured to move data to a specific cloud application for business reasons but find themselves saying no because the native cloud security controls are not enough.
Fortunately, in the past few years, solutions have emerged that allow IT and security leaders to stop saying no and instead enable the adoption of business-driven requests while giving IT teams the security controls they need to reduce risk. Cloud vendors spend a lot of time and resources to secure their infrastructure and applications, but what they are not responsible for is ensuring compliant cloud usage in their customer’s organizations.
The legal liability for data breaches is yours and yours alone. Only you can guarantee compliant usage within your organization, so it’s important to understand the types of data that will be flowing into the cloud environment and work with various stakeholders to enforce controls that will reduce risk to an acceptable level and comply with any geographic or industry regulations.
It can be tempting, as always, to lock everything down and allow users only the most basic functionality in cloud applications. However, that often results in a poor user experience and leads to unsanctioned cloud use and shadow IT.
While cloud environments are very different from on premise environments, many of the security principles are still valid. As a foundation, I often guide organizations to look at what they are doing today for on-premises security and begin with extending those same principles into the cloud. Three useful principles to begin with are:
Privilege management has been used in enterprises for years as an on-premises method to secure sensitive data and guide compliant user behavior by limiting access. In some cloud services, like Amazon Web Services (AWS), individual administrators can quickly amass enough power to cause significant downtime or security concerns, either unintentionally or through compromised credentials. Ensuring appropriate privilege management in the cloud can help reduce that risk.
In addition to traditional privilege management, the cloud also introduces a unique challenge when it comes to cloud service providers. Since they can access your cloud instance, it’s important to factor into your cloud risk assessment that your cloud provider also has access to your data. If you’re concerned about insider threats or government data requests served directly to the cloud provider, evaluating options to segregate data from your cloud provider is recommended.
Data Loss Protection
Another reason it’s so important to speak with stakeholders and identify the type of data flowing into the cloud is to determine what data loss protection (DLP) policies you need to enforce. Common data characteristics to look out for include personally identifiable information, credit card numbers, or even source code. If you’re currently using on-premises DLP, it’s a good time to review and update your organizations’ already defined patterns and data classification definitions to ensure that they are valid and relevant as you look to extend them to the cloud.
It’s also important to also educate end users on what to expect. Good cloud security should be mostly frictionless, but, if you decided to enforce policies such blocking a transaction or requiring additional authentication for sensitive transactions, it’s important to include this in your training materials and any internal documentation provided to users. It not only lets users know what to expect, leading to fewer helpdesk tickets but also can be used to refresh users on internal policies and security basics.
A key aspect of any data security strategy is to maintain visibility into your data to ensure compliant usage. Companies need to make sure that they do not lose this capability as they migrate their data and infrastructure into the cloud. If you use security information event management (SIEM) tools today, it’s worth taking the time to decide on what cloud applications and transactions you should integrate into your reports.
By extending the controls listed above into your cloud environment, you can establish a common ground of good security practices that protect business enabling technology. With the right tools and strategy in place, it’s possible to stop saying no outright and instead come to the table enabled to empower relevant business demands while maintaining appropriate security and governance controls.
(This post originally appeared on the Cloud Security Alliance blog site, which can be viewed here)
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