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Cloud Security: Current Status, Trends and Tips

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Cloud security is one of the big buzzwords in the security space along with big data and others. So we’ll try to tackle where cloud security is today, where its heading as well as outline challenges and offer tips for CIOs and CSOs looking to experiment with putting more systems and data in the cloud. The cloud is viewed by many as a solution to reducing IT costs and ultimately has led many organizations to accept data risks they would not consider acceptable in their own environments.

In our State of Network Security 2013 Survey, we asked security professionals how many security controls were in the cloud and 60 percent of respondents reported having less than a quarter of their security controls in the cloud – and in North America the larger the organization, the less security controls in the cloud. Certainly some security controls just aren’t meant for the cloud, but I think this highlights the uncertainty around the cloud, especially for larger organizations.

Current State of Cloud Security

Cloud security has clearly emerged with both a technological and business case, but from a security perspective, it’s still a bit in a state of flux. A key challenges that many information security professionals are struggling with is how to classify the cloud and define the appropriate type of controls to secure data entering the cloud. While oftentimes the cloud is classified as a trusted network, the cloud is inherently untrusted since it is not simply an extension of the organization, but it’s an entirely separate environment that is out of the organization’s control. Today “the cloud” can mean a lot of things: a cloud could be a state-of-the-art data center or a server rack in a farm house holding your organization’s data.

One of the biggest reasons that organizations entertain the idea of putting more systems, data and controls in the cloud is because of the certain cost savings. One  tip would be to run a true cost-benefit-risk analysis that factors in the value of the data being sent into the cloud. There is value to be gained from sending non-sensitive data into the cloud, but when it comes to more sensitive information, the security costs will increase to the point where the analysis may suggest keeping in-house.

Cloud Security Trends

Here are several trends to look for when it comes to cloud security:

  1. Data security is moving to the forefront, as security teams refocus their efforts in securing the data itself instead of simply the servers it resides on. A greater focus is being put on efforts such as securing data-at-rest, thus mitigating the need to some degree the reliance on system administrators to maintain OS level controls, often outside the scope of management for information security teams.
  2. With more data breaches occurring each day, I think we will see a trend in collecting less data where is it simply not required. Systems that are processing or storing sensitive data, by their very nature, incur a high cost to IT departments, so we’ll see more effort being placed on business analysis and system architecture to avoid collecting data that may not be required for the business task. Gartner Research recently noted that by 2019, 90 percent of organizations will have personal data on IT systems they don’t own or control!
  3. Today, content and cloud providers typically use legal means to mitigate the impact of any potential breaches or loss of data. I think as cloud services mature, we’ll see more of a shift to a model where it’s not just these vendors offering software as a service, but also includes security controls in conjunction with their services. More pressure from security teams will be put on content providers to provide such things as dedicated database tiers, to isolate their organization’s data within the cloud itself.

Cloud Security Tips

  1. Make sure you classify data before even considering sending it for processing or storage in the cloud. If data is deemed too sensitive, the risks of sending this data into the cloud must be weighed closely against the costs of appropriately securing it in the cloud.
  2. Once information is sent into the cloud, there is no going back! So make sure you’ve run a comprehensive analysis of what you’re putting in the cloud and vet your vendors carefully as cloud service providers use varying architectures, processes, and procedures that may place your data in many precarious places.

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