What is cloud security?
Cloud security is no singular entity—it’s an entire ecosystem of IT administrators, cloud processes and policies, and security solutions that protect the data and applications that live in the cloud. These cloud security measures are put in place to not just protect the data, but also support regulatory compliance, ensure customers’ privacy, set authentication rules, and more.
In this way, cloud security is fully customizable to meet the unique needs of a business. Not to mention, configuration and authentication rules can be altered and managed from one spot, so if a business has a reliable cloud security strategy in place, they don’t have to spend precious time on managing their cloud environment.
Because sensitive customer and business data is stored in the cloud—and because more organizations are moving to the cloud overall—introducing a cloud security strategy has become imperative. Throughout the years, security criminals have evolved, launching more sophisticated, harder-to-detect attacks on organizations. Regardless of an organization’s cloud of choice, attackers have wisened up to ensure they breach even the biggest companies’ clouds.
Why is cloud security important?
Data and application security is critical for any organization. When it comes to cloud environments, security should be a top priority. The popularity of the cloud is only going to continue to increase, and going “cloud-first” is quickly becoming a priority for many of the most successful businesses that have embraced digital transformation.
The cloud holds a lot of promise for large and small businesses across every industry and geographical location. With the right cloud security tools and solutions, your organization can realize those promises and become more agile, flexible, responsive to customers, and cost-effective. By securing your cloud environments in the best ways you can, you can enjoy all the advantages the cloud has to offer and maintain peace of mind that your data and applications are protected.
In addition to enabling you to confidently leverage the advantages of the cloud, cloud security allows you to:
Reduce the risk of a data breach
Empower your employees to work remotely
Strengthens disaster recovery strategies
Keeps you compliant with industry and governmental regulations
Reduces vulnerabilities and provides users with appropriate levels of access
Which cloud security challenges do companies face?
Without a proper cloud security strategy in place, companies are more likely than not to face serious security issues in their cloud computing architecture. The following items describe some of the most common security threats and risks companies may encounter.
- Sensitive data loss: Much of the data that’s stored in the cloud is sensitive, private, or includes intellectual property. If a company’s cloud service is breached, cyber attackers can easily gain access to this data. But even without an attack, certain services can pose a risk if their terms and conditions claim ownership of the data uploaded to them.
- Loss of end-user control: Without proper visibility and control, a company’s end users can unknowingly, or even willfully, put the organization at risk. Here’s an example: A salesperson who is about to resign from their current business decides to download a report of their customer contacts and upload that data to a personal cloud storage service. Once they’re hired by a competitor organization, they can leverage that data.
- Malware: Cloud services are prime targets for data exfiltration or the process where a cyber attacker carries out an unauthorized data transfer from their computer. Unfortunately, these cybercriminals have come up with new, harder-to-detect data exfiltration methods, including both open and concealed methods.
- Contractual breaches: When business parties sign a contract, this often restricts how data is used and who has access to it. However if an employee moves restricted data into the cloud without authorization, the contract could be violated, leading to potential legal retaliation.
- Damaged reputation among customers: When your data is breached, inevitably, your customers are less likely to trust your organization. Without adequate trust, your organization may have to deal with revenue loss. Sadly, one of the most well-known card data breaches occurred with Target. When cyber attackers stole over 40 million customer credit and debit cards, one of the results was a loss of trust. Not to mention, a common result of lost customer trust is a phenomenon called “customer churn,” wherein customers decide to take their business elsewhere—even if they were happy, loyal consumers of the organization before the breach.
- Revenue loss: Ultimately, this is one of the most damaging consequences a company can and will face following a data breach. When a company’s customers lose trust in their ability to safeguard their sensitive financial information, their loyalties move elsewhere, costing the breached company massive amounts of money. Not to mention, the average cost of a data breach is around $4 million, a fee many organizations simply can’t afford.
The benefits of cloud security
As more companies turn to the cloud, ensuring cloud security measures are in place is non-negotiable. Because the consequences of a security breach are high, the value of a reliable cloud security plan is monumental. There are several reasons why an organization should choose cloud security:
Much like how the cloud can centralize all your applications and data, cloud security can centralize all your protective forces. Cloud-based networks contain numerous devices and endpoints, and they enhance traffic analysis and filtering. Businesses are less involved in the monitoring process, with automated cloud security services navigating possible threats without human intervention. Plus, since all protection policies are managed in one place, disaster recovery plans can also be implemented and actioned easily.
By using a cloud-based storage and security solution, businesses can cut down—if not entirely eliminate—the amount of dedicated hardware they use. This can reduce your capital expenditure and reduce the amount of administrative overheads. Cloud security lets IT teams focus on more high-value projects rather than 24/7 security monitoring.
One of the many joys of cloud security is its ability to eliminate manual security configurations and frequent security updates. In a traditional environment, these tasks are time-consuming and can drain a business’s resources. By moving to cloud computing, all security administration happens in one place and is fully managed without any oversight.
Whereas an all-human cloud monitoring strategy may catch most of the threats that come your way, cloud security eliminates any chance of human error. Delivering ultimate dependability, the right cloud security measures ensure users can safely access data and applications from the cloud no matter where they are and no matter which device they’re using.
Why is having a cloud security strategy important?
All cloud models are susceptible to threats, even on-premises architectures, which are traditionally known for being highly controllable, manageable, and secure. Unfortunately, as cyber criminals refine and strengthen their attacks, businesses must establish a robust, infallible cloud security strategy to protect against data theft, leakage, corruption, and deletion.
In the past, traditional, human IT security has been adequate enough to defend against security breaches. But nowadays, there’s little time or money to spend on round-the-clock human workers, and the tedium the work calls for inevitably leads to some lapses and gaps in the security protocol. Cloud security eliminates those concerns, delivering the functionality of traditional IT security and allowing businesses to harness the power of cloud computing while remaining secure and ensuring their privacy and compliance requirements are met.
5 must-have cloud security features
- High-quality perimeter firewall solution: Get a perimeter firewall that does more than simply look at a data packet’s source and destination. The best firewalls offer a high degree of detail beyond that, including inspecting the actual contents of a packet to identify its file type and integrity.
- Robust intrusion detection with event logs: For regulation-heavy industries such as financial services and healthcare, a robust intrusion detection system is a must-have. It will create a log of intrusion attempts and alert you to potential issues.
- Additional firewalls to protect applications and databases: While your perimeter firewall can protect against outside attackers, internal firewalls can fend off an inside attack – from compromised user credentials, for instance, or an ex-employee who uses still-active account details to get into your systems.
- Encryption of data-at-rest: Don’t overlook encryption of data stored in your cloud environment. It’s a strong way to keep sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.
- Best-tier data centers with powerful security features: As a final defense against hackers, it’s important to make sure your organization and/or your cloud providers are taking advantage of the uber-protected physical security features of Tier IV data centers. The most secure data centers go to extreme measures to protect the physical infrastructure, including armed guards, always-on camera surveillance, stringent access protocols such as biometric systems, and more.
Pillars of robust cloud security
Regardless of whether you use a private or public cloud – or a mix of both – there are some common cloud security pillars to consider when looking for a security solution or designing your organization’s proprietary security features.
Access management is critical
Ensuring that only authorized users access your cloud data and applications at the right time is one of the most important guidelines in cloud security. Identity Access Management solutions can help a lot.
Go “Zero Trust” for maximum control
Strategically isolating parts of your cloud system can keep bad actors from accessing it all. With zero trust principles, your systems will be less likely to be infiltrated by attackers. Be sure to institute stringent security policies and keep sensitive workloads segregated from more public data.
Ensure compliance with change management
Most cloud providers offer change management protocols and tools you can use to handle change requests, new server provisioning, and more. These tools are helpful because they typically include auditing features that allow you to identify any suspicious behavior or a user that deviates from standard protocols.
Keep an eye on traffic with a WAF
With a web application firewall (WAF), you can gain visibility into all traffic that goes into and out of your servers and applications. Again, this provides just one more way to detect suspicious behavior or actions and gives you a chance to address any potential security issues before they escalate.
Encrypt data everywhere
You can beef up data security by encrypting it at every transport layer. Also implement security protocols for sharing files, using any communication applications, and anywhere else in your systems where data is stored, accessed, or sent.
Monitor, monitor, monitor
Stay on top of what’s happening in your cloud environments with continuous monitoring. Some cloud security solutions allow you to compare your cloud-native logs with logs from your other security solutions such as asset management, vulnerability scanners, change management, and even external insights into threats.
How to approach cloud security models?
Cloud security and private cloud
Many organizations opt for private cloud environments because they feel they can better protect their sensitive data in their own cloud. However, the public cloud can turn out to be more secure than some private clouds because public cloud companies hire dedicated security experts who are well-versed in public cloud security risks and how to address them. Managing their own clouds, some organizations might not have the IT teams or the skill sets needed to adequately secure their data.
Physical security can also be less effective in private cloud environments because, again, many organizations won’t or can’t afford robust security solutions that protect physical infrastructure.
Experts recommend the following best practices for securing a private cloud:
Use encryption, especially for data in transit - this will secure information as it is transmitted between the private cloud and end-user devices. A virtual private network, or VPN, can protect user devices from attacks. Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, is also a good protocol to use to keep data in transit secure.
Lock down access to your cloud - to ensure that only authorized users can access the data stored in your private cloud, use a robust authentication solution (preferably multifactor authentication) or other access control application. Firewalls can also help block unauthorized access.
Reduce vulnerabilities by patching and updating software - some of the most common entry points for attackers is outdated software. Be sure to patch your operating system and applications without fail.
Keep an eye on activity in the cloud - monitoring what happens in your private cloud is a good way to detect any issues or unauthorized access. Log management tools can give you visibility into who is accessing data in your cloud and when.
Make regular backups of your cloud data - protect against attacks by keeping up-to-date backups of your data. Store them somewhere other than the private cloud itself, and make sure the backups are always accessible and ready to use.
Cloud security and public cloud
Public cloud security differs quite a bit from private cloud security because instead of the single-tenant nature of the private cloud, public cloud is multitenant and is typically accessible through the public internet.
Typically, organizations using public cloud infrastructure do not have to concern themselves with physical security – the public cloud provider handles that. If an organization is using software-as-a-service (SaaS) through the public cloud, its IT department also doesn’t need to worry about authentication, firewalls, or encryption of data at rest.
With an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model in the public cloud, organizations are subject to the concept of “shared responsibility,” in which the cloud provider covers some aspects of security and the organizations handle others. Specifically, the cloud provider is responsible for securing the cloud platform itself, while an organization must secure its actual data in the cloud, as well as user access to its cloud applications. An organization will also be responsible for controlling who accesses its resources and data in the public cloud.
One of the most important best practices for securing your data and applications in the public cloud is to become familiar with your responsibilities. Learn what’s expected of you when it comes to security, which means understanding what the cloud provider is also responsible for.
Experts recommend getting visibility into all aspects of your public cloud. As the saying goes, “If you can’t see it, you can’t secure it.” It’s also smart to implement continuous monitoring and automation to handle security controls. And implement a security solution that can protect all of your environments, from production to development to QA.
Cloud security and hybrid cloud
Most organizations today use a mix of clouds, either public and/or private, while also maintaining on-premises infrastructure. This hybrid cloud model is increasingly the norm and requires that organizations understand how to secure all of the different environments.
Solutions for security and monitoring haven’t always accounted for the hybrid cloud model, and traditionally have been made for on-premises infrastructure or for clouds – but not both. So securing a hybrid cloud model end-to-end can result in a wide range of point solutions that don’t always integrate well together.
Best practice number one, then, is to find a security solution that has been designed with hybrid cloud in mind. Other recommendations include:
Ensure visibility across all environments
Automate and centralize security wherever you can
Use access control solutions and control traffic across data centers
Audit and monitor your environments consistently
Implement least-privilege and zero-trust principles
Use open technologies (tool- and infrastructure-agnostic) where possible for flexibility
Develop security standards and protocols that can be applied across the entire hybrid environment
Keep up-to-date backups of data and applications
Cloud security and multicloud
While cloud security is beneficial to any cloud model, from private to public, it is especially beneficial for a multi-cloud environment. According to GigaOm, 92% of businesses have already moved to a hybrid or multi-cloud strategy thanks to its flexible, scalable nature.
While a multi-cloud environment isn’t, by default, more complex than other cloud operating systems, it does require a fair amount of control and visibility through a “single pane of glass” to ensure it runs without common implementation failures.
However, maintaining complete visibility into a multi-cloud environment can be complex, often compelling many businesses to opt for cloud-dedicated specialists. And as complexity rises, so do the costs associated with maintaining the environment.
This lack of visibility can lead to unchecked security risks passing into the multi-cloud. Even with specialists on board, human error and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks make ensuring round-the-clock security all but impossible. Implementing an automated cloud security measure is critical to ensure the safety of your multi-cloud system, all while minimizing the strain and costs associated with upkeeping a dedicated team of multi-cloud specialists.
What are cloud security controls?
The term “cloud security controls” broadly refers to all of the various best practices, guidelines, and recommendations for securing cloud infrastructure against attacks and protecting against human error and other vulnerabilities in cloud environments. Businesses can use cloud security controls as a checklist or template of sorts to ensure that they’re considering all angles when it comes to deploying cloud security solutions.
The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), an organization “dedicated to defining and raising awareness of best practices to help ensure a secure cloud computing environment,” has defined three types of cloud security controls:
Preventive, which addresses a range of vulnerabilities that can arise in cloud systems.
Detective, which can identify when an attack occurs and alert IT to the event before it becomes a complete breach.
Corrective, which helps reduce the damage of an attack once it has been identified.
What is zero trust and why is it so important?
Zero trust is a security design principle and framework in which it is assumed that any and every user, server, application, or network could be compromised. In a zero trust environment, all users must be initially authenticated and authorized – and then continually validated – to access an organization’s data and applications.
When an organization embraces the zero trust model, it must design its security protocols around that assumption that no user is automatically trusted. It’s also a key consideration in the following security practices:
Secure Development Lifecycle
Platform hardening and automation
Identity and access management
Compliance, audits, and reporting
In designing for zero trust security, developers and IT teams use a number of strategies, such as multifactor authentication, email content checking and security, outbound traffic firewalling, user and endpoint behavior analysis (UEBA), microsegmentation based on user policies, keeping end users isolated from each other in a virtual desktop infrastructure pool, and using public key infrastructure (PKI) and client certificates to identify end-user connections.
Cloud security and Nutanix
As a leading provider of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and an expert in hybrid and multicloud, Nutanix has a range of solutions designed to give you world-class protection and security for all of your computing environments. We understand the fact that security needs to be a top priority in today’s cloud-focused world and that security considerations need to be part of an organization’s strategy from the very beginning.
Nutanix security solutions, such as our Hybrid Cloud Security Solution, start with a strong software foundation designed specifically for hybrid cloud environments. We use security features and protocols that help increase your defense against attacks and other security threats – as well as helping to prevent data loss and keep business operations running.
With Nutanix, you can enjoy defense at every level, from your platforms, to applications and networks, to your strategies for SecOps, compliance, and audits. We provide a multi-layered approach, or “defense in depth,” that helps you quickly detect and recover from attacks as well as prevent many other types of attacks.
Benefits of Nutanix cloud security solutions include:
Protect data and prevent breaches
Control and restrict access to sensitive data
Analyze and audit security configurations
Secure your hybrid clouds
Prevent the spread of ransomware
Segment and secure networks
Deploy microsegmentation and network inspection in minutes
Separate regulated environments with automated software controls
Simplify regulatory and compliance efforts
Automate platform security baseline configurations
Validate compliance with regulatory policies (HIPAA, PCI, NIST, etc.)