The Best Practices to Enact for a Secure Cloud Environment

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As more of our sensitive and crucial information is stored in the cloud, ensuring a secure cloud environment is essential. While standard on-premises cybersecurity practices are useful for maintaining network security, organizations should prioritize defensive tactics that address cybersecurity risks in an increasingly complex cloud environment.

This guide covers in-depth information about understanding cloud security, the most common threats, and how to implement the best practices to fortify the security of your cloud environment.

What Is Cloud Security?

Cloud security incorporates a range of measures and strategies aimed at safeguarding cloud computing systems from cyber threats. It facilitates the adaptation of a highly effective cloud strategy that aligns with your organization’s specific security requirements. Cloud security is often implemented by public cloud services and providers to help maintain visibility and compliance of cloud environments.

Common cloud security measures include:

  • Access controls to protect user data and applications
  • Encryption protocols to secure sensitive data
  • Advanced threat intelligence and response mechanisms to mitigate potential risks.

These controls can be implemented in various forms, such as in a private, public, or hybrid cloud model, depending upon the business-specific requirements.

6 Common Security Risks in the Cloud Environment

Cloud security solutions can prevent such frequent security threats like the following events:

1. Data Breaches Due to Misconfigurations or Vulnerable Systems

Data breaches are a top concern in cloud security, often occurring due to system misconfigurations left unaddressed or inherently vulnerable systems. A simple oversight such as improper file permissions or leaving a database unprotected can lead to unauthorized access and potential data exfiltration.

2. Insider Threats

Insider threats stem from individuals within an organization who misuse their access to harm the company. According to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, insiders are behind 22% of security incidents. These can be unintentional, such as careless handling of sensitive data, or malicious, with intent to steal or sabotage. Insider attacks are particularly challenging to detect because they typically involve legitimate access credentials.

3. Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the use of unauthorized software or services within an organization’s infrastructure. Employees may unknowingly introduce risks by using unsanctioned applications that have not been vetted by the IT department, potentially leading to data leaks or compliance issues. Uncontrolled shadow IT can also undermine an organization’s security protocols and increase its attack surface.

4. Social Engineering Techniques

Some people fear that as an outsourced IT service relationship matures, their provider may become complacent, causing the quality of service to drop. This concern is likely due to past experiences or the assumption that once a client is secured, less effort is made to retain them.

However, reputable managed IT providers operate in the spirit of partnership, where investment in the client’s success is ongoing. They strive to stay attuned to the client’s growing and changing needs over time, ensuring that the service quality not only remains high but also improves as the partnership evolves. Overall, they recognize that sustained excellence is key to a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

5. Account Compromise

Cyberattackers frequently target user accounts to breach cloud services. Account compromise can occur through credential theft, brute-force attacks, or phishing schemes, leading to unauthorized access to sensitive cloud-based resources. A compromised account can be exploited for data theft, service disruption, or further attacks within a network.

6. Lack of Visibility into Security Posture

Inadequate visibility into a cloud environment’s security posture is a significant barrier to effective cloud security management. Without a clear view of cloud infrastructure, detecting misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and active threats becomes exceedingly difficult. This lack of transparency can lead to undetected breaches, unmonitored user activities, and inadequate compliance with security policies.

Hear what the experts at NIC Inc. have to say about the importance of cybersecurity training for employees.

Implementing Best Practices for a Secure Cloud Environment

To combat these issues and create a secure cloud environment, organizations should try the following strategies:

1. Employee Training

A combination of training, strict access controls, and behavior analytics is essential in mitigating issues like insider threats. This is because cyberattacks are often launched on individual users, and the lack of awareness can result in data breaches.

Customized education programs focusing on cloud security can be developed for various employees. These programs can cover topics such as recognizing phishing attempts, using strong authentication methods, understanding data masking techniques, and other cloud security solutions. Additionally, knowledge of how to securely access cloud networks and data stored in a cloud-based infrastructure can significantly minimize security risks.

Continuous improvement in cloud security is achievable only when each individual user understands their role in maintaining security.

2. Frequent Audits

Cloud security audits are another crucial aspect of a secure cloud environment. Audits assess an organization’s security practices to ensure that customer data is protected in the cloud. Regular audits can help identify vulnerabilities, monitor user access, and enhance data security measures.

A challenging aspect of cloud-based environments is that multiple data storage locations (public cloud, private cloud, data center) can result in an expanded attack surface. Hence, data should be inventoried, and a data retention policy should be in place, controlling how long data is maintained. Cloud security audits should assess these aspects to prevent data loss and protect against malicious actors.

3. System Configuration and Constant Monitoring

An essential element of a secure cloud environment is a well-configured system. Configurations should be aligned with the cloud computing security policies of your organization and your cloud provider’s standards. This involves the proper setup of primary components such as system boundaries, user access management, data masking and isolation, and security controls.

Regular system configurations like setting up strong authentication for user access and ensuring a well-managed attack surface can diminish the risk of data breaches. Tailoring cloud security solutions based on your organization’s needs can bolster your cloud security posture management.

Additionally, the implementation of real-time monitoring is vital in a cloud environment. A well-maintained cloud enables early detection of potential threat actors, reducing their chances of successfully exploiting vulnerabilities. Cloud providers offer cloud security services that include constant monitoring, which can help keep track of any suspicious activities within your cloud environment.

4. Using Data Protection Tools

Additionally, technical controls such as email filtering and anti-phishing tools can provide an extra layer of security.

Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), educating users about secure password practices, and monitoring accounts for unusual activities are effective strategies to safeguard against account compromises. Tools like cloud security posture management (CSPM) enhance visibility, allowing organizations to continuously evaluate and improve their cloud security stance to preemptively address potential risks.

5. Robust Incident Response

In spite of best efforts, even the most secure cloud environments can fall victim to security breaches. This is where a robust incident response plan comes into play. It’s an integral part of a thorough cloud computing security strategy, ensuring readiness in case of inevitable breaches.

A proper incident response plan should include stages like breach identification, impact mitigation, recovery from the incident, and post-mortem analysis to prevent similar incidents in the future. Your cloud service provider should also be part of your incident response plan, as they are involved in rectifying the consequences of a breach and reducing downtime.

Protect Your Sensitive Data With NIC Inc.

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