By Steve Durbin, Managing Director, Information Security Forum
Cloud computing has become a prevalent force, bringing economies of scale and breakthrough technological advances to modern organizations, but it is more than just a trend. Cloud computing has evolved at an incredible speed and, in many organizations, is now entwined with the complex technological landscape that supports critical daily operations.
This ever-expanding cloud environment gives rise to new types of risk. Business and security leaders already face many challenges in protecting their existing IT environment. They must now also find ways to securely use multiple cloud services, supported applications and underlying technical infrastructure.
The Need to Use Cloud Services Securely
The surge in business processes supported by cloud services has been well evidenced by organizations using cloud services to store confidential data in the cloud environment. But when using cloud services, organizations are still unsure whether to entrust cloud service providers (CSPs) with their data. CSPs generally provide a certain level of security as substantiated by multiple surveys, but cloud-related security incidents do occur.
CSPs cannot be solely responsible for the security of their customers’ critical information assets. Cloud security relies equally on the customer’s ability to implement the right level of information security controls. Nevertheless, the cloud environment is complex and diverse, which hinders a consistent approach to deploying and maintaining core security controls. It is vital that organizations are aware of and fulfill their share of the responsibility for securing cloud services to successfully address the cyber threats that increasingly target the cloud environment.
The Rise of the Multi-Cloud Environment
As organizations acquire new cloud services, they typically choose these from a selection of multiple CSPs and therefore need to deal with a multi-cloud environment, which is characterized using two or more CSPs.
Organizations favor a multi-cloud environment because it allows them to pick and choose their preferred cloud services across different CSPs (e.g. AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Salesforce). However, each individual CSP adopts its own jargon, its own specific technologies, and approaches to security management. The cloud customer, therefore, needs to acquire a wide range of skills and knowledge to use different cloud services from multiple CSPs securely.
Organizations require a range of different users to securely access cloud services from within the organization’s network perimeter through secure network connections (e.g. via a gateway). However, organizations also need their cloud services to be accessed from outside the internal perimeter by business partners and users travelling off-site or working remotely, all connecting through a selection of secure network connections as dictated by the organization.
Overcoming Cloud Security Challenges
While CSPs provide a certain level of security for their cloud services, organizations need to be aware of their security obligations and deploy the necessary security controls. This requires organizations to understand and address the many security challenges presented by the complex and heterogeneous aspects of the cloud environment.
Our ISF members have identified several obstacles to operating securely in the cloud environment. The main challenges include:
- Identifying and maintaining the appropriate security controls
- Balancing the shared responsibility for security between the CSP and the cloud customer
- Meeting regulatory requirements to protect sensitive data in the cloud environment
The rapid explosion of cloud usage has accentuated these challenges and, in some instances, left organizations insufficiently prepared to tackle the security concerns associated with using cloud services.