Cloud Security Policy Fundamentals
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Cloud Security Policy Fundamentals

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By: Nihad Hassan
March 31, 2021

The ongoing spread of coronavirus has forced many companies to change their operating philosophies. The most notable change was in the massive shift from employees working on-site to a remote workforce model. With the increased number of people (both employees and clients) accessing IT systems remotely, the large-scale adoption of cloud technologies has become necessary for businesses.

Cloud technology brings numerous opportunities to businesses. However, it also introduces risks. For instance, the ease of access and the distribution of cloud data across different geographical locations present privacy challenges in protecting individuals' information while remaining compliant with the various data protection laws. Laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), continue to emerge and evolve globally.

The adoption of cloud technology is increasing steadily every year. According to Gartner, by 2024, more than 45% of IT spending on system infrastructure, infrastructure software, application software, and business process outsourcing will move from traditional solutions to the cloud.

Organizations can adopt cloud computing using any of the following three models of operations: public, private, and hybrid (see Figure 1). Public clouds are available to any organization (such as Google and Amazon's cloud services); private clouds provide services that are used only by one company (in-house system). Finally, the hybrid cloud is a mix of both public and private. Each of these deployment models must be addressed when creating cloud security policies. alt_text Figure 1 - Hybrid cloud contains both public and private clouds in one computing architecture

Organizations adopting cloud technology to support business operations must ensure strict security practices to secure cloud assets. Establishing cloud security policies is the key to achieving this.

This article will elaborate on the importance of cloud security policies in securing cloud assets (cloud-based systems, data, and infrastructure). Read on to discover what is meant by cloud security policies, why it is essential, and the steps needed to create an effective one.

What is cloud security policy?

A cloud security policy is a set of formal rules and guidelines that any organization must implement to ensure the highest security standards when working in the cloud. A security policy should address the following questions:

  1. What type of data is or is not allowed to move to the cloud? For example, customers' Personally Identifiable Information (PII) may not be allowed to move to the cloud.
  2. Who has the authority to shift data to the cloud?
  3. How is data accessed in the cloud? Define access rights and roles.
  4. Will the organization be subject to regulatory compliance when working in the cloud, considering its current jurisdiction?
  5. How will an organization respond to possible hacking attempts and data breaches concerning cloud data?
  6. How will risks to cloud data be prioritized?

A cloud security policy is an essential component of an organization's security program. The policies ensure the integrity of cloud data assets, prevent unauthorized access to them, and ensure the organization adheres to various regulatory compliance.

Why we need a cloud security policy?

Despite the benefits of cloud technology, however, it comes with many risks.

  1. Loss of Visibility:text in italic Cloud data are commonly accessed using various devices and from different geographic locations. This makes tracking who accessed, downloaded or uploaded data very difficult.
  2. Compliance Violations:text in italic When storing data in the cloud, an organization may be subject to various regulations. For instance, according to the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), storing or processing an EU citizen's PII subjects a company to GDPR, even when it does not have a physical presence in EU countries. Other compliance requirements include specifying tracking access to cloud data (how it is stored, accessed, and processed) in addition to the implemented protection procedures of cloud data.
  3. Weak Security in Third-party Providers:text in italic Sometimes, a company operating in the cloud uses services from more than one provider. If these providers' security controls are not strong enough, this may affect the data they are processing.

How to create a cloud security policy?

The following seven steps help you to create an effective cloud security policy. Before you begin, it is essential to understand your cloud operations and the surrounding operating environment very well.

  1. Check relevant regulatory rules:text in italic Organizations should check the compliance rule rules and regulations they are subject to, ensuring they are met before moving to the cloud.
  2. Check the security controls of the cloud provider:text in italic Each cloud provider has its security controls and defenses. Carefully check their defense strategies and how they work to protect customer data. Choose the one that best aligns with your business strategy.
  3. Define cloud data access rights:text in italic Specify rules and access rights for employees to access and process data. Each employee should access only the piece of data he/she needs to accomplish their work.
  4. Determine how you will protect your data in the cloud:text in italic The best protection technique is to encrypt all data in the cloud using a strong encryption algorithm.
  5. Secure endpoints devices:text in italic Employee computing devices such as laptops, workstations, and tablets used to access cloud data must be well protected against malware. An infected endpoint device used to access cloud data can result in catastrophic consequences to cloud data (e.g., introducing ransomware to cloud data).
  6. Define how to respond to security incidents:text in italic As a part of cloud security policy, an organization should define how it will react to hacking attacks and data breaches.
  7. Conduct security audits periodically:text in italic Remain up to date with the latest threats against your cloud data by monitoring internal systems. Consider monitoring cloud provider security procedures to ensure their systems are not missing important updates that can lead to security problems.

Summary

The costs of handling a data breach can outweigh an organization's ability. A report published by IBM and Ponemon Institute found the costs of a data breach in 2020 have reached $3.86 million. A cloud security policy gives the appropriate security precautions to handle cloud assets' security and allows organizations to leverage the cloud benefits while minimizing cyberattacks' risk.

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