What Are the Security Risks of Cloud Computing?

What Are the Security Risks of Cloud Computing?

According to a report in Research and Markets, the global cloud computing market size is expected to grow from $371.4 billion in 2020 to $832.1 billion by 2025. So, what does the term “in the cloud” actually mean? Put simply, using “the cloud” means that software and services run on the internet with data stored on servers accessed outside of a company, instead of on hard drives or on installed software stored locally. In terms of security risk for cloud services, data protection is critical. Cloud computing may bring a layer of vulnerability to users due to the nature of a remotely hosted server, but they are not more susceptible to cyber criminals, attacks, and security threats than on-site services and providers. In this article we will discuss what are the security risks of cloud computing and weigh them against the many benefits of cloud service capabilities.

How Secure Is Cloud Computing?

The vast majority of cloud service providers undergo regular and consistent security and maintenance reviews. While this helps ensure a strong level of data protection, ultimately it is the responsibility of individual businesses to confirm that their provider upholds the correct data security and regulatory compliance measures to meet their specific needs. However, it is in the best interest of cloud services providers for their own success and longevity to maintain tight security controls in order to keep existing clients satisfied and to foster new ones. Currently, the largest web services provider is Amazon Web Services (AWS), and they offer security compliance and certifications for SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, PCI-DSS as well as many other regulatory needs required to satisfy numerous worldwide criteria.

What Is Data Security in Cloud Computing?

What are the security risks in cloud computing? Data security includes the practices, policies and principles to protect digital data and information. The key areas of focus are information confidentiality, data integrity, and data availability — also known as CIA. Data security protects against unauthorized access, maintains data integrity (often through digital signature, content authenticity, and secure transactions), and ensures the reliable availability of information whenever needed. Cloud-based data is stored in systems outside of the traditional office locations and offsite from a business’s physical plant or campus. This shift accelerated rapidly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, as more and more companies have shifted to cloud data services in order to facilitate transient workforces and employees moved to work-from-home wherever possible. In fact, 61% of businesses migrated their workload to the cloud in 2020. Today’s organizations need a security strategy that is primarily focused on securing data and information and secondarily on physical assets and infrastructure. Read ten tips on how to prevent cybersecurity breaches for information and recommendations on how to protect against a data breach.

What Are the Security Risks of Cloud Computing?

The security risks in cloud computing overlap in many ways with more traditional data center environments. In both cases, cyber threats focus on taking advantage of and exploiting vulnerabilities in software. However with cloud computing, instead of an organization mitigating or accepting physical security risks, they transfer them onto another service provider. As a result, the business that contracts with a cloud service provider is responsible for mitigating a new set of risks through their own due diligence regarding security protocols, regulatory compliance maintenance, and more. Understanding the risks are key to determining if cloud services are the right choice for your company’s software needs. Some of the top risks include:

1. Limited Visibility 

When businesses shift operations, workloads, and assets to the cloud, the move transfers the responsibility of managing some of the systems and policies from inside of the organization to the contracted cloud service provider (CSP). This results in a forfeiture of some visibility into network operations, resource and services usage and cost. Organizations must take care to monitor their cloud services usage with additional tools like cloud security configuration monitoring, network-based monitoring and additional logging. Setting up protocols that are important to your business up front with your CSP can help to alleviate these concerns and provide the transparency that your organization needs.    

2. Data Loss

Backups are critical as a defensive tactic against data loss, and cloud storage is considered highly resilient due to redundant servers and storage functionality across various geographic locations. However, more and more often SaaS providers are falling victim to ransomware attacks that compromise customer data — and cloud storage is still vulnerable to the same natural disasters as anything else. One example of this is when Google servers suffered a permanent loss of data at a cloud storage system in Belgium in 2015 due to a severe lightning strike that hit a facility four consecutive times. That said, this is rare and Google reported that less than .001% of their Western Europe data storage was impacted in the freak incident. 

3. Compliance Issues

Organizations need to be diligent to make sure that they remain in regulatory compliance with the requirements specific to their industry and geographical location. When using cloud-based services for your data, you must ensure that data access and storage needs around Personally Identifiable Information (PII) are being met by the service provider in line with HIPAA security and privacy rules, GDPR, or other areas specific to your business. In addition, cloud services typically allow for larger-scale data access, so companies need to confirm that the proper access controls and appropriately leveled security measures are in place. Connected compliance management software will aid organizations in staying on top of regulatory compliance demands. 

4. Cyber Criminals

Cyber criminals are on the rise, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2020 Internet Crime Report reporting that cyber crimes were up 69% year-over-year. Over half of the malware attacks delivered in 2020 sent their payloads via cloud-based applications. According to Security Intelligence, using cloud apps helps modern attackers evade older email- and web-based defensive solutions. Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are used by cyber criminals to make servers — and therefore services — unavailable to legitimate users. In addition, in some cases DoS attacks are used to distract from other, simultaneous actions or to threaten and overwhelm online firewalls.

5. Insecure Integration and APIs

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allow individuals and businesses to sync data, automate data workflows between cloud systems or generally customize their cloud service experience. When APIs fail to enforce proper access control, encrypt data, or sanitize their inputs appropriately, that can lead to cross-system vulnerabilities. Using industry standard APIs with proper authentication and authorization protocols reduces weaknesses. 

What Are the Main Benefits of Moving Data to the Cloud?

For many businesses, moving data and services to the cloud improves data security protections, brings down costs, increases scalability, eases employee work-from-home capabilities, and significantly reduces the risk of cyber attacks. The main benefits of moving data to the cloud are improved security, scalability, and savings.

1. Security 

Effective cloud computing can be more secure than traditional networking. In the shared responsibility and liability model there are redundancies in place that enhance data security. Data is in the cloud, so if something happens to a company’s physical assets or machinery, their data is still safe and accessible. In addition, most large-scale cloud service providers offer security analytics, make consistent security updates, and provide cross-enterprise visibility. Amazon Web Services, the largest provider, also maintains compliance certifications that are important to many industries, including HIPAA, ISO 27001 and AICPA/SOC. If your industry requires data security regulatory compliance in those areas, finding a cloud services provider that maintains compliance controls can bring tremendous peace of mind.

2. Scalability

Switching to the cloud means businesses are better able to scale usage up or down based on shifting business plans and resultant IT needs. Companies can easily rework their infrastructure, workloads, and workflows to evolve with cloud services as their needs shift. In turn, this allows businesses to grow without negatively impacting performance or customer experience. Cloud software often results in improved agility, increased efficiency, and higher workforce productivity. In an age of an increasingly remote workforce — where many companies are abandoning the notion of a central office — cloud programming and accessibility also reduces barriers and friction for employees when they are working remotely. Plus, companies no longer need to devote real estate to expensive devices, equipment, and their storage. 

3. Savings

The vast majority of cloud computing programs and applications use a subscription-based model. This is great for cost-cutting, as businesses change services usage and commitments up or down according to their needs and budget. This also reduces — or even eliminates — the costs of major capital expenditures. Team efficiency is improved and operational costs are reduced when the IT processes are refined. Plus, cloud storage bills are pay-what-you-use, so costly data centers need not be maintained when the usage needs dip down. Instead, costs are assigned based on usage. As mentioned in the scalability section, cloud software also improves the ability and ease for remote work and greatly reduces costs regarding physical space needs and leasing. The relevant maintenance, power, and staffing costs also go down in accordance with those same cost savings.

How Can I Preserve Data Integrity in the Cloud?

Human error, malicious cyber criminals and their attacks, and insider threats are top risks for cloud data integrity. To protect against these issues, it’s crucial to follow standard risk assessment protocols. Access controls that are versioned for unique users are important to confirming and maintaining data integrity. Companies need to create and manage audit trails and regularly monitor user activity, including failed access attempts, file modifications, and access to sensitive and privileged data.

The InfoSec Survival Guide: Achieving Continuous Compliance

How Can I Ensure Data Privacy in the Cloud?

The confidentiality of data is not only important to your business, it’s also key to meeting many of the international regulatory compliance requirements created to ensure that businesses keep sensitive customer information secure. Failing to meet those requirements can cause a possible data breach, and may also result in significant financial penalties due to lack of compliance. A common way that companies ensure data privacy is encryption, which makes it difficult for unauthorized parties to view or understand stored or shared data. Cloud encryption vendors and services are available to keep cyber criminals from gaining access to your company’s protected data. Another solution for cloud data privacy is enabling simple security features like two-factor authentication for data access.

How to Choose the Right Cloud Computing Solution

What are the security risks of cloud computing when stacked up against the benefits? The few and manageable risks are easily overcome by the many benefits of working in the cloud. The cost savings, scalability, and security — plus the seamless ease by which personnel are able to engage in remote work — make cloud computing the right choice for many of today’s leading companies. Choosing the right technology for your business will mitigate your organization’s risk, and AuditBoard’s compliance management software can transform how your enterprise manages it. With the right technology, proper research, and due diligence, there’s no need to fear putting your business ahead in the cloud.

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