Understanding Cloud Security: What It Is and Why It Matters


With the growing adoption of cloud computing in business, cloud security has become table stakes for an effective corporate infrastructure. In fact, Business Insider predicts that by 2025, 85% of enterprises will have a cloud-first data center in place. Cloud computing offers many benefits, such as increased flexibility, scalability, cost savings, and more — it's no surprise that businesses are embracing the cloud and all that it offers. 

Yet as more sensitive data and applications are stored in the cloud, new security challenges arise. It's imperative that businesses have the necessary measures in place to protect their assets from cyber threats. Before we ascend to the cloud and navigate through its security landscape, let's first cover the basics.

What Is Cloud Security?

Cloud security is a comprehensive set of measures, policies, and technologies designed to protect cloud-based assets from cyber threats and unauthorized access. The scope of cloud security is vast and includes all aspects of cloud infrastructure:

  • Physical networks. Underlying infrastructure that supports the cloud environment, such as routers, switches, and cabling.

  • Data storage. The method used to store data in the cloud, including databases, object storage, and file storage.

  • Data servers. The computers that host and process data, as well as the software used to manage them.

  • Computer virtualization frameworks. The technology that supports the creation and management of virtual machines.

  • Operating systems (OS). The software that runs on the server hardware to manage the environment, such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

  • Middleware. Software that connects different applications with an operating system or database.

  • Runtime environments. The infrastructure that supports applications and their execution.

  • Data. All the information stored on a server, including raw and processed data.

  • Applications. Typical functions and services that run on a server, such as email and web browsing.

  • End-user hardware. The computers and other devices that users use to access applications, such as PCs and mobile phones.

With this in mind, it's important to note that security considerations will differ depending on the cloud environment being used. Organizations must understand the unique security risks of each type of cloud environment to develop an effective cloud security control strategy.

  • Public clouds are operated by third-party providers and are shared by multiple organizations. They present specific security concerns, such as data privacy, data sovereignty, and compliance. To address all concerns, organizations should ensure their public cloud service provider offers comprehensive security measures, such as encryption, access control, and regular security audits.

  • Private third-party clouds are dedicated to a single organization and often offer a full-service bundle — including hardware and software. Organizations often experience low levels of governance and high costs. However, this may be an acceptable trade-off for some organizations that don't have an in-house team.

  • Private in-house clouds are hosted on-premise and offer the greatest level of control over the cloud environment, but they require significant investment in infrastructure and maintenance. Organizations must ensure that their private in-house cloud is secured with access control mechanisms and regularly occurring security updates, at a bare minimum.

Why Does Cloud Security Matter?

The importance of cloud security cannot be overstated. According to a recent report by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in the cloud is $9.44 million per incident. The study also found that it takes an average of 249 days to identify and contain a breach for those companies that have a comprehensive security infrastructure — including AI and automation. For those who don't, the number is much higher at 323 days.

In addition to the direct costs of a breach, there are also indirect costs such as loss of customer trust and reputational damage. According to a survey by Cisco, 79% of consumers would switch to a competitor if they lost trust in a company's ability to protect their data — highlighting the importance of building and maintaining customer trust through robust cloud security measures.

With cloud adoption continuously on the rise, the need for comprehensive cloud security has never been greater.

Threats to Cloud Security

Cloud environments face a range of threats that can compromise the security of data and applications. Here are some of the key challenges involving security risk in the cloud and examples of how these threats can play out in practice:

  • Malware and viruses. Cybercriminals can introduce malware into a cloud environment via email phishing campaigns, the distribution of infected files, or other means. This can wreak havoc on an organization's sensitive data, causing it to be deleted or corrupted. It can also lead to vulnerabilities that facilitate exploitation by cybercriminals or disruption of services, leading to serious consequences for organizations.

  • Insider threats. Employees can also pose a significant risk to cloud security, intentionally or unintentionally. The consequence of an insider threat can be data breaches, loss of intellectual property and damage to organizational reputation. It's crucial for organizations to implement insider security measures. Best practices include access control and employee training to mitigate this type of risk.

  • Data breaches. Cybercriminals may attempt to gain access to sensitive data through a variety of means, even including human error. Moreover, breaches can occur due to weak passwords, unsecured access points, or improperly configured cloud environments. The consequence of these incidents can be significant financial loss, damage to reputation, and loss of customer trust. Ultimately, it's essential for organizations to regularly monitor their cloud environments and keep their security systems up to date.

  • Lack of physical control. Cloud environments involve storing data and applications on remote servers in different locations, which can make it challenging to ensure physical control of sensitive information. This can be caused by the exploitation of unsecured access points, leading to data theft and other security breaches.

  • Misconfigurations. Improperly configured systems and cloud apps may leave vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals. According to IBM, this accounted for 15 percent of cloud breaches in 2022. These breaches can occur through the use of default settings that are not secure or by granting access to unauthorized individuals.  

Cloud Security Measures

Protecting cloud environments requires the implementation of effective measures to secure sensitive data and cloud applications from cyber threats. There are several key security measures used to protect cloud environments:

  • Access control. This security measure involves the management of user access to cloud environments, ensuring only authorized users can access sensitive data and applications. Access control solutions may include discretionary access control (DAC), role-based access control (RBAC), and attribute-based access control (ABAC). For instance, a manufacturing company that uses a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system might limit access to the system based on job roles. An employee in the sales department might only have access to the sales module of the ERP system, while a finance department employee may only have access to the finance module. By limiting access to specific parts of the ERP, the manufacturing company can protect sensitive data such as financial records, inventory levels, and production schedules from unauthorized access or manipulation.

  • Encryption. Encryption is a security measure that involves the use of algorithms to scramble data and protect it from unauthorized access. Cloud providers use encryption to secure data in transit and at rest. For example, a financial services company might use encryption to protect customers' banking and personal information from being intercepted by cybercriminals during online transactions. IBM reports that extensive use of encryption can lower the cost of a data breach by an average of $252,088 per incident. Combined with other security measures, it can reduce costs significantly.

  • Network security: Network security involves protecting network traffic between cloud resources. A network security solution might include firewalls, intrusion detection, and prevention and secure access controls. Moreover, organizations that deploy zero trust technologies into their cloud computing security environment are likely to see their average breach costs drop by approximately $1 million compared to organizations without such protections.

How Does Cloud Security Work? 

The goal of cloud security is to protect cloud-based assets from cyber threats and unauthorized access while ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and applications stored in the cloud. This requires implementing a comprehensive set of measures, policies, and technologies that address all aspects of cloud infrastructure. Effective cloud security also involves careful attention of the following:

1. Governance. Refers to the processes, policies and procedures that ensure the cloud environment is secure, compliant, and efficient:

    • Defining roles and responsibilities for cloud security.

    • Establishing policies and procedures for managing access to the cloud environment.

    • Implementing appropriate security controls to protect against cyber threats.

    • Monitoring the cloud environment to identify and respond to potential security incidents.

    • Conducting regular security assessments to ensure effective use of resources and sustained performance.

    2. Data retention and business continuity planning. Involves developing strategies and processes to ensure that data is backed up and that systems and applications can be recovered quickly in the event of an outage or disaster:

    • Developing backup and recovery strategies for critical data and applications.

    • Testing backup and recovery procedures to ensure they are effective.

    • Developing disaster recovery plans that specify procedures for responding to outages or disasters.

    • Implementing failover strategies to ensure that critical applications and services are available in the event of an outage.

    3. Legal compliance. Ensures that the cloud environment is compliant with regulations and laws related to data privacy, security and protection:

    • Complying with regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), ISO/IEC 27001, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Natural Environment Research (Nerc) and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX).

    • Implementing appropriate security controls to protect against data breaches and other security incidents.

    • Using data masking or data pseudonymization to protect sensitive information.

    4. Identity and access management (IAM). IAM is a set of processes and technologies that ensure only authorized users and devices are able to access the cloud environment:

    • Managing user identities and permissions in a centralized directory.

    • Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to increase security.

    • Enforcing access controls to ensure that only authorized users have access to sensitive data and applications.

    • Monitoring user activity to identify potential security incidents.

What Makes Cloud Security Different From Traditional Security Methods?

Cloud security is different from traditional information technology security methods in several key ways. One of the most significant differences is data-centric security, which places a greater emphasis on securing the data and applications themselves, regardless of their location. In traditional security methods, the focus is on securing the network perimeter and devices within the network. This requires a more granular approach to cloud security that takes into account the various locations where data is stored, as well as the different users and cloud applications accessing that data.

Additionally, with cloud security, organizations can take advantage of the cloud's scalable infrastructure and pay-as-you-go pricing model to quickly and easily scale their security resources up or down based on their changing needs. This can help ensure that organizations have the resources they need to protect their data and applications without having to invest in expensive hardware or software upfront.

Best Practices for Cloud Security

Securing cloud environments entails a proactive, multi-layered approach to ensure that data and applications are protected from cyber threats and unauthorized access. Here are some best practices for securing cloud environments and making the most out of a cloud security solution:

1. Implement strong access controls. Ensure that users only have access to data and applications that they need to perform their job functions. This involves implementing strong password policies, multi-factor authentication, and role-based access controls.

2. Regularly update and patch systems. Ongoing updates and patches are critical to maintaining the security of cloud environments. This ensures that any known vulnerabilities are addressed, reducing the risk of a threat or security breach.

3. Encrypt data at rest and in transit. Encryption is a critical component of cloud security. It mitigates the threat of data being intercepted or compromised during transmission and ensures that data is protected if it falls into the wrong hands.

4. Conduct regular security audits. Regular security audits are critical to identifying vulnerabilities and ensuring that security controls are functioning as intended. Audits should be conducted on a regular basis to identify and address any gaps in the cloud security architecture.

5. Implement employee training. Employees play a critical role in maintaining the security of cloud environments. Ensure that employees receive regular training on cloud security best practices and the risks associated with common threats such as phishing and social engineering attacks.

Protect Your Company With Trace 3

At Trace3, we understand that keeping up with technological advances can be daunting. We are here to help. Our team of experts can provide guidance to fine-tune your core infrastructure and cloud security architecture solutions. We've got you covered whether you need design, implementation, or ongoing management.

A good place to start is normally a cloud security assessment which will help you proactively address any security risk as well as deploy IT resources to effectively protect your cloud environments and data. With our support, you can have peace of mind knowing that your business is safe from potential attacks.

We're passionate about empowering organizations to embrace new technologies while ensuring their security. Let us help you stay ahead of the curve and achieve your business objectives. Connect with us today.

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