What You Should Know about Keeping your Business Data Safe in the Cloud

Posted January 29, 2020 by Okey Obudulu in Running a Business 101
Cloud platforms can help protect your data, but it’s important to understand all aspects of the cloud to utilize it in the best way.

Cloud services give companies of any size the ability to store data and host servers on the cloud platform. With the cloud, businesses are no longer saddled with the large upfront cost of standing up on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure, and business owners can experience the overall ease the cloud brings. Pay-as-you-go models offered by cloud solution providers allow even the smallest business to stand up infrastructure that can easily and quickly be scaled to meet demand as the company grows.

Although the cloud could often be a better option from a cost and availability perspective than hosting your own servers or colocation arrangements in a data center, there are risks that come with being on the cloud. The more you know about the cloud platform you’re using, the safer your business and data can be.

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Benefits of the Cloud

There are many benefits when moving to the cloud, but the most impactful are scalability and affordability. You can choose to use the cheapest server options to keep your monthly costs down. And with just a few clicks, you can easily add additional higher performance servers and services to scale to the higher demands of your growing business.

The cloud is also accessible and easy to use. Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms are solving all types of business problems that essentially require little or no technical experience to have the service up and running. Although the two other Cloud Models — Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) - require a bit more technical experience than SaaS to deploy, they could be less involved than deploying similar on-prem infrastructure.

Putting your servers and data in multiple availability zones and regions is a good strategy for increased availability assurance.

Cloud platform tools can also make collaboration simpler and allow teams to work remotely across geographic regions.

Risks Associated with the Cloud

Although the cloud has immense benefits, it’s important to understand the risks that come with being on the cloud in order to keep your business safe.

Data Security and Privacy Practices

Reading the fine print and understanding your cloud provider’s cloud service level agreement (SLA) is crucial.

When using a cloud provider, there can be concerns that you are ceding direct control of your data and systems to a third party. It’s a legitimate concern, so customers should conduct due diligence assessments and third party security reviews as a precaution. The more you know about the cloud the better prepared you’ll be.

Find out the privacy practices and track records of the cloud service provider you’re using. Consider seeing if they have compliance attestations like SOC 2 and ISO 27001, which would demonstrate the measures the cloud service provider is taking to secure their environment and protect themselves and customers.

Location of the Data

Your business may be required to only store data within certain locations or jurisdictions within the United States or elsewhere depending on:

  • The industry your business is in
  • Regulations you come under
  • Whether you contract for the government or other regulated businesses

Being aware of where your cloud provider stores your data is a good precaution to ensure you’re complying with any requirements that apply to you.

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

A common misconception is that a company’s data and infrastructure is safe once it’s moved to the cloud. Because of this misconception, it’s important to be aware of customer responsibilities when it comes to the security of your data and infrastructure. The shared responsibility model is something to familiarize yourself with, because it spells out the cloud provider’s responsibility versus the customer’s responsibility. From the perspective of regulators, you are responsible and accountable for the data, regardless of whether you store it yourself on-prem or store the data with a cloud provider.

Steps You Can Take

Now that you’re aware of some of the benefits and risks associated with being in the cloud, let’s get into some actionable steps you can take to secure your business in the cloud.

Manage Access

It’s also necessary to promptly remove access whenever employees or contractors leave your organization or change roles.

It’s essential to make sure you know who has access to your cloud console and all instances and services you have deployed. Limit who has access based on the Principle of Least Privilege, and only give people access to the privileges that are essential to do their jobs.

Use of Identity and Access Management (IAM) is highly recommended as it helps securely control access to the technology resources deployed in the cloud. In other words, control who is authenticated (signed in) and authorized (has permissions) to systems and services. IAM is available on all of the major cloud provider platforms.

In addition to maintaining strong passwords, the use of Two-factor Authentication (2FA) whenever possible is a good way to further assure that the correct authorized individuals have access to your systems and data.

Apply Network Security Controls

Having your systems and data in the cloud unprotected is akin to leaving valuable assets unsecured and out in the open in a heavily-trafficked public place. Use of Virtual Private Network (VPN), access controls, firewalls, security groups, web app firewalls (WAF), network segmentation, and patched and hardened systems are some recommended ways to secure the entry points to your systems and data and protect your cloud infrastructure environment.

The use of virtual private cloud, like Amazon VPC, allows you to have an isolated environment within the cloud to launch your instances. Think of it as a way to wall off your infrastructure from the rest of the internet. VPC allows you to set up subnets and define what traffic can be exchanged between them. VPC can also allow some servers that need to talk to the outside world to be accessible from the internet while restricting others.

Keep Backups

It’s crucial to backup your data — and that cannot be stressed enough. Having backups allows easier recovery in the event of data loss. It’s also important to know how long it will take to recover data, as well as what data can be recovered. Another important step is to have offline copies of your backup. One strategy some companies pursue is to backup their data to a separate cloud provider, or in some cases, multiple additional providers.

It's important to note that backups help defend against ransomware, an attack technique popular with attackers that has been on the rise the last few years. Proper backups allow a victim of ransomware attack to recover from hackers maliciously encrypting their data.

Conduct a Security Assessment

It is important to be aware of what technologies and data you have in the cloud. Having a way to scan for vulnerabilities so you can patch them is important as well.

Be sure to conduct a security assessment of the cloud service provider and any other third party service providers you intend to use before engaging them. This is necessary to get a sense of how seriously they take security and follow recommended security best practices like implementation of appropriate security safeguards.

We’ve covered a lot of the basics here, and there’s more to learn about data security in the cloud. Consider reaching out to a cybersecurity expert for more information on how to get your business up and running securely.

Read on here to learn ways you can protect your business.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.