A comprehensive guide on how to secure data in the cloud

Published on 11/23/2022 by Smriti Arya

According to a survey by CIRA, data breaches at Canadian firms have almost doubled since the pandemic. With the massive volume of professional and personal data saved in the cloud, organizations should ideally be cautious about data security. In this article, we will share some cloud security practices that small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) in Canada can potentially implement to secure data in the cloud. 

How to secure data in the cloud

The government of Canada has announced a bill titled C-26 that seeks to enable the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act (CCSPA). The bill announced by the government can potentially be helpful, but what are the concerns that prompted the government to take this action?

Data breaches can be considered commonplace in today’s times. Such incidents may have implications not only for the businesses impacted but also for their customers, employees, and corporate partners. Though breaches may differ in terms of their impact, many of them could have a common element: the human factor. 

SMEs can face the same security threats as larger businesses. However, the impact on SMEs can be more devastating as they might not have enough resources. Leveraging cloud security software to protect applications and data in the cloud could help organizations safeguard their business against cyberattacks. Keeping this in mind, we will share some cloud security practices that SMEs in Canada can implement to build resilience. 

But let’s first discuss some common types of cloud-related threats.

“More than 85% of firms will have a cloud-first principle by 2025”, say Gartner analysts. With growing cloud technology adoption, you should ensure that your cloud security strategy is strong enough to protect your business against threats. 

Here are some common types of threats to cloud security:

Misconfiguration

Misconfiguration of cloud security settings could be one of the typical causes of cloud data breaches. Since cloud infrastructure is usually designed to be easily usable and to allow for convenient data sharing, it can be difficult for organizations to ensure that only authorized entities can access data. 

In addition, companies using cloud infrastructure may not have complete control and visibility over their infrastructure. Therefore, they might have to depend on security controls offered by their cloud service provider (CSP) to secure and configure cloud deployments. 

Because many organizations could be unaware of how to secure cloud infrastructure and may have apps deployed on more than one cloud platform with different types of security controls provided by vendors, misconfiguration can potentially happen and leave the organization’s cloud infrastructure exposed to risks. 

Insecure APIs/interfaces

Cloud service providers usually offer organizations a number of application programming interfaces (APIs) for different functionalities. An API typically enables two or more applications to interact over the internet. Shifting to REST APIs —which are usually designed for access through mobile applications and web browsers— typically leave APIs unprotected. 

In this context, insecure REST APIs may directly provide access to transaction updates and other data on the backend. Therefore, businesses should ideally pay attention to security measures during the API design phase to prevent possible cyberattacks.

What is an application programming interface?

An application programming interface is a programming code that acts as a software intermediary and explains/controls how two or more software applications interact with one another.

Lack of visibility

An organization’s cloud-based resources are often located outside the corporate network and run on infrastructure they may not own. Also, many tools for tracking network visibility might not be effective for cloud environments. As a result, this can restrict an organization’s ability to keep a tab on its cloud-based infrastructure and prevent attacks.

Malicious insiders

A malicious insider can be defined as someone who knows about your organization’s confidential information and uses it inappropriately with an aim to affect the organization's integrity and reputation. Detecting malicious insiders could seem complicated on the cloud as organizations may not have control over their underlying infrastructure, resulting in potentially less effective security solutions. 

Denial of service attacks

A denial of service attack can be defined as an attack where an attacker tries to halt or collapse a machine or network in order to make it unusable for users. Since cloud environments require internet connectivity to be accessed, they could potentially be more vulnerable to denial of service attacks. In essence, attackers may intrude on an organization’s cloud network with a huge amount of web traffic to make resources unavailable to staff and customers.

Why is cloud security important?

According to the Data Breach Investigations Report by Verizon, there was a “13% increase in ransomware breaches —more than in the last five years combined”. Also, nearly one in five businesses (18%) was impacted by cybersecurity attacks in 2021. The same study reveals that firms affected by such attacks spent over $600 million to recover their data. Such alarming facts highlight the significance of cloud security and the need to establish a strategy for protecting data. 

Reasons why cloud security is important

What are some best cloud security practices for SMEs?

In this section, we will list some best practices small businesses can follow for enhanced cloud security.

Pick the right cloud service provider

You may need to select a cloud service provider that meets your needs to implement a cloud-first environment. A cloud-first approach directs organizations to leverage cloud technologies as the primary enabler for digitization. 

Choosing a trusted cloud provider should potentially begin with reviewing their security protocols and compliances. Once you understand their security protocols, you may have to evaluate your organization’s security goals and compare the vendor’s security mechanisms with your security requirements. Ask whether they provide the security measures you need for your organization. 

There could be several factors that may help you select the right cloud service provider.

Cloud security checklist organizations may look at when selecting a cloud provider

Ask your cloud provider detailed security-related questions

When selecting a cloud provider for your organization, you should ask them detailed questions about security processes and any measures they have in place.

We are listing some questions you could ask a cloud provider about their security measures:

  • What is the provider’s mechanism for suspected security incidents?
  • What protocols does the provider have in place to protect different access components?
  • What are the authentication methods offered by the provider?
  • Does the provider provide technical support 24/7?
  • What kind of disaster recovery plan is offered by the provider?
  • Does the provider ensure compliance requirements for your specific industry and location?

Implement identity and access management

Identity and access management (IAM) can help organizations protect critical enterprise systems, information, and assets from unauthorized access. According to Gartner, “IAM is the discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons.”

For example, when users log in with their credentials, their identity is typically checked against a database to authenticate if the typed credentials match the ones saved in the database. 

Upskill your employees with a security awareness training

To prevent attackers from gaining access to cloud environment credentials, you can train your employees to detect cybersecurity risks and respond to them. Security training should ideally include fundamental security knowledge on risk management and how to create a strong password. 

Security awareness training can also help employees implement systems and tools without needing the constant support of the IT department.

Check your compliance requirements

Organizations that deal with personally identifiable information (PII) —for example in retail, healthcare, or financial sectors— usually have to face strict regulations when it comes to data security and customer privacy.

Businesses in certain geographical regions might have to meet special compliance requirements from state or local governments. For example —in Canada— private-sector organizations that manage personal information across national or provincial borders and federally-regulated organizations must comply with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

Taking this into account, you should probably review those specific compliance requirements and ensure that your service provider complies with such regulations. 

Keep security policies up-to-date

Organizations should ideally have well-documented security policies that are constantly updated and mention specifically which personnel can use cloud services, what kind of data can be stored in the cloud, and how they can use them. 

It could also be crucial for organizations to lay out particular security mechanisms that employees should always use to protect apps and data stored in the cloud. Security staff should potentially leverage automated solutions to make sure that each worker is following the relevant security policies. 

Secure your endpoints

Using cloud services does not mean you may not require endpoint security. Users often access cloud services via their personal devices or workstations —also called endpoints. Therefore, organizations should potentially have an endpoint security solution in place to protect end-user devices.

By introducing client-side security and asking users to update their browsers regularly, firms can protect their data from vulnerabilities. It may be better to have a tool that comes with internet security measures including access verification tools, mobile device security, antivirus solutions, and firewalls.

What is endpoint security?

Endpoint security includes practices designed to keep the entry or end points of end-user devices protected from malicious insider threats and cyberattacks. 

What is client-side security?

Client-side security refers to the practice of protecting an end user from malicious attacks that may happen on the front end of web pages or apps accessed from the end-user’s own device. 

What is a firewall?

A firewall can be defined as a network security device that restricts incoming and outgoing traffic and prevents the network from offering illegal access.


Summary

Organizations should potentially have a comprehensive strategy in place when they decide to move to a cloud-based infrastructure. This may begin with choosing the right cloud service provider and then adopting an approach that combines the right processes, tools, and effective security practices. 

By following cloud security best practices and leveraging the appropriate security mechanisms, businesses can possibly reduce data breach risks and benefit from cloud computing functionalities.

What’s next? Check our cloud security software catalogue to find the tool that suits you best.


This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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About the author

Smriti is a Content Analyst for GetApp Canada, helping SMBs deliver key insights into software, business and tech trend.

Smriti is a Content Analyst for GetApp Canada, helping SMBs deliver key insights into software, business and tech trend.