Cloud Storage Security – How Secure is Your Data In The Cloud?

 

The importance of Cloud Storage Solutions in today’s context can be easily understood from two statistics. 90% of organizations surveyed as part of a Cloud transformation survey say that they use some kind of Cloud service. Growing at an impressive five-year CAGR rate of 19%, Cloud Computing service is set to touch $53.3 billion in 2021. These two statistics indicate the growth and the impact of Cloud and related technologies have had on the IT and storage industry.

Perhaps, this is why Cloud solutions are in great demand across the world; those who have already moved their data to the Cloud, look for more features and cost-effectiveness. Those who haven’t yet made the switch, study the use cases to understand what is viable and how best to make the move. Perhaps, one day, it all will exist there on the Cloud. That does put an enormous onus on the security aspect of Cloud. It will necessarily come under intense scrutiny and will have to withstand those, to ensure safety, security, continuity, reliability, and more.

Cloud Storage Security is, therefore, one of the hottest discussion topics, and many technology companies have ensured that their Cloud solutions take care of all these aspects. And yet, breaches do happen, and that is why it is important to understand, how secure our data is in the Cloud. It is also good to know, what kind of technologies enable security and how good they are. In the long run, whether the privacy of personal data or organizational data of a sensitive nature, decisions on Cloud usage will depend on these.

Why Cloud?

Organizations, whether small or big, turn to Cloud for multiple reasons, namely safety, security, easy universal (remote) 24*7 access, cost-cutting, convenience, saving space, and more. Basically, these are a set of servers connected to the Internet, and people can access the data at any time, using the authentication provided to them.

Going by the typical one size may not suit all philosophy, Cloud storage solutions have also evolved across the years to suit organizations of various sizes and their nature of business. Some of the solutions offered are highly flexible and unique in nature also.

Typically three kinds of Cloud solutions, namely, Public Cloud, Private Cloud, and Hybrid Cloud are the solutions offered. In a Public Cloud, you may not get much of a choice in customizing the usage, and many users share the same Cloud. One of the biggest USPs for Public Cloud is that is affordable.

In a Private Cloud, you have complete control of your data storage, including the hosting as well as the infrastructure and security measures to a great extent. These are obviously expensive solutions, which may not suit all organizations.

The Hybrid Cloud is a mix of both that allows affordability as well as customization; kind of a mix of the best of both worlds. This suits many organizations that prefer to keep certain sensitive data private, and the rest as public to save costs.

Cloud Storage Security

It is given that Cloud Storage Solutions come with various security features; else, they cannot function, and they have no credibility or existence. To attain high levels of security, Cloud storage vendors apply many methodologies like:

  • Physical security
  • Firewalls
  • Intrusion detection systems
  • Monitoring, metrics, and logs
  • Encryption
  • Data governance

Physical Security

Ultimately, all the Cloud data are actually residing on a physical server somewhere. Hence, the security of these physical Servers is as important as the protection of the data residing in them. Cloud vendors ensure 24*7 security of these locations using all possible measures including armed security guards, and fingerprint locks for access.  Even natural disasters like an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, or an accidental fire can cause havoc with the physical data centers. Hence, data center locations should be chosen ideally by the vendor and should follow the required government regulations.

Even simple aspects like cooling and power back-up are important aspects of physical security. Every employee working in such premises should be trained thoroughly and also monitored for their activities. Background security checks for these people are a must to ensure that they do not cause any threats for the physical Servers. Infallible surveillance systems are also a necessity in the location of the physical Servers.

Firewalls

These are a safety mechanism that has been in existence since the time the Network and Internet took off. Firewalls ensure access only to authorized users, and there are external as well as internal firewalls. Some advanced firewalls check the source, destination, the data packets, and more.

Cloud firewalls are specially designed software that can detect, and mitigate unwanted access into the Cloud. The different types of Cloud firewalls that are currently in use are:

  • Software-as-a-service firewall (SaaS firewall): These are also referred to as Security-as-a-service (SECaaS) and Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS). They are specifically designed to protect an organization’s network and users.
  • Next-Gen Firewalls: In this option, the terms Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model come into play. They are designed to protect an organization’s own server and are deployed into a virtual data center, to secure all incoming or outgoing traffic of a Cloud.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)

Typically, intrusion detection mechanisms are one of the key countermeasures that aid cybersecurity attacks. It is the process of monitoring all activities that happen in a system and further investigating them for any signs of possible security breaches or any such threats, or any activity that does not comply with the standard or established security practices.

They usually fall into two categories namely, host-based (HIDS), and network-based (NIDS) or application-based. The IDS is further classified into signature-based detection wherein the patterns are known, and anomaly-based attacks, wherein the patterns are not known. The Host-based ones monitor a single host and the network-based ones monitor the network traffic.

Based on previous attacks, a signature database is maintained and this helps the signature-based detection mechanisms accurately to monitor and map the intrusion to certain identified patterns. Information is gathered from multiple levels of a Cloud architecture for identifying patterns, and any new patterns are also meticulously updated in the signature database.

In anomaly detection mechanisms, they do not rely on anything specific as such, and simply identify any deviations from normal behavior at any level of the architecture. Multiple detection techniques such as statistical, machine learning and knowledge-based are used for this. In the statistical-based technique, certain random observations are relied upon to represent the system behavior. The knowledge-based mechanism uses pre-defined system knowledge, to capture any form of intrusion. The machine learning technique uses certain base models, created for the purpose of classifying data as normal or anomalous.

Monitoring, Metrics, and Logs

Cloud monitoring refers to the various actions, and methodologies that are used to monitor the complete Cloud systems, to arrive at benchmarks that dictate the levels of access and desired outcomes. Metrics, logs, audits, reports, and alerts are a big part of this monitoring activity, and the various aspects of Cloud being monitored are websites, applications, virtual machines, databases, networks, user access, and storage. Even application performances and user experiences can be monitored, to better understand the overall system behavior. The other aspects that should be monitored are cost, security, and data backup/recovery.

Encryption

This happens to be one of the most important and effective aspects of Cloud security. Most Cloud Storage Solution providers offer encryption to their users to ensure the safety of the data being moved to the Cloud. This is more so in the case of sensitive data, and not just data, even the connections may be encrypted. The users are provided with the corresponding decryption keys so that they can seamlessly access and use the data.

The encryption and decryption are implemented in many ways to ensure the security of the data and only people with the right credentials can access the data. Besides, there are many regulatory compliances related to this like the HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, etc. which need to be adhered to, depending on the industry. Most Cloud Storage Solution providers do mention their compliances and encryption mechanisms in place so that you can make informed decisions.

Data Governance

Data loss can happen as data destruction, data corruption, or unauthorized access. Security breaches, malfunction of applications or the infrastructure, software or human errors, are the main reasons for data loss. Data protection measures to minimize data loss can be achieved using certain measures.

  • Disk level data protection like RAID, or Scale-out storage
  • Automated periodic data backups
  • Data replication

The efficiency of any Cloud Storage Solution will depend on its capabilities to prevent the loss and also to recover the data in the ultimate incident of a loss. Service Level Agreements may be out in place to ensure safety and damage recovery, in the worst case of any losses, as usually, that involves, business continuity, reputation, business loss and more. Data replication and backup, especially, the other set of data being stored in an alternate location helps even in the case of disasters like an earthquake or a fire. The complete set of measures put in place to address the Data loss and prevention is what is termed as the Data Governance of a Cloud environment.

Cloud Storage Security Risks

It is obvious that there are a lot of security risks when it comes to Cloud Storage security. This is why we have the industry putting so much emphasis on security, and sometimes despite the best intentions, breaches happen. Common cyber attacks that happen are ransomware, phishing, and denial of service. The cost of these attacks is said to touch billions of dollars and the projection is that it will touch $6 trillion by 2021. Obviously, security and data breaches are huge.

Most often, employees are also the cause of inadvertent breaches, due to lack of training or awareness about its importance. Sharing passwords, or weak passwords, or a general lack of phishing mechanisms, etc. lead to such situations. Multi-factor authentication can be put in place to ensure password leaks can be capped. Also, the commonly known attack signatures should have strong detection, prevention, and address mechanisms in place. Some security drills can also help employees to understand the seriousness of the issue at hand.

The Takeaway

In conclusion, it is evident that Cloud Storage Solutions are here to stay, and that these will evolve along with the industry and its expectations. Security of Cloud data will always be of prime importance and Cloud providers are well aware of this. Statistics indicate a healthy trend in more organizations moving to the Cloud, rather than away from it.

It is important for all organizations to do create a Cloud strategy before making the move. Based on organizational goals and needs, all aspects should be discussed with the Cloud service provider and SLAs should be put in place in the contract to safeguard the interests. The benefits of shifting to the Cloud, by far, outweigh the risks at this point of time; and convenience and ease of doing business, and better customer experiences will make it imperative.