Cloud network and service providers build cybersecurity into their offerings, but companies need to remain vigilant in vetting, managing and monitoring their use.
- On-premises and cloud networks face many of the same security risks, such as data breaches and loss.
- Companies must conduct due diligence in evaluating the security measures put into place by third-party cloud providers.
- Cloud network security risks — and the way to mitigate them — involve people, processes and products.
The cloud continues to dominate business technology discussions and strategy. End user spending on public cloud services will grow 18.4% worldwide in 2021 to total $304.9 billion, up from $257.5 billion in 2020, according to the Gartner market research firm. In 2021 the cloud has powered how companies adapt to the “new normal” as the world moves beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, say market researchers at Forrester. To ensure that the flexibility, scalability and cost savings of the cloud can be fully leveraged, any discussion about extending cloud networks must include cloud network security.
What Is Cloud Network Security?
When defining cloud network security, it is important to first define network security. According to the SANS Institute for security research and training, “Network security is the process of taking physical and software preventative measures to protect the underlying networking infrastructure from unauthorized access, misuse, malfunction, modification, destruction or improper disclosure, thereby creating a secure platform for computers, users and programs to perform their permitted critical functions within a secure environment.”
A similar definition can be applied to cloud network security, with the difference being that cloud network security includes the combination of products, processes and people focused on protecting information on public, private or hybrid cloud networks.
Differences Between Network Security and Cloud Network Security
A traditional network is basically two or more computing systems that are connected by wired or wireless technology. A corporate network might include tens, hundreds or thousands of computing systems. Networks enable employees to access and store resources, communicate via email and other means, and share files and other information.
A cloud network is used for the same purposes as a wired or wireless network, but some or all of a cloud network’s infrastructure is provided over the internet or other wide area network. Companies can host cloud networks on dedicated servers and storage on their premises or in data centers (private clouds). Or, they can make use of shared capacity from a number of third-party cloud infrastructure providers (public cloud). Many companies use a combination of private and public cloud networks (hybrid cloud). Cloud service providers typically run their own private cloud networks to offer different components of cloud computing, ranging from infrastructure-as-a-service to applications such as email.
IT professionals directly control any on-premises network, including security. Cloud network and service providers build security into their offerings, keeping up to date with the latest software, server and operating system security patches while providing customers with dashboards and other tools to administer and monitor their security settings, incidents and performance.
Traditional and cloud networks face many of the same security risks, such as data breaches and loss. Historically, companies have debated whether on-premises or cloud setups were more secure, according to McKinsey, but providers have continually improved and, in many cases, overtaken enterprise-level security performance. “The key question for companies, therefore, is not whether cloud is more secure to begin with, but what measures they need to take themselves to enhance their cloud security,” says the management consulting firm.
Challenges to Cloud Network Security
The Cloud Security Alliance lists 11 threats to cloud computing:
- Data breaches
- Misconfiguration and inadequate change control
- Lack of cloud security architecture and strategy
- Insufficient management of identities, credentials, access and keys
- Account hijacking
- Insider threat
- Insecure interfaces, including application programming interfaces (APIs)
- Weak control plane
- Metastructure and application infrastructure failures
- Limited cloud usage visibility
- Abuse and nefarious use of cloud services
Solving Cloud Network Challenges
There are a number of measures that can and should be put into place to solve cloud network challenges, and some of the most impactful include:
- Implement encryption by default: Encryption won’t prevent data from being breached or stolen, but it can prevent attackers from being able to make use of that data.
- Maintain identity and access management systems: Identity and access management (IAM) is “the discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons,” according to Gartner. IAM is a business and technology initiative whose importance and value increase as a company expands its use of the cloud.
- Use cloud security monitoring tools: These tools scan virtual and physical systems for potential security threats.
- Create repeatable and automated processes: Misconfiguration errors are rising, according to the Verizon 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report.It is difficult to eliminate misconfiguration errors completely, but the risk of misconfiguration can be mitigated with strategies such as implementing repeatable hardening processes and automating as many processes as possible.
- Provide end user security awareness training: Security is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is usually a human. Relevant, rigorous and ongoing end user security training can help ensure that employees understand and avoid cloud security threats and their cost to your business, creating a culture of security across the organization.
Conduct Due Diligence with Third-Party Providers
When working with third-party cloud providers, companies must ensure the security of their data on systems that are not in their direct control. If you can’t apply the security yourself, you have to ensure that the security measures being put into place will satisfy your organization’s security requirements. The same goes for compliance measures. It’s important to ask questions including the following:
- Multitenancy: How are different customers’ systems and data isolated and secured?
- Is data encrypted at rest and in transit?
- How is access control handled? Who are the privileged users in the organization?
- What management and maintenance controls are in place?
- How is data backed up?
- Where is data located (and co-located)?
- What kind of security awareness training do the provider’s employees undergo?
The Bottom Line
Companies are increasingly relying on the cloud, which means cloud network security must be top of mind. There are many similarities between traditional network security and cloud network security, but the biggest is that both rely on a careful combination of people, processes and products — whether data is hosted in a private, public or hybrid cloud network.
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