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How to maintain security compliance in the cloud

Getting compliance right matters a lot. It matters to customers, who rely on your compliance certifications, assessments, and audits to make their purchasing decisions. It matters to regulators, who set the requirement for doing business and ultimately perform the audits. And it matters to you, to verify that all of your ducks are in a row and you’re protected against costly regulatory fines and dangerous breaches that will result in a damaged reputation for your organization.

As the best software tools shift to the cloud, many businesses are afraid to take full advantage of them. Maintaining security and compliance standards on systems that reside outside their control can be daunting. Or, worse, managers may assume that because the services and data live off of their premises, what they don’t know can’t hurt them. TechBeacon recently published a great overview of critical challenges in cloud-first security compliance that I put together, and as a Chief Trust Officer, I’ve seen these scenarios play out across companies in every industry.

The truth is, there are great benefits to adopting cloud-first services, and a cloud-first security approach is critical to maintaining the security and compliance needed to be able to enjoy those benefits.

What are the security risks of cloud apps?
Cloud applications can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Designed for collaboration, they’re flexible and adaptable to your teams’ needs. They have low infrastructure and maintenance costs, and are often quick and inexpensive to adopt and operate. In many cases, they’re simply the best solutions of their kind, offering better solutions and more frequent updates than their locally installed competitors.

But that doesn’t mean they’re without risks. These cloud-based apps carry many of the same risks as locally-installed applications, with some unique risks of their own.

  • Security is difficult to assess and manage across platforms. Security controls for cloud applications are spread across people, processes, technology, and even multiple companies: you, your vendor, and any vendors they use to deliver their applications. It’s difficult to gain a centralized picture of your security needs and controls.
  • Reputation is always at stake. A security breach or negative compliance finding can be disastrous to your reputation. Lack of consumer confidence brings losses in sales and a hit to your stock price. Negative media attention calls future products and services into question, and social media accelerates the damage. Consumers won’t care whether the breach originated within your business or with a third-party cloud service
  • You may not be fully covered in court. A negative compliance finding can result in punitive, financial, or even criminal sanctions in some industries. True legal compliance also includes the ability to respond to government inquiries such as subpoenas or discovery requests in lawsuits — no matter where the data originated — or face court penalties or lost lawsuits.
  • Threats are relentless and ever-evolving. Growing threats include data theft, malware, corruption, and ransomware. Edge systems on networks outside of your control are particularly vulnerable. Ransomware could take down your entire business for hours or days. Without a data protection solution, the only hope is to pay the ransom and hope your data is restored.

Old data protection models are outdated
Data doesn’t just live in a datacenter anymore. It’s dispersed on laptops and mobile devices, across local and cloud-based applications. Seeing a single, centralized view of your data can seem impossible. On top of that, piecemeal operational processes — processes that vary depending on the department, app, or device — slow your organization down and make it difficult to enforce security and respond to audit requests.

On the other hand, it’s not safe to leave responsibility for your data security to the cloud service provider. If your vendor does offer advanced security features, it’s up to you to implement those features and maintain the on-premises security policies that regulations require.

Fourth-Party Risk Assessment
Not only is responsibility shared between you and your SaaS vendor, fourth parties have to be taken into account as well. Think of the service providers that your providers use for service delivery, like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. Fortunately, compliance audits allow you to measure fourth-party risk. A modern approach to data security requires looking at security frameworks, audits, and attestations for the entire service chain, not just your on-premises solutions or your direct vendors.

Clearly, there’s a lot at risk when you adopt cloud services. To take advantage of the great benefits those apps have to offer, you need a new approach to data protection. The traditional models just aren’t up to the task.

The modern approach to data protection
A great data security solution will protect your data no matter where it resides. These are some critical questions to ask when evaluating options to ensure that the solution truly covers every aspect of your data security needs:

  • Does it offer continuous monitoring? You need full visibility into the attack surface of your organization. The monitoring approach should be data-centric, rather than application-centric so that you’re covered no matter where the data lives. Monitoring should anticipate risks before they become problems, whether they originate on an endpoint or in the cloud.
  • How secure is the data itself? Data needs to be fully protected both in-flight and at-rest. Does the provider offer unique encryption keys for your organization? Do they have access to your data (making it vulnerable if their organization is ever attacked)?
  • What are the options for access control? Role-based access control options manage potential conflicts of interest and fraud. Real-time audit logging leaves a trail whenever anyone accesses or changes data.
  • How is data preserved and maintained? You need tools to respond to audits and legal inquiries. Data must be collected, preserved, retained, archived, and indexed across all data environments, so that it’s at your fingertips in case of a lawsuit or subpoena.
  • What if there’s a disaster? Traditional backup models involve acquiring a second data center, designing and implementing failover processes, and conducting annual testing. But they only protect local data, leaving remote endpoints vulnerable. Cloud-based disaster recovery systems should minimize expensive and time-consuming infrastructure, administration, and testing. They should also cover mobile devices, including encryption, sanitization, and geolocation.

Next Steps
Security is critically important to modern businesses. Compliance certifications prevent legal headaches and build trust, and a cloud-native SaaS solution can deliver them. Security systems protect your data, your business, and your customers.

For more insights, check out my article: TechBeacon: How to maintain security compliance in the cloud

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