Cloud security – who should take ownership?

This year, almost all (88%) UK organisations have adopted cloud technology. This represents a huge increase from 2012, when just over half had. Inevitably this has led to an increase in the volume of customer data stored in the cloud, supporting everything from online services and websites, to sales and infrastructure. Keeping this data secure is vital for both the smooth running of businesses and protection of customers.

Unfortunately, many organisations are still struggling to secure their clouds – last year, for example, Verizon exposed six million customer details in an unsecured AWS server. This was just one case of a business that migrated without understanding how to properly protect their data. Complicating the issue even further is that businesses often operate across more than one cloud, such as AWS, Azure, Google, each having differing security processes and protocols to grapple with.

>See also: What everyone should know about cyber security in the cloud

Worse, many appear to be reluctant to even address the issue at hand: A third (34%) believe that it’s the customer’s responsibility to secure their data in the cloud – despite two thirds (62%) of customers actually holding businesses responsible. With less than half (46%) of businesses clearly defining roles and accountability for securing confidential or sensitive information in the cloud, it’s clear many are struggling to get their houses in order.

Taking responsibility for cloud security

The arrival of GDPR on May 25 has forced the ownership of cloud security firmly into the hands of businesses. Under the regulation, if any unsecured EU customer data is compromised, stolen or misplaced, whether it’s stored internally in a data centre or the cloud, the business holding it will be held accountable.

Organisations found to be taking insufficient steps to secure the data will then be subject to fines and legal repercussions. Additionally, over two thirds of customers (70%) would leave a business after a breach. So, what can organisations do to avoid this?

What’s needed is leadership. While cloud services themselves are generally secure, the task of configuring and using them securely is often left to organisation’s IT leaders, development teams, or even business line managers. However, confusion surrounding who should implement cloud security has led to a lack of protection of the data. Organisations must now take full ownership of the security within any of the clouds that they use.

>See also: UK businesses failing to adopt cloud security solutions – Gemalto

A figurehead, such as a CISO, must be appointed to the board of a business to educate other c-level executives on the importance of data security and take responsibility for the data in the event of a breach. This ensures the business has buy-in from the board, can communicate a cloud security strategy widely, and educate staff about good cyber hygiene, thus minimising internal risks.

Once a central figure has been appointed to the board, they must set about ensuring that the cloud is protected. Below are five steps to help with this.

Six steps to cloud security

1. Understand your data

Before implementing any cyber security strategy, businesses must first conduct a data audit. This helps them understand what data they have collected or produced and where the most sensitive and valuable parts sit. If businesses don’t know what data they possess and produce, they can’t even begin to start protecting it. Under GDPR, if any of the data discovered is unused, the business must also ensure it’s safely deleted.

2. All sensitive data must be protected

While it’s crucial that businesses restrict who can access sensitive data, it’s widely available technology such as encryption that will ensure this cannot be used in the event it’s accessed by unauthorised personnel.

>See also: What to do when it comes to cloud security?

Therefore, businesses must understand where their most valuable data is stored before this step can occur. Regardless of where data is – on their own servers, in a public cloud, or a hybrid environment – protocols like encryption must always be used to protect it.

3. Securely store keys

When data is encrypted, an encryption key is created. These keys are necessary to unlock and access encrypted data. Consequently, businesses must ensure that these keys are securely stored.

By storing a physical key “offsite”, it helps ensure it can’t be linked to any encrypted data in the cloud. Encryption is only as good as the key management strategy employed, and companies must keep keys in secure locations, such as on external systems away from the data itself, to prevent them being stolen.

4. Introduce two-factor authentication

Next, businesses should adopt strong two-factor authentication, to ensure only authorised employees have access to the data they need to use.

>See also: Major factors impacting cloud security

Two-factor authentication involves an individual protecting their account with something they possess – like a message on their smartphone – and something they know, like a password. This is more secure than relying on passwords alone, which can be easily hacked.

5. Always install latest patches

Hardware and software are constantly being patched by their vendors, as bugs and vulnerabilities emerge, to prevent hackers from exploiting them. Many businesses don’t install patches quickly enough or use software which no longer receives regular patches. Figures from Net Marketshare show that one in 20 organisations still use Windows XP, despite patches being discontinued. It is imperative that businesses install patches as they become available, to avoid becoming easy targets for hackers.

6. Evaluate and repeat

Once a business has implemented the above steps, it’s crucial that each step must be repeated for all new data that enters its system. Cybersecurity and GDPR compliance is an ongoing process, rather than a case of ticking the box. These steps will ultimately help make businesses unattractive or unviable targets for attackers as even in the event of a breach they won’t be able to use, steal or hold their data for ransom.

With businesses now footing the bill, both in reputation and finance, for any data breach, it’s never been more important for them to take full ownership of the data they hold.

As consumers have more rights over their data than ever before thanks to GDPR, organisations must provide a cyber security strategy from the board down, and educate staff about the cyber risks they face as a part of a business. Only once this is done can consumers be confident that steps are being taken to keep their data secure.

Avatar photo

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...