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Cloud Data Security: A Complete Overview

With cloud data platforms becoming the most common way for companies to store and access data from anywhere, questions about the cloud’s security have been top of mind for leaders in every industry. Skepticism about the security of cloud-based solutions can even delay or prevent organizations from moving workloads to the cloud; a recent survey by S&P Global’s 451 Research and Immuta found that lack of data security and privacy functionality were two of the primary barriers to cloud adoption.

Cloud data security is at the core of the Immuta platform, and we’ve helped organizations across industries and jurisdictions navigate its complexities. Here, we’ll answer the most common cloud data security questions and address the biggest concerns we hear from businesses working to ensure their cloud platforms are safe and compliant.

Is Cloud Data Secure?

While the increasingly widespread move to cloud-based data storage and use has become the norm, many individuals and businesses remain skeptical. If data isn’t stored on-premises and instead is stored in the ‘ether’ of the web, doesn’t that mean it’s more exposed to potential leaks, hacks, or damage?

In fact, cloud data storage is relatively secure. Despite the fact that its very name suggests an uncontrollable place in the sky that’s exposed and out of reach, cloud data isn’t much different from data stored on your local hard drive; the primary distinction is that it exists in a string of off-site data storage servers versus at your location.

In addition to easier accessibility and maintenance, cloud data storage makes files even more secure than when they’re stored on your hard drive. Why? The security measures tested and adopted by established cloud data platform providers are likely much more robust and powerful than those protecting information stored on your own devices.

That said, when it comes to data security, technology isn’t foolproof, nor should it act as a single line of defense. Cloud data security challenges exist, and there are additional security measures you should take to ensure that your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Common Cloud Data Security Challenges

Cloud data may be generally secure, but companies should still be particularly careful when it comes to how they manage their cloud data storage. There are three primary factors that determine whether your cloud data security framework is effective — confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Confidentiality

The most high-profile challenge of cloud data security is confidentiality. In this context, confidentiality refers to the level of protection against unauthorized access to sensitive information contained in cloud data. Highly publicized data breaches by major corporations like T-Mobile and Amazon have gone a long way in eroding the public’s trust in how companies handle consumer data, and highlight the potentially devastating cost of poorly executed cloud data security tactics.

These confidentiality failures have also led to a rise in regulatory standards from governing bodies around the world, from HIPAA and PCI DSS to the GDPR in Europe.

Integrity

Data integrity refers to whether data remains in the original state in which it was first uploaded to the cloud, free from modification, deletion, or other unauthorized access and manipulation. This doesn’t just involve protection of data from malicious outside actors or internal threats, it also pertains to avoiding human, transfer, and configuration errors that could harm your data.

Cloud data security management tools can help strengthen data integrity in cloud storage. Solutions such as Immuta constantly compare the current status of cloud data to previously registered ‘good’ data states, and instantly alert relevant parties at your organization of any discrepancies.

Availability

Last but not least, in order for cloud data to be useful, it must be accessible. Fortunately, accessibility is one of the top benefits of switching to the cloud in the first place – cloud data can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

The downside of this availability is that it introduces potential access points for malicious actors. Your cloud data storage system may be totally secure, but what about the internet connection at a local coffee shop where one of your employees is accessing it? Cloud data availability is a major perk, but who is allowed to access cloud data and where must also be managed by clear policies and monitored through usage audits.

Cloud Data Security & Compliance Essentials

So, how do you ensure that your cloud data is secure and compliant with both industry and government regulations, as well as your own internal organizational policies for data access and use? Here are the most essential elements of good cloud data security.

Data Discovery & Classification

In order to keep sensitive data secure, you need a way of determining which of your cloud data is sensitive and which is not.

That’s where sensitive data discovery and classification comes in — or, the process of identifying new data, determining whether it’s sensitive or not, and tagging it accordingly. Modern data management tools such as Immuta automate this process, reducing or eliminating the burden on data teams to manually inspect and classify the massive amounts of data that pour into organizations daily.

Attribute-Based Access Control

Data access control is the process and means used to restrict who is and is not allowed to access specific data.

Attribute-based access control assigns ‘attributes’ to specific users and data sets, then determines access based on those attributes. These attributes could include users’ position or role, but can also include their location, the time of day, and other factors.

Attribute-based access control is a form of fine-grained access control, which is more granular and variable than generalized access control methods that make determining access permissions more difficult, rigid, and unscalable.

Dynamic Data Masking

Data masking is an essential component of cloud data security. Dynamic data masking involves the use of fake, hidden, or deliberately “noisy” data designed to hide or mask the sensitive elements of a data set, while still allowing its relevant points to be useful for analysis.

Essentially, data masking uses the same data formats as your existing databases, but changes the values — a process that is completed in such a way that the data can’t be reverse-engineered in order to reveal the original, real data points. Data masking techniques often scramble, redact, substitute, or encrypt numbers and characters.

Encryption can be thought of as a form of secret code, which scrambles the relevant information in a set of data unless assigned parties have the necessary encryption key. In asymmetric encryption, one public key and one private key are required to decrypt the data. In symmetric encryption, just one private key is necessary for encryption and decryption.

Policy Enforcement & Auditing

One of the essential reasons for implementing cloud data security is for the sake of compliance — ensuring that proper security policies are followed both within your organization and according to regulations at the industry, national, or international levels.

A properly executed cloud data security should include data policy enforcement and data audit reporting, with a clear audit trail available to ensure that all relevant data security policies are being implemented.

For small organizations, an audit trail or log may capture a few dozen to a few hundred actions, while large businesses may have audit log actions that stretch into the thousands. For this reason, many businesses use a dedicated, centralized auditing and data management solution such as Immuta.

How to Secure Your Cloud Data

The first step in securing your cloud data? Partnering with the right data access control platform that provides all of the tools, solutions, and integrations needed to seamlessly boost cloud security without impacting business operations.

Immuta is one of the most trusted cloud data access control platforms because we offer automated cloud data access control with universal cloud compatibility, so you can manage cloud data security across any data platform, at any scale.

If you’re ready to discover how Immuta can safeguard your cloud data security and help ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability, get started with a free demo today.

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