A Quick Guide to Top Cloud Security Standards
As gratifying as it is to focus only on reaping the benefits of the cloud, it is essential for you to be able to take a step back, look at your cloud infrastructure, your systems, and your applications with a critical eye, and make sure they have no weak spots.
Why You Should Care About Cloud Security
Poor cloud security is a major weakness – one that can jeopardize your business operations, cause serious financial setbacks, or even cost you your well-established market position (and customers). How come?
Because low-level security in a cloud – or in IT in general – can either lead to a human error that may ignite a detrimental chain reaction or to your company being exploited by unauthorized third parties.
Cybersecurity remains one of the leading reasons why some businesses refuse to migrate to the cloud, even though they are well aware of how many benefits it can bring in regard to business performance and the comfort of work.
In other words, some companies believe today’s clouds are not secure enough. Fortunately, this is starting to change – all thanks to cloud security standards.
What are Cloud Security Standards, Exactly?
You could say that there is a global movement to help those that use clouds to run their business operations (as well as those who want to set out on their first cloud journey) and achieve a satisfactory level of security.
In recent years, numerous organizations and governmental entities around the world such as the International Organization for Standardization, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), and the Council of the European Union have either created or co-created many different security norms, regulations and protocols that, when adopted and followed, turn clouds into much more secure environments. These are called “cloud security standards”.
What do Cloud Security Standards Mean for Business?
Instead of trying to solve the cloud security puzzle themselves by relying on an endless list of data privacy regulations, content security policies, auditing specifications, and industry-specific mandates, today’s companies can (and should) expect their cloud service providers will present them with a solution designed with cloud security standards in mind.
In other words, it is not the user’s responsibility to make their cloud(s) – and therefore, their data, systems, applications, and cloud services secure – it is their provider’s.
Cloud security standards help with three things: they allow cloud service providers to develop highly secure products, enable users to enjoy the benefits of the cloud without worrying about its security, and guarantee the data security of a company’s employees and customers.
What are Some of the Most Popular Cloud Security Standards?
Created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which is known for developing state-of-the-art security standards for all types of systems and technological solutions (including cloud environments), the cloud-related ISOs provide guidelines for how to approach cloud security in a more effective and conscientious way. The best examples are:
- ISO/IEC 17789:2014 – A security standard used to specify the so-called “cloud computing reference architecture (CCRA), it defines clear cloud computing roles, cloud computing activities and cloud computing functional components, as well as all of the relationships between them.
- ISO/IEC 17826:2016 – Mostly intended for application developers, it defines how you can access cloud storage and how data can be managed within the storage.
- ISO/IEC 19944:2020 – Describes how data flows within the cloud computing ecosystem and the devices that are connected to it. It also defines how data moves across various cloud services, cloud service customers, and cloud service users.
- ISO-27017 – A security standard that helps cloud service providers, as well as end-users, reduce the risk of a security incident taking place within the cloud environment. Overall, it involves a series of information security-oriented practical tips and best practices for cloud services based on ISO/IEC 27002.
- ISO-27018 – Helps all types of companies (both public and private) protect personally identifiable information (PII) in a public cloud computing environment. In other words, it is a compilation of security requirements for businesses and organizations that provides information processing services via cloud computing under contract to other third parties.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
Probably the most popular of the security standards – or at least the one whose name rings a bell if you live in a country that belongs to the European Union.
Called “the toughest privacy and security law in the world”, the General Data Protection Regulation is a collection of policies created by the Council of the European Union that organizations must adhere to if they target or collect data concerning people in the EU.
To be more specific, it is a set of rules that defines how EU citizens can access information about themselves and what the limits are in terms of what organizations can do with their data.
The two basic GDPR conditions in data security and data privacy are:
- When a serious data breach takes place, the company must notify both the affected and the supervising authority within the first 72 hours.
- Companies and organizations must provide a legal reason for processing personal information, while persons to whom this information relates must be informed about the ways their data is processed and used.
CIS AWS Foundations v1.2
Applicable to companies that use Amazon Web Service cloud resources, the CIS AWS Foundations benchmarks have been created specifically to help companies and organizations optimize and improve their information security.
What is more, the CIS AWS protocols are here to make AWS accounts “tougher” in the context of security so that they are a firm foundation for running operations on AWS.
What is NIST in Cloud Information Security?
NIST is an acronym for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is a federal agency of the United States Department of Commerce. Its goal is to, as its previous name (National Bureau of Standards) suggests, develop and distribute standards and metrics that can be used both by governmental entities and private companies.
With its mission to promote competitiveness, the agency is a driving force for innovation in many different sectors including engineering, neutron research, nanoscale science and technology, and… information technology.
Among the standards created by NIST that concern cloud computing are NIST 800-144 — Security and Privacy Guidelines in Public Cloud Computing and NIST Cloud Computing Program (NCCP).
The first one, as you’ve probably guessed, provides an in-depth overview of security and privacy challenges in cloud computing and offers suggestions on how today’s companies can overcome them. The second one is a cloud security framework – a blueprint that defines the way in which a cloud infrastructure should be built. Both of these documents can be of great help to you when developing your cloud security strategy.
Three Measures Used to Protect a Cloud
Authentication is the process of finding out whether an entity (usually a user) that asks for receiving access to cloud systems, applications, cloud-based services, or databases is the entity it claims to be. In other words, it helps you determine whether a person or something is who or what they say they are. Authentication allows companies to maintain a high level of IT security because they are able to provide access to their resources only to authenticated users or other third parties.
Data encryption is about translating data presented in plain text form into another ciphertext form (or code) that can be read only by those who have the decryption key or password. The way data encryption works in cloud computing is that it secures transmitted digital data on the cloud.
The reason why data encryption is used is pretty straightforward – it helps protect sensitive data and can greatly enhance the security of communication between servers and client apps.
Data recovery is the process of restoring data that has been deleted, damaged, or lost using the backup copies stored in a cloud (on a server at an offsite location).
Aware of the fact that data loss may be the cause of significant financial losses and serious implications, today’s companies regard data recovery as a key tool that helps them maintain business continuity.
Security always comes first
As you can see, there are many standards, protocols, and security measures that you can either implement to improve the security of your cloud environment or simply be aware of when choosing your next cloud service provider. The more you know about how you can protect your assets, the higher the possibility that you will succeed in your efforts.
This article covers only a fragment of the whole cloud information security landscape, but we hope it serves as a nice introduction to the subject. Now, it’s up to you to decide what your next move is.