Like any data storage system, the cloud comes with a fair amount of security risks. Rather than debating the ways that the cloud is or isn’t inherently secure, leaders should question whether they are using the cloud securely. While cloud security adopts a shared responsibility model between organizations and the cloud providers, at the end of the day, the biggest risk to a cloud environment is the misconfiguration and misuse of solutions, not whether or not cloud providers are doing their jobs.

As organizations adopt single and multicloud environments at increasing rates, it’s imperative that critical applications and sensitive data are safeguarded. While every cloud solution is different, there are baseline best practices to ensure a cloud environment is protected against breaches and bad actors alike. Basic security practices, such as implementing multi-factor authentication, keeping operating systems and security patches up to date and restricting public access to only what’s needed, can help mitigate common risks. From there, technologists can begin building their tailored approach around the five pillars of cloud security.

1. Identity and access management 

People are enterprises’ largest security risks. In our current economic climate, employees are leaving and changing jobs at unprecedented rates. If technologists aren’t diligent about removing user accounts from their systems and effectively managing access permissions, organizations are left vulnerable to attack. Enter: Identity and access management (IAM). The principle of least privilege gives developers access to only the services they need to deploy their applications, and role-based access controls mapped to job functions help define access to cloud resources. Additionally, logging allows IT leaders to monitor access to ensure these policies are enforced. 

2. Infrastructure protection 

Zero-Trust is often touted as the most effective security framework, but in reality, we can never fully remove risk for applications because they must be accessible to customers, partners and third parties. Instead, focus on variable trust, which dictates who is allowed to access what within your systems. Though it might sound overwhelming to manage, all major cloud providers offer tools that fulfill this purpose, allowing users to offload some security responsibilities to managed services.

3. Data protection 

For optimized data protection, it is crucial for organizations to leverage two forms of encryption: data in transit and data at rest. Data in transit refers to information moving through a network, while data at rest refers to data that is kept in persistent storage.

To protect data in transit, it’s essential to utilize industry-standard security protocols such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) and IPsec. These protocols are supported by major cloud providers and ensure that data is protected as it moves within the cloud or between on-premise data centers and cloud resources. Encryption in transit helps prevent man-in-the-middle attacks that can lead to data theft, credential theft, or data corruption.

Encryption at rest is just as important, as it secures data held within databases, data lakes, or buckets in cloud providers. All major cloud providers support AES 256-bit encryption, which makes it impossible for an attacker to access or read data without the encryption key.

4. Detection controls 

Detection controls are essential for identifying weaknesses in organizational or application security and enabling prompt action. The bad news: data breaches are primarily caused by misconfigurations. The good news: all major cloud providers offer native tools that can actively scan for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, suspicious activities and compromised instances. Some of these tools can also provide alerts if an instance is engaging with a known malicious network, contacting a command and control server, or exhibiting unusual behavior. This functionality ensures that organizations are promptly alerted to any suspicious activity and can take steps to mitigate risks before they cause harm.

5. Incident response 

IT leaders should aim to automate the incident response process as much as possible. For example, most cloud providers provide the ability to create serverless functions that can be used to remediate common scenarios, automating the most basic of incident response tasks to free up time for security teams and allow them to focus their energy on more complex incidents that require human interference. 

Cloud security is a team effort 

Building a customized cloud environment around these five security pillars will help protect organizations against breaches and cyberthreats, but it’s imperative to consistently test and reevaluate technology solutions to mitigate cloud data security challenges. Cloud security is truly a team effort, and it’s essential to build a team with diverse experiences and background—particularly in areas like incident response.  A diverse team of skilled technologists will more astutely detect blind spots, ultimately improving overall cloud security posture.