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Preventing Cloud Security Incidents: Strategies and Best Practices

Despite the high volume of sensitive information organizations store in the cloud, a shocking 97% admit their cloud risk management plans are riddled with glaring gaps and loopholes. Considering the prevalent threats and regulatory nightmares a data breach can unleash, this should set off alarm bells. Achieving visibility and security control across hybrid and multi-cloud architectures is complex but imperative. 

Within the cloud, surveys suggest that data loss, leakage, and privacy are the top cloud security concerns among cybersecurity professionals. As the stakes get higher, IT managers, cloud security teams, and platform engineers must equip themselves with the right knowledge and tools to protect the organization's crown jewels – its sensitive and proprietary data.

Data Security in the Cloud: The Challenge

Cloud migration takes previously closely-held data from the secure corporate perimeter to a distributed, often multi-tenant, environment. In addition, rapid software updates, releases, and continuous delivery models, while ensuring agility, can introduce bugs that can be exploited to extract sensitive data. In organizations with hybrid and multi-cloud environments, misconfigurations, excess permissions, or credential theft in any component of this complex IT landscape can lead to data breaches. The proliferation of copies of data across multiple clouds and cloud regions poses another data governance challenge.

4 Steps to Protecting Data in the Cloud

Cloud security and protection

Before you can prevent a cloud security incident, you must know where your vulnerabilities and risks are. Data security in the cloud starts with organizations conducting regular and thorough assessments of their cloud security posture, which includes reviewing all their cloud providers' security policies and controls as well as their own cloud configurations and settings, identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities and threats, and checking for compliance with regulatory standards. Cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools can help you with these tasks, identifying existing gaps or weaknesses and prioritizing remediation actions.

CSPM tools provide a convenient way to manage the security of hybrid and multi-cloud environments, but they are perimeter-focused –  they aim to prevent an attacker from entering one of your cloud services. However, they do not address threats to those services once an attacker gets in. Adopting a perimeter protection mindset when devising a cloud data protection strategy is bound to lead to issues and ineffectiveness. You must consider a defense-in-depth approach that goes beyond securing the perimeter and adds layers of protection so that even if one of them is breached, the next layer, closest to valued assets, remains intact. Proactive security measures are an important part of this approach, as they ensure that data is protected even if a breach occurs.

Here are some best practices to erect in-depth, multi-layered defenses suitable for hybrid and multi-clouds:

Double down on encryption using strong algorithms (AES-256, RSA-4096) and secure key management practices. Look for tools that automate this for user-friendly, comprehensive protection.

In this threat landscape, relying solely on backups is not enough. Encryption at rest and in transit adds a proactive element to data backup’s reactive approach. Best practices for encryption include using NIST-certified encryption protocols, like AES-256 for symmetric encryption and RSA-4096 for asymmetric encryption, as well as adopting secure key management practices, such as using NIST-certified random number generation (SP 800-90A) for key generation, hardware security modules (HSMs) for key storage, automation for consistent rotation, and key management systems that offer built-in monitoring and alerting features. You must also choose the right cloud and SaaS providers that support these encryption standards and protocols. Generally, using a compatible tool that does all this for you is far simpler and more efficient. 

Still, relying on encryption in transit and at rest in a given cloud does not ensure protection once data is downloaded or transferred to other clouds or end-user devices. Ideally, any (unstructured) data generated in the cloud or uploaded to it should have a layer of encryption around it that travels with it wherever it goes. This can be achieved through solutions that respect native file formats and offer non-persistent, in-app decryption. These features enable organizations to encrypt by default at data origination or ingestion and decrypt only in memory upon access, without burdening end users with additional steps. Built-in encryption ensures the protection of the data wherever it lives or is transferred.

Minimize access for users, apps, and services with strong IAM and granular controls. Apply LPA to all levels (folders, files, data objects) using AI automation.

The principle of least privilege dictates granting the minimum level of access and permissions required for users, applications, and services to perform their functions. Applying LPA (Least Privilege Access) for cloud data can help reduce the attack surface and limit the potential damage of a cloud security incident. Effective LPA implementation requires a robust identity and access management (IAM) system that enforces strong authentication, authorization, and auditing mechanisms for your cloud resources. 

Reviewing and updating access policies and permissions regularly and revoking any unnecessary or unused access is also important. Another important question to ask is, "What is the unit —  infrastructure, folder, file, or even objects inside files or data containers — at which the principle of least privilege is applied?" Ideally, LPA should be applied at all these levels (“shift up”), restricting access to files or even objects inside files or other unstructured data containers. AI-based automated classification and encryption can help scale LPA across all cloud environments and resources. 

Least privilege access must be followed by granular action controls, which govern actions such as downloading, sharing, copying, and re-encrypting files and sensitive data. At the network level, this can be achieved via a cloud access security broker (CASB), but the controls must extend beyond the application to the file and data level for precise control over user actions based on the data attributes and user roles. The key aspect here is to enable LPA and granular controls without stifling productivity, operations, and innovation.

Use AI to classify sensitive data and automation to apply consistent and targeted security across complex infrastructure environments. 

AI-based automation helps manage the scale and complexity of cloud environments that hold massive and often unmanageable volumes of unstructured data. AI and ML can automatically discover, classify, and tag sensitive data such as PII and financial information based on predefined criteria, business rules, and historical and training data. This classification can then be used to implement appropriate security measures, such as selective encryption or access restrictions on files or specific parts of the file. Different levels of protection for different kinds of data ensure optimal usability and resource allocation, while automation guarantees consistent policy enforcement at a granular level.

Track all document interactions and their location. Use AI alerts to highlight critical events for rapid response.

In addition to proactive security measures, effective cloud security requires reactive measures that largely depend on continuous visibility into actions concerning cloud data. This includes tracking activities like access, edit, copy, or download attempts from internal and external users to identify unauthorized, unverified, and malicious attempts. Logging and maintaining audit trails regarding where data (or its copies) end up is equally important. These detailed logs are invaluable for identifying anomalies or breach attempts, conducting forensic analysis, and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

AI and automation play a key role in this regard as well. Automated alerts based on AI insights can highlight critical activities that demand immediate attention, such as failed login attempts, unusual data access patterns, or changes to security controls like re-encrypting encrypted data, alerting IT and security teams to take swift action.

Bolster Data Security in the Cloud with Confidencial

Confidencial provides a comprehensive suite of tools and technologies designed to secure your data throughout its lifecycle, no matter where it resides – on-premises, in the cloud, or locally on a device. Here’s how Condencial helps: 

  • Selective Protection: Confidencial's patented selective encryption technology allows you to protect specific pieces of data within a document, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. This ensures that sensitive information is protected while non-sensitive information remains accessible for productivity and collaboration. Additionally, encryption controls are embedded within the document's metadata, ensuring that security measures travel with the document wherever it goes.

  • Data Discovery and Classification: Confidencial employs advanced, AI-powered data discovery and classification to automatically identify and categorize sensitive information across all unstructured data in hybrid and multi-cloud environments. This allows you to find exactly where sensitive data is exposed and apply appropriate security controls based on the sensitivity of the data.

  • Least Privilege Access (LPA): Confidencial enables easy-to-configure, granular access controls and policies for different types of data and user roles. Confidencial ensures that users, applications, and services are granted precise access and authority over the data they need to perform their functions. 

  • Comprehensive Audit Trails: Confidencial generates and maintains detailed audit trails of all interactions with your unstructured cloud data. These detailed logs capture user access, location, and data movement (copies, downloads, transfers), allowing you to maintain accountability even in complex multi-cloud environments. 

Confidencial’s end-to-end, lifelong data protection and security management approach can make cloud and SaaS more secure and profitable for all. Explore Confidencial today and see how we can empower your organization to leverage the cloud's full potential, securely.

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