Data security in the cloud: Why it’s important and where to start

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Data is the lifeblood of any organization and in a digital landscape with dispersed teams working from anywhere, protecting data wherever it resides must be a top priority for enterprises of all sizes. But while there has never been more urgency to safeguard critical information in the cloud, there has also never been a better time for it.

Securing data in the cloud is critical, especially for businesses where intellectual property and sensitive data are highly valued, such as pharmaceuticals and finance. However, securing data necessitates striking the appropriate balance, as you want to keep sensitive data secure but still champion a culture of innovation and productivity for employees. The reality is that employees engage with sensitive company information regardless of working remotely, in person or anywhere in between.

Deploying the appropriate security systems and policies is a high-wire act in which businesses must facilitate productivity while also protecting data. There are several aspects to consider. However, the way you safeguard data on the cloud can be reduced to a few straightforward questions: What should users be allowed to do with data and how do you enforce this today? Which cloud apps can handle which types of data and which aren’t allowed to store any sensitive data? How are you managing data security policies today?

Asking the right questions is just the beginning of your data security journey. Here are a couple of things security leaders should keep in mind:

Identifying top risks for data security in the cloud

It is critical to understand what exactly could happen if your business does not have the necessary data-safeguarding systems in place on the cloud. Perhaps most importantly, the enterprise would lack safeguards to control how users interact with data and how cloud apps handle data, which could lead to risks such as potential breaches or unintentional data exposure.

The more business data your employees access in the cloud, the more at risk your company’s intellectual property and sensitive information become. Putting the correct procedures in place entails more than just keeping the bad folks out. Data security is about allowing your staff to work from wherever in today’s distributed environment.

Some of the cloud-based data hazards you should be aware of to better secure your secrets and consumer confidence are shadow IT, insider threat, accidental exposure, account compromise, device loss/theft and cloud misconfigurations.

Shadow IT applies when employees download unsanctioned applications. Without the knowledge of management, they could improperly access company data or introduce security vulnerabilities.

Insider threat involves the cases when employees, contractors, consultants and partners can become insider threats if they intentionally take intellectual property or unintentionally share sensitive information.

Accidental exposure may occur when an employee leaves a laptop or phone unlocked in a public place, allowing bystanders to view and take restricted information.

Account compromise describes situations in which compromised accounts can be used to access company cloud data, potentially leading to a data breach that can disrupt operations and damage public trust.

In the cases of device loss/theft, Bring your own devices (BYOD) policy can easily lead to missing devices during travel or simply daily life, causing sensitive cloud data to vanish or fall into the wrong hands.

Finally, cloud misconfigurations show what happens when cybercriminals can find vulnerabilities where an organization’s network interfaces with cloud-based applications, exploiting them to gain access to sensitive data without having to overcome internal network security.

After you’ve assessed the risks to your cloud data, it is essential to look at the next step to transform the business safely and efficiently.

How to enforce data security in the cloud

Securing all your cloud data could prove daunting. To simplify the process across cloud apps and endpoint devices, both managed and unmanaged, your organization should look into consolidating to a single set of policies. One way to achieve this is by extending Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to the cloud via your Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB). This approach eliminates the need for multiple systems and manual syncing, which removes one of the largest hurdles to cloud adoption.

Reliance on cloud applications should not be a burden. Your workers stay productive by working with data and they require quick access to business-critical data from wherever they work.

As your company’s reliance on cloud applications grows, so does the importance of extending DLP policies from endpoint to cloud apps via CASB. This method can provide the enterprise with real-time, in-line controls for any SaaS apps it now uses or may employ in the future. This is vital for managing shadow IT, keeping track of insider threats and protecting sensitive data against account breaches or device theft.

Balancing security with productivity is key, as is identifying common risks such as shadow IT and insider threats. By following best practices for cloud security and employing solutions that safeguard data everywhere, security leaders can enjoy the flexibility and productivity offered by cloud-based services without putting sensitive data at risk.