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Three Public Cloud Security Factors That Stop Breaches
By: Brad Thies
Feb. 3, 2018 12:00 PM
Another day, another breach. No wonder security is tied for the top barrier to cloud adoption, according to 2017 research from RightScale, with 25 percent of survey respondents naming it, alongside expertise and expense, as their greatest challenge.
In the face of security concerns, IT executives have mistakenly found comfort in private clouds over public clouds. The RightScale survey found that enterprises run about 75 percent of workloads in the cloud, with 43 percent done in a private cloud and 32 percent handled in a public cloud.
No doubt, some of the enterprises using a private cloud have serious security protocols. But while private clouds can be protected with all the same tools as their public counterparts, they often aren't. It's probably why Alert Logic discovered that companies using pure public cloud environments averaged 405 security incidents, while hosted private cloud environments averaged 684 incidents.
When Security Matters Most, Go Public
Some executives assume that a lurking compliance requirement forbids the use of a public cloud. But no such hard-and-fast rule exists, and cloud service providers - the reputable ones, anyway - provide clear compliance road maps to their clients.
Other executives fear losing control in the event of a breach in someone else's environment, but these fears are also unfounded. The cloud doesn't fail; the implementation fails, or one party fails to abide by its shared security responsibilities.
Just because data exists in a public cloud environment doesn't mean it's at the mercy of that provider's security controls. And in any case, most public cloud providers have more robust security controls than companies that host their own private clouds.
To be clear, this isn't to say that public clouds are always more secure - only that most companies could enjoy stronger security by letting the experts manage their cloud data. Just about every public cloud provider offers three industry-leading security features:
1. Modern patch management and malware safeguards
Companies using private clouds are responsible for patching their own environments. Poor patch management leads to security vulnerabilities, creating windows for attackers to strike.
Public providers typically have more resources to dedicate to these maintenance cycles. As a general rule, older systems carry known vulnerabilities, including weaker malware defenses, while newer ones offer better anti-exploitation features. Most public cloud companies keep their equipment up-to-date because they don't have to compete for internal resources like private cloud solutions do.
2. Virtual private networks and segmentation
Private environments tend to have more "flat networks" than public ones. Because network segmentation is difficult to administer, many large organizations prefer to manage a single network across the enterprise rather than cordon off critical systems. But fewer walls makes it easier for hackers to access important systems.
Public clouds isolate sensitive applications and data while still pooling resources. Segmented systems stop hackers from moving through networks easily, making public clouds better at limiting damage should a breach occur.
3. Better identification and access management tools
Most hackers don't rely on fancy tricks to gain network access. Per Verizon's 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 81 percent of hacking breaches involve stolen or weak passwords.
In my experience, on-premise or private cloud environments tend to use outdated identity and access management tools. These often rely on centralized directories to connect everything. Unfortunately, they expose more than necessary when opening the private cloud to external resources, such as mobile, IoT, and web applications. Public cloud products have improved federating identity management built in, which enables security practices like single sign-on, attribute management, and access control.
Even if a public cloud is breached, the data within isn't necessarily in danger. Clients that manage their own encryption keys stop hackers from deciphering their stolen goods. AWS clients using Box KeySafe, for example, keep their data safe in Box while storing their keys outside of Box's environment.
Virtually every company depends - or will soon depend - on the cloud to store and access data, but misconceptions surrounding public clouds prevent them from making secure choices. Leave it to a company that does cloud security for a living, and you'll drastically drop your chances of being breached.
Brad Thies is the founder and president of BARR Advisory, an assurance and advisory firm specializing in cybersecurity, risk management, and compliance. Brad speaks regularly at industry events such as ISACA conferences, and he is a member of AICPA's Trust Information Integrity Task Force. Brad's advice has been featured in Entrepreneur, Cloud Computing Journal, Small Business CEO, and Information Security Buzz. Prior to founding BARR, Brad managed KPMG's risk consulting division. He is a CPA and CISA.
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