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Cloud data protection: 7 steps for better security | Next DLP

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Cloud data protection is a critical consideration for businesses of all sizes in today's digital world. With the increasing reliance on cloud services for storage and collaboration, ensuring the security and integrity of your data is essential for protecting sensitive information and maintaining trust with your customers and users.

In this article, we’ll review what cloud data protection is, why it’s critical to a company’s viability, and essential steps to keep your cloud data secure.

In this article:

Wh‎at is cloud data protection?

Person working with cloud data on a tablet

‎Cloud data protection is a set of policies, procedures, and processes designed to safeguard an organization’s data stored in the cloud from unauthorized access, data breaches, and data loss. This involves implementing security measures such as encryption, access controls, authentication, and monitoring to ensure that sensitive information in the cloud is protected.

Cloud data protection also includes backup and disaster recovery strategies to ensure that data can be restored in the event of a cyber attack, natural disaster, or accidental data deletion. Businesses of all sizes spanning every industry are increasingly relying on cloud services for many facets of business operations, making cloud data protection a critical aspect of data security.

Wh‎y cloud data protection matters

Person using a laptop transferring data to the cloud

‎Cloud computing offers organizations many benefits compared to on-premises data centers. A greater percentage of companies are taking advantage of the financial and operational benefits of storing data in the cloud as they become more apparent. According to Netgate, 92% of companies host at least some portion of their IT environments in the cloud.  

As of 2022, organizations stored over 60% of corporate data in the cloud — a two-fold increase from 30% in 2015 — and many companies store business records in the public cloud:

  • 54.4% of companies store business records, including those related to finance and accounting, in the public cloud.
  • 48.9% of companies store employee records in the public cloud.
  • 45.6% of companies store business intelligence data in the cloud.
  • 14% of companies store patient or protected health information in the cloud, up 4% from 10% in 2019.

According to the Thales 2023 Cloud Security Study, 75% of companies report that more than 40% of their data stored in the cloud is sensitive (as of 2023), yet just 45% of that sensitive data is encrypted. Cloud data protection is even more imperative for companies that store regulated data, such as protected health information, in the cloud, as the penalties for HIPAA violations and other compliance violations are significant.

While cloud storage solution providers are required by law to keep your data safe, organizations are also required to implement common-sense security measures to protect and secure cloud data. Cloud data protection is essential because of the inherent risks of storing data in an always-on cloud environment.

Be‎nefits of cloud data protection

Hand holding cloud graphic with shield and padlock symbol

‎When you understand how to mitigate these risks, you’ll maintain data integrity and stay compliant—avoiding both the loss of consumer trust and hefty regulatory penalties. Properly configured cloud data protection has so many benefits, ranging from risk mitigation to improved public trust.

Mitigate risk

Cloud data protection strategies mitigate some of the most common risks in security, including:

  • Breaches: The cloud's accessibility makes it a target for attackers. Breaches can occur due to vulnerabilities in the system, such as unpatched software, or through sophisticated cyber attacks. According to the Thales 2023 Cloud Security Study, 39% of companies experienced a data breach in their cloud environment in the previous year, an increase from 35% in 2022.  
  • Misconfigurations: One common cause of cloud security issues — and a top SaaS security risk — is the misconfiguration of cloud services. Without proper configuration, data can be inadvertently exposed to the public or malicious actors.
  • Unsecured APIs: Cloud services often rely on APIs for interaction. But if these APIs aren’t adequately secured, they can become gateways for cyber attacks.
  • Unauthorized access: Cloud environments are susceptible to unauthorized access, either through stolen credentials or by exploiting system vulnerabilities.
  • Phishing: Phishing uses social engineering and clever tricks to persuade trusted insiders, such as employees or customers, to share credentials and access with outsiders. According to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, 74% of data breaches involve a human element.  

A proper protection program trains users to spot phishing and other social engineering attempts and keep organizational systems safe.

Comply with the law

Regardless of your industry, it’s critical to comply with data protection and privacy laws like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). They ensure that sensitive data, like personal health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII), is handled securely, maintaining user trust and legal integrity. Cloud data protection is the foundation of all regulations, so creating an internal standard will help to set you up for regulatory success.

Avoid expensive fees

Data breaches have a significant financial impact — and could shutter your business for good. Cyber attacks will cost organizations $9.5 trillion in 2024. Healthcare entities have paid out over $143 million in HIPAA fines since 2003, a figure that’s estimated to continue increasing.

The average cost of a data breach can be substantial, affecting a company's finances and reputation. However, companies with mature cloud security practices tend to face lower-than-average costs in the event of a breach. In a competitive business environment, investing in robust cloud data measures could give you a much-needed financial benefit.

Improve internal and external experiences

Effective cloud data protection safeguards application data, ensuring business continuity and data integrity. Not only does that give organizations a ready-made playbook in the event of a breach, but it also makes it much easier to proactively address potential vulnerabilities and threats before there’s a real issue. For internal employees — particularly compliance and IT teams — this is a real improvement to operational efficiency.

Embracing cloud data protections also improves externally-facing relationships. Organizations build trust with their customers by complying with regulations and protecting data. Following standards like GDPR also gives users more control over their personal data, allowing them to take a more active role in managing and protecting their own information.

Ch‎allenges of protecting data in the cloud

Hand holding cloud, data, search, bar graph, credit card and other graphic icons

‎Cloud data protection is a must-have for organizations of all sizes. The complexities of the cloud environment pose unique obstacles that require professional strategies for data security while maintaining functionality and user experience. However, many businesses struggle to embrace proper protections because of these challenges.

Impact on user experience

Some organizations resist creating cloud data protection programs because they worry about balancing security measures with the user experience. Overly stringent security can negatively impact performance and usability.

To overcome this issue, it’s important to create security measures that don’t slow down user interactions. For example, implementing single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) can enhance security while maintaining ease of use. If you aren’t sure whether the new settings hurt the user experience, gather user feedback to ensure these new measures don’t hinder usability.

Managing a multi-cloud environment

Many organizations use services from multiple cloud providers, complicating the management and security of data across different platforms. In cloud environments, ensuring visibility into where data is stored and how it's accessed is challenging.

This lack of visibility can lead to data breaches and non-compliance. Adopt tools that work across platforms to improve cross-platform visibility and create a unified understanding of your risk.

Securely storing sensitive data in the cloud

A significant portion of cloud data is sensitive, but many organizations fail to protect it adequately. Some resist storing sensitive data in the cloud at all.

While this can reduce liability, it’s an operational and logistical nightmare that requires multiple data storage approaches. Instead of avoiding the cloud, embrace solutions that encrypt data at rest and while in transit. Key management practices like strong encryption are important, as well as securely storing and managing those keys.

7 ‎steps to better cloud data protection

Cloud data protection has its challenges, but it’s a worthwhile strategy that keeps your organization compliant, productive, and profitable. Follow these seven steps to implement cloud data protection with a vendor, and your organization will be set up for success.

1. Understand the cloud shared security model

Person using cloud apps in a data center on a tablet

‎The first thing an organization needs to do when working with a cloud provider is to understand how they share security responsibilities. Cloud providers typically operate under a shared responsibility model that determines if the customer or provider is responsible for specific aspects of securing a cloud environment.

Security responsibility for the cloud infrastructure depends on the delivery model. SaaS data protection is primarily the provider's responsibility, with more expected of the customer in PaaS and IaaS implementations. Customers are always responsible for the security of data they create or upload to the cloud.

Companies must understand their responsibilities in protecting cloud data or risk an oversight that could lead to vulnerabilities and breaches. Simply trusting the cloud provider to secure valuable data is not a viable option. Have internal SaaS data loss prevention measures in place to take accountability for how you manage and store this sensitive data.

2. Develop a backup and recovery strategy

A reliable backup and recovery strategy is essential to cloud data protection. Even with the modern, cutting-edge technology available from top cloud providers, there is always the chance that data will be lost or corrupted. Without backups, this can pose a major problem and potentially put a company out of business.

Always implement a robust backup strategy, even if your cloud provider already offers one. This includes online and offline backups and physical security measures against natural disasters, power outages, or vandalism.

Backing up cloud data to alternate regions or locations affords additional protection by eliminating the chances of being affected by a major failure of the provider infrastructure.

You should also perform recovery tests to verify the validity of your backups. Nothing is worse than facing a real disaster and discovering that your backup plan was insufficient for your recovery requirements.

3. Encrypt all data

City view with shield, lock, and other data icons in a graphic overlay

‎All sensitive and high-risk data should be encrypted at all times, including while it’s in storage, in use by applications, and during network transmission. Encryption protects the data from unauthorized access in the event of a data breach. It uses platform-managed encryption keys, allowing your organization to manage its own keys for additional control.

Encryption is a processor-intensive activity that may not be necessary for all data resources within an organization. Data classification can categorize information assets, so encryption can only be enforced on the specific resources that warrant the extra protection. Still, it’s best to have some kind of encryption solution in your corner to ensure data protection at all times, especially in the cloud.

4. Implement multi-factor authentication

Storing data in the cloud makes it easily accessible from any location. However, this can quickly become a vulnerability, as hackers or malicious actors can attempt to gain access from outside the organization. With compromised login credentials, a cybercriminal can theoretically steal your valuable cloud data from anywhere in the world.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) makes it much harder for unauthorized personnel to access enterprise data. Authorized users need to provide more than one method of identity verification.

A common MFA technique is to send a verification code to a device that belongs to the user requesting access. More robust MFA systems require biometrics like fingerprints or facial recognition. Without entering this code, the system denies access and  protects information from misuse.

5. Enforce the use of strong passwords

Set password screen indicating a weak password

‎Along with MFA, companies should enforce strong passwords for all applications and enterprise data resources. Passwords should be unique and complex, making them difficult to crack using brute force methods.

Strong passwords are at least 12 characters long and use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. In many cases, you can create a strong passphrase or password using a phrase that means something only to the user.

You should also change passwords regularly and not allow credential sharing across employees. This way, if there’s a breach, it’s much easier to pinpoint and contain the source of the infiltration for faster mitigation.

6. Ensure data sovereignty

Your organization likely interacts with users from across the globe. With data sovereignty, you set up a system that processes digital data subject to the laws of the country where it’s located.

For cloud data protection, this means understanding and complying with the legal and regulatory frameworks that apply to data stored in various regions. This approach means following the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA)  for users in California and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for users in Europe.

Data sovereignty can be complex because of the differing requirements across geographic borders. Establish strict access controls and monitoring to ensure data isn't accessed or transferred in ways that violate sovereignty rules.

You can also manage data sovereignty by choosing cloud service providers that offer regional data centers and are transparent about their data handling and storage policies.

7. Implement a data loss prevention solution

A data loss prevention (DLP) solution is a valuable part of any comprehensive cloud data protection strategy. Advanced DLP tools, such as the Reveal Platform by Next, offer a method for automatically enforcing data handling policies to ensure your team uses all information appropriately and securely.

Unified cloud data protection solutions like Reveal automate the discovery, classification, monitoring, and protection of data across multiple environments, keeping you safer at scale.

For instance, the platform would automatically encrypt high-value data if an attempt were made to transmit it in human-readable form. See how effective your data loss prevention solution is and validate its policies with our simple DLP Policy Testing Tool.

Sa‎feguard the digital frontier with Reveal

‎Cloud data protection will only become more important as organizations store more critical data in the cloud. The benefits of cloud data outweigh the risks, but only if organizations take cloud security seriously from the start.

A reliable cloud data protection partner is the best defense against an onslaught of breach attempts. Reveal delivers machine learning on the endpoint with an intelligent agent that identifies and categorizes data at the point of risk.

The platform creates baselines at deployment and tunes them through the use of behavioral analytics algorithms to identify anomalous activity. The solution’s lightweight agents interact with a cloud-native, multi-tenant platform that provides fast deployment, flexibility, and immediate visibility into your data resources.

Reveal also classifies data on the fly as the environment creates or ingests it, handling this data according to its value and importance to your organization. Lastly, incident-based user training at the point of risk raises employee security IQ and strengthens cloud data protection.

Talk to Next and book a demo to see how Reveal can help keep your cloud data secure.

Fr‎equently asked questions

How does encryption in transit differ from encryption at rest?

Encryption in transit refers to protecting data as it moves across networks, ensuring it can't be intercepted and read by unauthorized parties. This is often achieved through protocols like TLS (Transport Layer Security).

Encryption at rest focuses on securing data stored on a server or a disk, making it unreadable without the appropriate decryption key. Both forms are crucial for comprehensive cloud data security, safeguarding data both during transfer and storage.

How important are firewalls in securing cloud data?

Firewalls play a critical role in cloud data security. They act as a barrier between a trusted internal network and untrusted external networks, like the internet.

In the cloud, firewalls control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on an organization's security policies, effectively preventing unauthorized access to cloud-stored data.

Can cloud data security measures mitigate Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks?

Yes, cloud-based security measures can be effective against DDoS attacks. Cloud providers typically have more extensive resources and advanced infrastructure to detect, absorb, and disperse large-scale traffic associated with DDoS attacks.

Implementing cloud security measures like rate limiting, traffic analysis, and robust firewall configurations can significantly reduce the impact of such attacks.


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