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Cloud Data Security

Cloud data security is the comprehensive strategy of preventing data loss or leakage in the cloud from security threats like unauthorized access, data breaches, and insider threats.

Wiz Experts Team
7 min read

What is cloud data security?  

Cloud data security is the comprehensive strategy of preventing data loss or leakage in the cloud from security threats like unauthorized access, data breaches, and insider threats.

Cloud data security encompasses a combination of technologies, policies, and processes that work together to safeguard data throughout its lifecycle in the cloud, from the moment it enters to when it's deleted. This includes data at rest and in transit, and however organizations manage that data—whether on their own or with the help of third-party cloud service providers (CSPs).

Cloud data security is vital in today’s digital age where cloud-based data storage is a growing part of every organization’s business operations. Data exposure has become very common, in part because of lax security standards.

47% of companies have at least one exposed storage bucket or database completely open to the internet.

Wiz State of the Cloud Report '23

As organizations increasingly operate via web portals as they transition to IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS computing models, it’s become much more complex to ensure security and data protection across cloud-based environments and services. As threats become more advanced, they can target public, private, and hybrid cloud environments where organizations lack:

  • True visibility into application and data access storage, movement, and sharing vulnerabilities

  • Multi-cloud visibility across all the clouds involved

  • Understanding of their role in the cloud providers’ shared responsibility models

  • Regulatory compliance visibility and safeguards

These points represent the primary areas where organizations can face challenges to enabling data security in the cloud.

The challenges of securing data in the cloud 

Alongside its people, data is an organization’s most valuable business asset, and its loss can have enormous repercussions. That IBM 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report showed that data breaches cost companies an average of 4.45 million in 2023

It’s obvious that something needs to be done to secure systems. But the only thing as dire as a data breach itself are the challenges involved with securing that data. The pitfalls can include:

  • Misconfigurations in web apps, cloud environment architecture, unsecured devices, identity access management, etc. This can lead to unauthorized access to data by malicious actors.

  • Lack of visibility into data access within and outside the network

  • An expanded attack surface due to cloud environment flexibility and scalability

  • Complex environments such as multi-cloud and hybrid deployments, virtual, containers, instances, APIs, and Kubernetes clusters

  • Multi-tenant public cloud environments where attacks can spread

  • Regulatory compliance can require data security documentation for audits 

  • Distributed data storage and databases across multiple providers and data sovereignty laws based on the data’s country of physical location add complexity. 

These challenges collectively add up to cause considerable challenges. As more organizations embark on a multi-cloud strategy, it becomes more difficult to discern who is responsible for securing data in the cloud.

Who is responsible for securing data in the cloud?  

The shared responsibility model for cloud security is only the beginning of understanding who is responsible for cloud data security. The provider takes responsibility for the cloud, which only includes cloud computing infrastructure. Customers are often responsible for securing:

  • data

  • applications

  • identity and access management

  • platform resource configuration

This broad area of responsibility for customers can quickly become complex. In addition to these responsibilities, there is one major problem area whose cloud security implications need to be taken into account: shadow IT.

Cloud and hybrid storage environment management and monitoring are complex. Employees and departments can make this even worse with the introduction of shadow IT. These unvetted software, services, and tools can introduce vulnerabilities that can be exploited by threat actors. As long as it’s easy for individuals or departments to implement SaaS applications not sanctioned by their IT departments, shadow IT will continue to be a problem. 

Shadow IT can expose cloud data in a number of ways, including:

  • Weak security controls: Unauthorized cloud services and applications may not have the same security controls as sanctioned cloud services. This makes it easier for hackers to gain access to data stored in these services.

  • Human error: Employees may accidentally share or expose data stored in unauthorized cloud services. For example, an employee may accidentally share a link to a Dropbox file containing company data.

  • Malware: Malware can be used to steal data from unauthorized cloud services. For example, a hacker could send an employee a phishing email with a malicious attachment. If the employee opens the attachment, the malware could be installed on their computer and used to steal data from their Dropbox account.

Some simple examples of Shadow IT could include:

  • Employees using unauthorized cloud storage services, such as Google Drive or iCloud, to store company data.

  • Employees using unauthorized cloud-based collaboration tools, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, to share company data.

  • Employees using unauthorized cloud-based applications, such as Salesforce or HubSpot, to store and manage company data

While cloud providers follow best practices for data security in the cloud, it will be up to you to do the same in order to protect your organization’s data, applications, and workloads running on the cloud.

A few simple best practices for ensuring data security in the cloud  

Technology advances and expanding cloud ecosystems constantly introduce new cloud data security challenges. Understanding the risks and approaches to combating them is crucial.  The following best practices should be the starting point for implementing your cloud computing data security efforts:

Sensitive data discovery

Your cloud data security efforts start with data discovery to identify all the sensitive data in the organization. This visibility must be complete across all storage environments, including on-prem systems, cloud storage services, databases, and any data in transit. You’ll also need to be able to identify any shadow data you have on hand. 

The ability to identify any exposed APIs is another area which can be critical to identifying and eliminating data vulnerabilities. Gaining this kind of visibility must be quick, continuous, and agentless to ensure a complete picture of all sensitive data is gathered without affecting the environment. 

Classify data using context

Once all data has been identified and located, it must be classified by type, level of sensitivity, and any regulations that may apply to it. This includes scanning for PII, PHI, and PCI across your storage ecosystem. 

Data will need to be classified by how it moves within the organization, who uses it, and how it’s being used. This context should support proactive identification of potential attack paths and prioritize alerts for a fast response. 

Encrypt data in transit and at rest

Encrypting data at rest and in transit is paramount to data security because it makes the data unusable to hostile actors without the decryption key. While the cloud providers offer some in-transit and at-rest encryption, organizations should add file-level encryption before making any cloud storage transfers. 

Limit access to resources

There are a number of ways that you can limit access to your data including role-based access controls (RBAC), attribute-based access controls (ABAC), adhering to the Zero Trust model (which revolves around the principle of "never trust, always verify"), and enabling end-user device security. Data encryption also offers numerous ways to thwart bad actors and decrease vulnerabilities.

Implement business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) 

Enables fast data recovery and the resumption of normal business operations starting with implementation of the 3-2-1-1-0 backup rule. 

This backup strategy ensures there are three (3) copies of the data in addition to the original, stored across at least two (2) types of media. One (1) copy of the data is kept offsite (generally via cloud BCDR). One (1) other copy is kept offline. The organization must then verify that all the copies have zero (0) errors.

Continuous real-time data risk monitoring

Visualization of a VM with sensitive data being targeted by a SSH brute force attack

Cloud environments are dynamic, so the risks constantly change, demanding real-time risk detection for new data assets, threats, and attack methods across cloud environments. 

Automate compliance assessments

Automated compliance software can provide compliance workflow capabilities such as assessments, corrective action planning, and controls analysis and testing based on an organization’s security policies. 

The ability to detect regulatory violations and enable constant security updates replaces manual spot checks which can be impractical and error prone. 

Implement comprehensive cloud security solutions

Organizations today have many cloud data protection tools to choose from, including:

  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM)

  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

  • Security information and event management (SIEM)

  • Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM)

  • Kubernetes security posture management (KSPM)

  • Data security posture management (DSPM)

While you might have any of these cloud data security tools in place, they can often create data security silos themselves that leave vulnerability gaps. Organizations can provide a more comprehensive and granular cloud data security platform via a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP). 

A CNAPP combines elements from all the above, along with API discovery and protection, serverless security, and more. But making the best determination on cloud data security solutions must start with an understanding of how data security in the cloud works.

Is DSPM a part of your cloud security stack? 

The complexity of learning how to secure cloud data results directly from the many environments and tools that overlap and connect in endless ways. These combine to drive internal and external organization business, operations, communications, collaboration, and services. But to make them work securely requires comprehensive visibility via a single resource that can help monitor continuously, document events, and remediate problems as they occur.

Many cybersecurity professionals conclude that a unified cloud security platform, such as a CNAPP that includes DSPM, such as Wiz, is ideal for gaining a comprehensive cloud ecosystem visibility. The best of these solutions provides a single dashboard for all policies and alert configurations. The ability to integrate with other cloud data security solutions ensures that organizations can maximize their security management posture and provide the agility, scalability, and visibility for emerging cloud security needs.

To learn how Wiz incorporates the only comprehensive DSPM your organization will need, sign up for a personalized Wiz demo here.  

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