Cloud platforms have revolutionized the way organizations do business online. Over the years, most organizations have shifted to using cloud platforms for managing and housing their data. The shift from on-premises data storage environments is mainly due to the expenses and the scalability issues that come with on-premises data systems. In addition to that, the Big Data era also contributes to the use of cloud-based environments. However, the adaptation of cloud environments is raising several cloud data security issues. This blog explains the concept of cloud platforms, the risks to cloud data security, and various preventative measures to avoid data security threats.

Here’s what the blog will cover:

  1. The shift to cloud-based data management systems
  2. Drawbacks of on-premises data environments
  3. What is cloud data security?
  4. Types of cloud computing services
  5. Why should organizations consider strengthening their cloud data security?
  6. What are the threats facing cloud data security?
  7. How do you protect data against cloud data security threats?
A book with a cloud and a lock signifying cloud data security

The Shift to Cloud-Based Data Management Systems

On-premises data security systems were used for the longest time. When organizations had simple policies and dealt with relatively structured data, the need for cloud-driven data systems was not as in demand.

An on-premises IT infrastructure is one that allows an organization to build an in-house data storage and management system. To do this, the organization must purchase a software license and set up the required hardware infrastructure. In this case, the organization is responsible for regulating and maintaining its data servers. Additionally, on-premises data housing architectures provide assurance about data security issues. Since the data is within the premises of the organization, external security breaches and threats are not as likely.

However, the main disadvantage of on-premises systems is the cost of building and perpetuating an on-site data server. Organizations must actively invest in setting up the software and the hardware to house all the data in one place. Furthermore, integrating data security policies to ensure data integrity requires a high amount of robustness and maintenance.

Before the Big Data revolution, companies mainly relied on in-house data management architectures. The reason for this was that high-performance computing (HPC) was mainly restricted to academia and Big Tech firms that were mostly data driven.

But with the exponential growth of data and the importance of data analysis techniques, companies quickly shifted their focus to adapting a cloud-based infrastructure.

Drawbacks of On-Premises Data Environments

To sum up, here are key issues associated with on-premises data systems:

  • Expense: The cost of building an on-premises data housing infrastructure is very high.
  • Maintenance: An organization housing its own data must make sure to hire extra IT staff to maintain and perform regular checks on the infrastructure.
  • Updates: It is necessary to keep up with the system hardware and software updates in accordance with the dynamics of the data world. However, such updates can become cumbersome and expensive for on-premises data systems.
  • Scalability: Given the cost and maintenance of on-premises infrastructure, scalability is often a limiting factor. For instance, expanding on storage space can take up several days and require more investment.

On the other hand, the ease of maintenance and lower costs have attracted most organizations to make the shift from on-premises environments. Moreover, due to the global data-driven, cloud-computing era, companies are actively choosing to adapt to cloud-based infrastructures.

What Is Cloud Data Security?

Cloud data security is associated with the maintenance and protection of data stored on the cloud. Essentially, an external service provider hosts the organization’s data on their cloud. As opposed to on-premises data storage systems, data housed on cloud platforms is not enclosed in a private storage system. In such environments, the software and hardware used to house an organization’s data are shared among several clients of the cloud service provider.

Cloud-based environments have several benefits in terms of the cost of setup, connectivity with clients, infrastructure maintenance, and policies. However, since data is hosted on a shared platform, it is more prone to data security threats.

Cloud data security is the most central issue associated with cloud computing. The concern is about the infrastructure of cloud platforms, which is shared with hundreds of other cloud clients—essentially strangers—across the globe. Since data is dynamic and moves across the shared cloud environment, there is a higher chance of facing security threats.

For instance, most data-driven organizations collect private and sensitive information about their customers. This data is housed on a shared platform that is accessed by several others. In order to ensure the security of confidential information, the organization and the cloud service provider must have a system in place to tackle external security threats. Such systems define the data security protocols of an organization.

Before we shed light on the concerns relevant to cloud data security, let us briefly understand the different types of cloud computing services that an organization can sign up for.

Types of Cloud Computing Services

The three types of cloud computing services are

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): Like the name suggests, IaaS install the cloud computing infrastructure, such as data servers, an integration pipeline, network connectivity, and so on over the internet. This type of service allows you to rent out the resources and infrastructure in need.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): PaaS provides data storage infrastructure, along with data management systems such as BI tools. It provides end-to-end resources needed for developing and deploying applications.
  • Software as a service (SaaS): SaaS is a widely used service opted by several companies. Google Drive is an example of this kind. SaaS provides a software setup that encompasses all the cloud features online. There is no installation of infrastructure. Instead, the data is completely housed at the service provider’s data center.

Why Should Organizations Consider Strengthening Their Cloud Data Security?

To sum up, here’s a list of reasons why an organization using a cloud-based environment should consider cloud data security:

  • Cloud platforms are far more vulnerable to security threats and cyberattacks due to their shared infrastructure.
  • Owing to the dynamic nature of data and the endless virtual environment, organizations cannot pinpoint the location of their data.
  • Since the cloud service providers store and manage data, an organization has less control over how the data is being stored.
  • Organizations can often be left in the dark about how and by whom their data is being accessed. It’s an even riskier game if the organization collects sensitive data about the customers.
  • Although cloud service platforms provide data security, it is essential that the organization has a system in place for securing its own data. This is a shared responsibility between the service provider and the client.

What Are the Threats Facing Cloud Data Security?

With more and more organizations moving their data to the cloud, it is essential to take into account the possible security threats one can face. Curating a list of possible threats can help an organization build a plan that mitigates such security threats.

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Here are a few of the key security issues that are common in the cloud computing domain:

Limited Visibility and Control

A security risks report produced by Gartner indicated that 90% of organizations worry that lack of control and visibility of their data is a predominant cloud data security risk.

Despite the ease of maintenance and lower cost of cloud data environments, organizations are often clueless about the management of their data. In addition to that, there is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty associated with the location of various applications on the cloud. Such an arrangement causes the organization to lose visibility and control of its own data.

The Threat of the Big World Wide Web

It is safe to say that without the internet, we would not be nearly as close to the advancements we have now. The internet has fueled the development of the most impactful technologies that exist today. But it is also true that the World Wide Web gave rise to hackers.

Under the domain of cloud computing, the service providers offer APIs that allow clients to access and manage their data. One can access these APIs through the internet, exposing them to malicious attacks. This can threaten the organization’s security and reputation. Once the hackers have gained access, they can exploit valuable and confidential customer information. This can have drastic consequences, especially if the organization stores transactional information about their customers such as credit card details.

Convoluted Cloud Infrastructure

The organization of data from different clients on the cloud can become arbitrary. Because of the shared infrastructure, there is no clear distinction between the storage system of different cloud tenants. Especially when cloud service providers lend their services to several clients, this distinction becomes even blurrier. This ill-defined boundary between data from different organizations can cause further security issues.

For instance, a hacker can take advantage of such a situation and access a chain of databases from different organizations. This increases the surface of attack and contributes to data leakage. Furthermore, the cloud infrastructure can complicate the management and protection of data. The IT staff must have the skills to manage, integrate, and monitor the movement of data through the cloud.

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Violation of Contract

When an organization signs up with a cloud service provider, it agrees to upload and share data over the cloud infrastructure. The organizations require permission from relevant authorities, including their own customers about sharing their data.

Not only is the legal process complex (because it requires permission from many authorities), but it also involves taking care of several intricacies. Many organizations fail to do this and violate the agreement. This can cost the organization its reputation and millions of dollars because, at any point in time, a customer or a client can file a lawsuit and take legal action against the organization.

Compliance Violation by the Cloud Service Provider

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires that organizations fully disclose details about what is being done with customer data, who is accessing it, and so on. When a cloud service provider agrees to offer its services to an organization, it must receive permission from the customers in order to access their information.

However, over the years, several cloud service providers have been elusive about how they access customer data. Furthermore, some service providers do not fully disclose their data security standards. This can leave both the clients and customers clueless about the data security risks they are facing.

A Decline in Customer Trust

Owing to various events in the recent past, such as the huge data leakage associated with Facebook, many people have begun to question the authenticity of cloud platforms. The influence of popular media has also resulted in many customers withdrawing their cloud accounts and disassociating themselves from the producers.

How to Protect Data Against Cloud Data Security Threats

So far we have looked at the potential risks concerned with cloud data security. This section will give insights into how one can avoid such data security threats by following a set of best practices to maintain data integrity.

Here are some beneficial practices to consider.

Data Encryption

This is one of the most straightforward and widely used data protection techniques. Encrypting sensitive customer data can prevent hackers from easily accessing and manipulating valuable information such as credit and debit card details, personal identification numbers, and so on.

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Usually, cloud service providers offer encryption as a part of their data security measures. However, encrypting data at two levels can add an additional layer of protection against hackers.

Regular Checks and Audits

The IT staff plays a huge role in cloud data security management. They are responsible for keeping track of all updates and transfers that occur within the cloud servers. IT staff members must perform regular audits to check the records of who is accessing the data. Furthermore, the IT staff must be able to identify phishing attacks, bugged emails, and similar threats.

Choosing the Right Cloud Service Provider

It is necessary to address all potential data security issues that a company can face. A cloud service provider must be able to provide a data security standard that matches the company’s networking environment. It is crucial to look for service providers that share the same sense of data protection protocols and provide legal assurance about security threats.

Furthermore, the service provider must be willing to disclose their data security measures so that an organization can decide if the provider can sufficiently offer protection against cyberattacks.

Enhance Your Security Measures

Easy access to data is the weak point that often puts the organization at risk. One can add restrictions to easy accessibility by following two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication. This adds additional layers of security measures. For instance, when Gmail notices multiple access attempts or access from an unusual location, it requests the user to enter an OTP sent to their registered mobile number. If your service provider does not follow such security protocols, find a way to enhance such measures or look for another cloud platform.

Another practice involves backing up your data as often as possible. Furthermore, providing only relevant access to data within an organization also reduces the chances of exposing data to threats. These measures are also relevant for on-premises data storage systems.

Conclusion

Despite the data security threats that are prevalent on cloud platforms, they are the most scalable and efficient way to store your organization’s data. The cost of setup, infrastructure maintenance, network connectivity, security protocols, and availability of data are among the reasons why most organizations choose cloud services.

When it comes to choosing the right cloud platform for your organization, it’s necessary that you do thorough research about the services they provide, such as the storage capacity, infrastructure, data security policies, and so on.

For instance, Scalyr provides a robust cloud platform as a service. The platform is optimized to run high cardinality structured or unstructured data. Moreover, at Scalyr we allow you to test our data analytics engine, which runs faster than most of the cloud analytics tools you encounter on the market. You can use your own data (or sample Scalyr data) to test our services for free. For further information, head to our event cloud data page.

With that, we come to the end of this blog post. I hope that you now have a good understanding of cloud-based data environments, their benefits, pitfalls, and how you can protect your data from malicious attacks that occur over the cloud.

I hope you found this blog informative. Stay tuned for more!

This post was written by Zulaikha Greer. Zulaikha is a tech enthusiast with expertise in various domains such as data science, ML, and statistics. She enjoys researching cognitive science, marketing, and design. She’s a cat lover by nature who loves to read—you can often find her with a book, enjoying Beethoven’s, Mozart’s, or Vivaldi’s legendary pieces.

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