Overview: Security and the cloud

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With over 3.5 billion people accessing the cloud in one way or another this past year, working in the cloud has become nearly an industry standard in how businesses manage many of their technology needs. Whether it’s in the office or on the road, accessing the cloud as either a place to store data, place backups, or utilize software, the cloud’s usefulness has opened up numerous opportunities for businesses to increase efficiency while keeping costs under control.

Yet, as with the many benefits Internet technology has provided businesses of all sizes, there exist risks as well.  

How secure is the cloud? Is your data safe? How well can you control who has access to your cloud?

These are important questions. While it’s difficult to say that anything is 100-percent effective, there are steps you can take to make your cloud computing experience as secure as possible.

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Understanding your cloud

What sort of cloud are you using? There are different types.

The most common forms of cloud computing setups in use today break down into three major categories: public, private, and hybrid. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Public cloud

This is the most common type of cloud setup you’ll see. It’s often the least expensive, and the most easily accessible–particularly for remote employees. Public clouds are hosted by commercial services such as Dropbox, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others. They’re most often accessed via a username and password, but can also be accessed through the use of virtual folders on a computer desktop.

The security is often only as strong as the password and security protocols employed by the account holders.

Private cloud

This is a cloud setup that functions as a personal, private server at a hosted offsite service, or could be an actual physical server onsite that can be accessed remotely or through your business’s internal network. This can often run into a bit more money, but it enjoys a higher level of security and control over access. In addition, public clouds can sometimes suffer slow transmission times during peak hours. This is less of a concern with a private cloud where your connection is dedicated and only used by you.

Hybrid cloud

As the name suggests, this is a combination of the previous two. It can cost less than a private cloud because you can choose only those storage needs or private services you require, and the public cloud options provide easy access to users whose data doesn’t require a higher tier of security.

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Actionable steps toward cloud security

No matter what type of cloud you’re running, there are some simple steps everyone should take to protect important data and maintain controlled access.

Strong password practices

This is more than simply having a unique, impossible-to-guess password. While that is certainly important when using a public cloud service, it can be strengthened when setting up private or hybrid clouds by employing two-step authorization protocols to minimize password hacking.

It is a good idea to change passwords frequently, and users should be cautious in how they share their passwords with others. While it’s unlikely that a user will just simply tell someone else their password, there are incidents in which bad actors attempt to acquire password information over the phone under the guise of tech support.

Common sense security habits

Be suspicious of e-mails asking for your personal information. Phishing is a common ploy used by hackers to gather sensitive information such as account names and passwords. No credible e-mail is going to ask you to share this information in a reply. Be careful about clicking links or downloading attachments unless you are certain the sender is legitimate. Failing to do so may result in spyware getting installed on your computer without your knowledge which will most definitely result in a data breach.

If your employees are accessing the cloud through mobile devices such as phones or tablets, make sure they understand how to keep those devices secure: avoid public Wi-Fi, password-protect the devices, turn devices off when not in use, and be wary of phishing attempts via voice, e-mail, or text message.

Employ firewalls and encryption where applicable

If using a private or hybrid cloud, make sure that only authorized users from authorized sources are admitted access. This means using strong firewalls on your home networks and that similar protections are put in place on the side of your private or hybrid clouds when possible.

It’s a good idea to make certain that data flowing between your computers and your cloud is encrypted. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides good security and encryption options, or you could look into any number of commercially available encryption programs.

Check with your cloud service provider to see what options they have encryption protection.

Have a backup protocol

Some cloud service providers–particularly private ones–will offer regular backup services. If your private cloud is onsite, it is good to have backup procedures in place in case of a natural disaster, a major hardware crash, or a catastrophic hacking attack.

Even if your cloud storage is offsite, it’s important to have regular backups made in case of unexpected data loss.

Be wary that most of the large public cloud services do not offer much in the way of backup solutions, so you’ll have to set up an internal procedure to manually back up cloud data to a physical drive. This can be very time-consuming, so it’s best to examine what your backup needs are and develop a workable plan to enact it.

Know who has access

As your company grows, so, too, does the number of people accessing your cloud. This is especially important when it comes to knowing who has access to system-level resources.

Know who you are giving access to and that they have been educated on relevant security measures and that they are following set protocols when it comes to transmitting data or using virtual software.

Private cloud services can often provide you with tools to monitor usage. This will allow you to see who is accessing what part of the cloud and when, and should allow you to detect suspicious behavior before any serious damage can be done.

Use a monitoring service

Some private cloud providers also provide a service in which they monitor activity on your cloud for suspicious activity and flag it for review or directly intervene to stop trouble before it happens. These providers are usually well-informed regarding the latest forms of cyber attack, virus infiltration, denial-of-service attacks, and other online risks.

Consider this…

As odd as it may sound, your data may be safer on the cloud than in your own data center. Even public cloud providers employ layers of safety protocols to protect your data. It’s in their best interest to provide reliable, safe service to a large number of customers. Private and hybrid cloud service providers can add extra layers of protection as well as additional layers of control.

In the end, cloud security is more about best practices than anything else.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the technology gets. So long as your users are employing the necessary security protocols, your data enjoys a good chance of being safe.