Cloud Security Basics, Best Practices & Implementation

Cloud security is a set of controls, policies, procedures, and technologies that protect data, infrastructure, and systems that are stored in cloud environments. 

Cloud security measures give businesses the processes and tools they need to keep their data safe, meet their regulatory compliance requirements, protect their customers’ privacy, and establish authentication rules around all of their users and devices.

Security for cloud services offers the same functionalities as traditional IT security while enabling businesses to enjoy the numerous benefits of cloud computing. Whether your business is working in a legacy, hybrid, or multi-cloud environment, keeping your data secure is crucial to the success of your company. Here, we’ll cover why cloud security is essential, and the best practices associated with successful cloud security programs.

Why cloud security is important

Operating on the cloud requires having security measures in place that protect applications, data, and systems from corruption, deletion, leakage, and theft. Because cloud applications require no installation and can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, any information that they host is theoretically more susceptible to cyber threats and hacking. Without protecting your cloud storage, your data and user information is at risk. 

To mitigate this risk, organizations need to implement the appropriate provisions on all cloud computing security threats, regardless of whether they run a native cloud, hybrid, or on-premises environment.

By increasing your cloud security, you can: 

  • Prevent existing cloud threats. Data stored in the cloud is readily accessible to cybercriminals if it isn’t secured with the appropriate protections. Unprotected data leaves organizations vulnerable to data loss, as well as risks like compromised APIs, account hijacking, malicious insider threats, mobile security threats, and weak access, credential, and identity management.
  • Defend against evolving risks. The threat landscape is constantly changing as cybercriminals deploy increasingly sophisticated attack methods. It’s vital that companies keep their security defenses up to date.
  • Centralize security. Cloud-based networks are accessed by thousands—and even millions—of users and devices from a range of locations at all hours. Managing this ebb and flow manually can be near impossible and increases the risk of leaving business data vulnerable to an attack. Streamlining access management and centralizing the protection of data enhances security and reduces administrators’ workloads.
  • Reduce costs. Cloud infrastructure security removes the need for businesses to invest in dedicated, often expensive hardware. Cloud security offers 24/7 protection with minimal human intervention required, reducing capital expenditure and administrative overhead. 

Use a best-in-class security platform to ensure your users and their data are protected, while freeing your administrators, IT, and security teams to spend less time on unnecessary administrative tasks and more on tasks that add value to your business.

Factors to consider when implementing cloud security

There are several questions that businesses should consider before investing in a cloud networking security solution.

  • Has the solution provider been thoroughly vetted? A company is only as strong as the security solutions it adopts. Ensure that the security tools you choose for your cloud services are from trusted and proven providers.
  • Can you automate your software updates? It’s no good having security in place to protect data if it doesn’t stay up to date with the latest threats. Ensure that software is set to install updates as and when they arrive. Automation also removes the risk of employees forgetting to update their software or devices.
  • Does the solution meet your compliance requirements? Like the threat landscape, compliance regulations are also constantly changing. Businesses need to be aware of the compliance requirements of the various jurisdictions in which they store cloud-based personal, financial, and sensitive data—and have a solution that covers all those bases.

Cloud security best practices

There are several cloud security best practices that businesses can implement to ensure their solutions and teams are protected.

1. Deploy multi-factor authentication

Adaptive MFA is crucial to helping businesses add an extra layer of security to their cloud-based environments while improving user experiences.

Passwords are no longer enough when it comes to protecting user accounts and sensitive business data. Along with stolen credentials, weak passwords are one of the easiest and most popular ways for hackers to gain unauthorized access to business systems: it’s estimated that 80% of security breaches involve compromised passwords.

MFA requires employees, customers, and partners to verify their identity by providing a second piece of evidence—whether a one-time password or biometric verification—when attempting to access applications, devices, and systems. This process ensures businesses aren’t relying solely on username and password combinations to authenticate users. 

2. Go passwordless

Once you’ve established MFA, the next step for many companies will be detach from passwords altogether. 

Passwordless authentication, using apps like Okta Verify and WebAuthn, enable businesses to:

  • Leverage session risk to enhance the authentication experience.
  • Provide one-click or one-touch authentication across desktop and mobile. 
  • Reduce IT helpdesk and support costs associated with password management.
  • Minimize the risk—and cost—of data breaches caused by stolen or compromised credentials.

3. Manage user access

Employees really only require access to the applications and resources they need to get their job done. And providing users with access levels beyond what they need can leave a business open to credential theft and insider threat attacks.

Organizations need to set appropriate levels of authorization to ensure that every employee is only able to view and access the applications and data they require. They can also set user access rights to prevent an employee from editing or deleting information they aren’t authorized to and protect them from hackers stealing an employee’s credentials. 

4. Constantly monitor activity

Given the high threat level of cloud applications and systems, it’s important to regularly and systematically scan for any irregular user activity. Businesses should carry out real-time analysis and monitoring to detect any actions that deviate from regular usage patterns, such as a user logging in from a new IP address or accessing an application from a new device. 

These irregularities can indicate a potential security breach, so real-time monitoring helps to stop a hacker before they can do any damage. And in the case where a user has accessed the system from a new device and triggered a benign alert, they can be quickly and easily verified through MFA.

Solutions that help businesses to monitor applications and systems in real time include endpoint detection and response, intrusion detection and response, and vulnerability scanning and remediation.

5. Automate onboarding and offboarding

When a new employee joins a company, they require access to the applications and systems they need to get up and running and do their job effectively. However, it’s equally important that as soon as an employee leaves the organization their access to all data and resources is revoked. 

Automating the onboarding and offboarding process ensures that no mistakes are made, there’s no delay in deprovisioning user access, and takes the burden of account maintenance off of admins and IT teams.

6. Ongoing employee training

Having cloud computing security in place is important, but it’s also vital to ensure that your employees understand the risks that they face. With password and credential theft so prevalent, employees are an organization’s first line of defense against hackers. 

Organizations need to provide regular training to keep security top of mind for employees.

Teams should be trained to understand the signs of a phishing attack, what spoofing websites are, and the tactics hackers use to target victims. 

What makes cloud security different from on-premises security?

Unlike traditional, static data storage, the cloud is always changing. That means businesses need a security approach that is adaptable, automated, and evolving. 

Businesses should also be aware of the key differences between application security in the cloud and traditional IT security:

  • The perimeter has shifted. In the past, businesses secured a network perimeter and then presumed everything behind it was trusted and everything outside it was not. But cloud environments are highly connected, enabling users to connect to business networks from multiple devices and various locations—in other words, people have become the new perimeter

With a growing number of users and devices, this distributed perimeter increases the risk of unauthorized access via account hijacks, insider threats, insecure APIs, and weak identity management processes. A new security mentality is required to strengthen authorization and authentication, protect identities, and encrypt data.

  • Everything is software, and software requires security. A cloud computing infrastructure offers several hosted resources that are delivered to users through applications. These resources are dynamic, portable, and scalable, and are organized by cloud-based management systems and APIs. Cloud security controls accompany workloads and data at all times—whether it is at rest or in transit—to protect environments from corruption and data loss.
  • The threats are more sophisticated. Modern computing, including the cloud, is susceptible to the growing range of increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. From malware to AI-enabled social engineering and advanced persistent threats (APTs), these threats are purposefully created to target vulnerabilities in businesses’ systems and networks. Cloud security is constantly evolving in response, and it’s imperative for organizations to keep pace and follow the latest best practices to prevent emerging threats.

Secure your cloud services with Okta

Operating on the cloud offers myriad benefits, from cost efficiencies to enhanced user experiences. But it’s imperative that your cloud solutions are protected by trusted cloud security software, following cloud security best practices, and ensuring employees are aware of the risks.

Discover how Okta can help your businesses deploy a secure cloud infrastructure and download the Okta Security Technical Whitepaper to share with your team