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Cloud data security still a challenge

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Despite the continued importance of cloud computing resources to organisations, companies are not adopting appropriate governance and security measures to protect sensitive data in the cloud.
These are just a few findings a Ponemon Institute study titled “The 2016 Global Cloud Data Security Study,” commissioned by Gemalto. The study surveyed more than 3 400 IT and IT security practitioners worldwide to gain a better understanding of key trends in data governance and security practices for cloud-based services.
According to 73% of respondents, cloud-based services and platforms are considered important to their organisation’s operations and 81% said they will be more so over the next two years. In fact, 36% of respondents said their companies’ total IT and data processing needs were met using cloud resources today and that they expected this to increase to 45% over the next two years.
Although cloud-based resources are becoming more important to companies’ IT operations and business strategies, 54% of respondents did not agree their companies have a proactive approach to managing security and complying with privacy and data protection regulations in cloud environments. This is despite the fact that 65% of respondents said their organisations are committed to protecting confidential or sensitive information in the cloud. Furthermore, 56% did not agree their organisation is careful about sharing sensitive information in the cloud with third parties such as business partners, contractors and vendors.
“Cloud security continues to be a challenge for companies, especially in dealing with the complexity of privacy and data protection regulations,” says Dr Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “To ensure compliance, it is important for companies to consider deploying such technologies as encryption, tokenisation or other cryptographic solutions to secure sensitive data transferred and stored in the cloud.”
“Organisations have embraced the cloud with its benefits of cost and flexibility but they are still struggling with maintaining control of their data and compliance in virtual environments,” says Jason Hart, vice-resident and chief technology officer: data protection at Gemalto.
“It’s quite obvious security measures are not keeping pace because the cloud challenges traditional approaches of protecting data when it was just stored on the network. It is an issue that can only be solved with a data-centric approach in which IT organisations can uniformly protect customer and corporate information across the dozens of cloud-based services their employees and internal departments rely every day.”
Key findings of the study include:
* Cloud security is stormy because of shadow IT – According to respondents, nearly half (49%) of cloud services are deployed by departments other than corporate IT, and an average of 47% of corporate data stored in cloud environments is not managed or controlled by the IT department. However, confidence in knowing all cloud computing services in use is increasing. Fifty-four percent of respondents are confident that the IT organisation knows all cloud computing applications, platform or infrastructure services in use – a nine percent increase from 2014.
* Conventional security practices do not apply in the cloud – In 2014, 60% of respondents felt it was more difficult to protect confidential or sensitive information when using cloud services. This year, 54% said the same. Difficulty in controlling or restricting end-user access increased from 48% in 2014 to 53% of respondents in 2016. The other major challenges that make security difficult include the inability to apply conventional information security in cloud environments (70% of respondents) and the inability to directly inspect cloud providers for security compliance (69% of respondents).
* More customer information is being stored in the cloud and is considered the data most at risk – According to the survey, customer information, emails, consumer data, employee records and payment information are the types of data most often stored in the cloud. Since 2014, the storage of customer information in the cloud has increased the most, from 53% in 2014 to 62% of respondents saying their company was doing this today. Fifty-three percent also considered customer information the data most at risk in the cloud.
* Security departments left in the dark when it comes to buying cloud services – Only 21% of respondents said members of the security team are involved in the decision-making process about using certain cloud application or platforms. The majority of respondents (64%) also said their organisations do not have a policy that requires use of security safeguards, such as encryption, as a condition to using certain cloud computing applications.
* Encryption is important but not yet pervasive in the cloud – Seventy-two percent of respondents said the ability to encrypt or tokenise sensitive or confidential data is important, with 86% saying it will become more important over the next two years, up from 79% in 2014. While the importance of encryption is growing, it is not yet widely deployed in the cloud. For example, for SaaS, the most popular type of cloud-based service, only 34% of respondents say their organisation encrypts or tokenises sensitive or confidential data directly within cloud-based applications.
* Many companies still rely on passwords to secure user access to cloud services – Sixty-seven percent of respondents said the management of user identities is more difficult in the cloud than on-premises. However, organisations are not adopting measures that are easy to implement and could increase cloud security. About half (45%) of companies are not using multi-factor authentication to secure employee and third-party access to applications and data in the cloud, which means many companies are still relying on just user names and passwords to validate identities. This puts more data at risk because 58% of respondents say their organisations have third-party users accessing their data and information in the cloud.
The new realities of cloud IT mean that IT organisations need to set comprehensive policies for data governance and compliance, create guidelines for the sourcing of cloud services, and establish rules for what data can and cannot be stored in the cloud.
IT organisations can accomplish their mission to protect corporate data while also being an enabler of their “shadow IT” by implementing data security measures such as encryption that allow them to protect data in the cloud in a centralised fashion as their internal organisations source cloud-based services as needed.
As companies store more data in the cloud and utilise more cloud-based services, IT organisations need to place greater emphasis on stronger user access controls with multi-factor authentication. This is even more important for companies that give third-parties and vendors access to their data in cloud.