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November 17, 2021 | Updated on: November 13, 2023 | Reading time 17 minutes

Cloud Data Security and Compliance Best Practices

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Director of Support

Securing today’s technology solutions is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges looming on the horizon for organizations looking to secure and protect business-critical and customer data. Additionally, compliance challenges are only going to grow more complex and difficult to satisfy. Businesses move from on-premises environments into the public cloud and now need to know cloud data security best practices to meet security/threat prevention, compliance, and data protection concerns. The infrastructure landscape is set to grow even more complex as many businesses will maintain a presence both on-premises and in the public cloud.  This requires many different tools, processes, and methodologies to meet the challenges of hybrid cloud infrastructures. Following best practices for data protection, compliance, and threat prevention helps businesses meet these challenges with a high success rate. Let’s take a look at these recommended best practices for securing public cloud data to see how organizations can successfully secure and protect their data.

Data Protection, Compliance, and Threat Prevention – the Three-Fold Challenge for Business

Data is the new “gold” of businesses today. Everything is driven by collected data. Data is being stored in massive quantities and is being used for all kinds of purposes to further business interests and to make the customer experience more customized and tailored than ever before.

However, never before has data been under so much scrutiny from a regulatory perspective and in danger from security concerns and threats.  Businesses today must meet the three-fold challenge of data protection, compliance, and threat prevention to be successful at effectively using data in a way that is acceptable, useful, and secure.  Let’s take a look at why each of these three areas is critically important.

Don’t Rely on SaaS Vendors for Cloud Data Protection

When thinking about protecting data, many organizations may not consider backing up their data as a critical best practice component of security planning.

However, cloud-to-cloud backups are an extremely important part of the overall security of organization data.  At some point, data may be inadvertently or intentionally deleted due to the user or attacker’s actions. A ransomware infection may render business-critical data completely useless without paying the ransom.  In these cases, backups are the only way to recover data.

How to secure cloud services?

Most businesses have some type of strategy when it comes to on-premises data essential to business operations.  However, once public cloud services and infrastructure are utilized, the processes, tools, and backup strategies can get overlooked or neglected in general.

How to secure cloud services? Well, first you need to know the misconceptions about what responsibility the public cloud provider has towards data and what protections they offer.  It is critically important for businesses today to understand the importance of proactively taking charge of data backups for critical data being housed in public cloud environments such as Software-as-a-Service offerings like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. This means not relying on the public cloud vendor’s tools and offerings, but rather, making use of effective third-party tools that can protect data using best-practice methodologies.

Ensure Data Security to Meet Compliance Standards

Most if not all organizations doing business today fall under some type of compliance regulation(s).  Just last year, in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR compliance regulation was introduced.  GDPR makes it much more important for businesses doing business in or handling EU citizen’s data to protect this data.

GDPR has “real teeth” in terms of the penalties that can be levied against organizations found in breach of the new regulatory guidelines.  This includes penalties up to 4% of annual turnover or 20 million euros, whichever is higher.  This is no small penalty to be in breach of regulation!

GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, and other compliance regulations make it imperative that businesses make compliance an important part of the initial planning stages of new infrastructure including the public cloud. One of the key aspects of GDPR compliance is “security by design”.

Cloud security policy as part of GDPR can no longer be an “afterthought”.  It must be a primary consideration when building out IT infrastructure, processes, and services today. Despite the penalties that can be levied against businesses in breach of compliance regulations, the result is better security and a more focused approach to protecting customer data which is a good thing and a goal that all businesses today should and must strive for.

Hybrid infrastructure is making it more difficult for businesses to meet up compliance regulations as public cloud tooling, processes, and required services such as backups are often missing from the solution.  This creates gaps in the ability of businesses to effectively meet compliance goals.

Employ Prevention Methods to Stop Security Threats

How secure is cloud computing? Well, every week it seems there is a notable or high-profile breach in security or ransomware attack.  There is no end to attack vectors or threat actors looking to compromise data.  The number of threats and those looking to steal, compromise, or destroy data is not going away any time soon.  Businesses today must be vigilant about security.  A huge part of security vigilance is threat protection.

Effective threat protection means organizations today go on the offensive and are proactive about security.  A reactive stance these days is not enough and is dangerous.  Businesses that take the reactive approach are often the ones that make high-profile data breach headlines.

Hybrid cloud infrastructure that spans both on-premises and public cloud environments makes it more of a challenge for organizations to have the visibility and tools needed to properly manage, maintain, and secure their environments.

Often, small to mid-sized businesses are in the sights of attackers due to fewer resources both financially and in terms of technology and personnel to ward off attacks. A recent study by healthsecurity.com found that 71% of ransomware attacks targeted small businesses for this reason. Threat protection is a key area of securing today’s technology infrastructures since it means organizations are proactively looking for threats and remediating them.

How to Meet the Cloud Data Security Challenges 

Let’s talk about cloud application security. It is of key importance that businesses take a look at best practices in the areas of data protection, compliance, and threat protection as this goes a long way in ensuring the security of business-critical data.

Time and again, it is found that data breaches, leaks, and other security compromises such as ransomware attacks involve neglecting the basic security principles required to properly secure environments. Often, if best practice guidelines are implemented, security threats can be effectively neutralized before any real harm results.

Let’s look at a few basic best practice guidelines in the areas of data protection, compliance, and threat protection and see how these are important to the overall security posture of organizations today.

Cloud Data Protection Best Practices

There is a key role in data protection called the 3-2-1 backup rule that serves as a best practice for protecting business-critical data.  This best practice states you need to have (3) copies of your backups stored on (2) different mediums, with at least (1) stored offsite.  The overall benefit of the 3-2-1 backup rule is you have multiple copies of your data and those copies are intentionally separated from one another.

This methodology is a little easier to get “hands around” on-premises since on-premises environments are controlled, provisioned, managed, and backed up in one’s own data center with chosen tools and solutions.  However, with public cloud infrastructure, the 3-2-1 backup rule is often a much more difficult process for organizations to get a handle on compared to on-premises environments.

Cloud Data Backup

Following the same best practice recommendations based on the 3-2-1 backup rule on-premises, businesses must first make sure data is backed up in the first place.  This includes public cloud environments.  Backups of public cloud data need to be stored separately from the production environment as outlined in the 3-2-1 best practice methodology.  Many public cloud SaaS backup solutions require businesses to store data in the same infrastructure that houses production data.

However, businesses need a service that allows storing backup data in a separate infrastructure than production to ensure completely autonomous data backups that can be restored or downloaded without any reliance on the production SaaS infrastructure.

Keeping multiple, versioned copies of data is a core requirement of data backups.  Data backups usually fall into two categories – hot backups that are used for data recovery and archived backups used for long-term data inquiries.  Having the ability to store long-term backups for a designated period of time allows the ability to retain archival data.

Archived backups serve the purpose of being able to restore or review information needed for data inquiries and other historic data purposes.  Organizations utilizing a backup solution of public cloud data services need to be able to satisfy both of these backup requirements to satisfy best practice guidelines.

Cloud Data Compliance Best Practices

One of the most challenging aspects of compliance in either on-premises or public cloud environments is taking inventory of all data that exists and determining if the data is “in scope” or under the purview of a certain compliance regulation such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, or GDPR.  Equally challenging when thinking of public cloud environments is monitoring data usage and sharing to see which data is shared both inside and outside the organization.

Related: How SpinOne Helps You to Meet NIST 800-171 Compliance Requirements

These and many other challenges can certainly be obstacles to ensuring compliance regulations are successfully met.  The following compliance best practices can help organizations ensure meeting the most challenging compliance regulations being enforced on businesses today across their complex IT infrastructures involving the public cloud:

  • Use effective tools to monitor and inventory data
  • Monitor sharing of data inside and outside SaaS environments
  • Use Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand potential unusual data usage patterns
  • Encrypt data in-flight and at-rest
  • Leverage identity and access management to prove identity

Using effective tools to monitor and inventory data

One of the most difficult things to do in public cloud environments is to effectively monitor and audit data.  While there are many tools found within the public cloud Saas environment, often, these can be cumbersome to use, have separate logins and dashboards aside from the SaaS environment and each produces information difficult to aggregate or correlate across the different tools and utilities.

To add to the complexity, public cloud SaaS environments can be vast, with thousands of users and various permission levels.  Users can be coming from multiple sanctioned locations or even the public Internet when accessing business-critical data.  Many businesses struggle with monitoring access to files and having the ability to effectively audit access to these resources.  If this cannot be done with native tooling, businesses must use third-party solutions to be able to effectively gather and consume the data needed to keep in line with compliance best practices.

Monitor Sharing of Data Inside and Outside SaaS environments 

SaaS environments such as Office 365 and G Suite allow sharing access to users who are outside the environment.  This can create tremendous security and compliance challenges.  Organizations must monitor access to files and data shared outside the organization to be able to effectively meet compliance regulations.  Otherwise, there will always be questions about what data is shared, accessed, and potentially in violation of compliance regulations.  Again, this requires effective tools to monitor and manage sharing across the SaaS landscape.

Leverage Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Effectively

The complexity and the sheer enormity of data housed in public cloud environments including SaaS are simply too much for a human to manage and monitor in terms of security and compliance.  Organizations looking to successfully conquer the security and compliance challenges of both today and tomorrow must utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence tools can correlate, aggregate, and parse data exponentially faster, more powerfully, and 24x7x365, unlike an actual person performing the same tasks.  These types of ML and AI-enabled tools are going to be required to stay on top of complex and challenging security and compliance obstacles in hybrid environments.

Encrypt Data In-Flight and At-Rest

Encryption is a key technology in the world of security and compliance.  Businesses must make data unreadable to any unauthorized individual both as it is transmitted over the network and as it is stored.  This underscores the need to encrypt data in-flight and at rest.  Encryption of data makes it unreadable to anyone without the key to decrypt the data.

To keep with compliance and security objectives to protect business-critical and customer data, encryption is a crucial basic necessity.  Clear text and unencrypted data make data leakage a very real possibility.  Even if other mechanisms fail to prevent leaking data outside cloud environments, encryption helps to ensure any leaked data is unreadable.

Use Identity and Access Management

Proving a user’s identity is one of the basic requirements of keeping an environment secure and in compliance with regulatory requirements.  Even though the concept of identity is easy to understand, putting it into practice in a secure way is more difficult than might seem to be the case.  Typically, establishing identity is accomplished by using some type of credentials.  The most basic way this is carried out is by using a username and password.

However, organizations are finding the traditional username and password to be less than effective when it comes to securing the cloud.  Weak passwords and a lack of two-factor authentication lead to accounts easily being cracked.  This leads to more modern approaches being needed to establish identity.

The other component of allowing access to data resources is access management and involves linking permissions with a set of credentials.  A best practice methodology with identity and access management is assigning only the absolute least amount of privileges needed to perform a specific job role.  This least-privilege access methodology helps to ensure a user does not have more access than needed.  Additionally, it helps to contain any security fallout of compromised user credentials.

This concept of identity and access management both on-premises and in public cloud environments is a fundamental requirement for securing and keeping with modern compliance regulations.

SpinOne – Next Generation Data Protection, Compliance, and Threat Prevention Technology

When it comes to data protection, compliance, and threat protection, these tasks can be extremely difficult to achieve in public cloud Software-as-a-Service environments such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace (G Suite).  As has already been mentioned, public cloud environments are often “black boxes” with data access being difficult to monitor, control, and secure correctly.

Additionally, there are no native backup mechanisms in place with Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace (G Suite) environments.  This is a tremendous problem for organizations looking to migrate or already migrating business-critical services and data to public cloud SaaS environments.

As outlined in GDPR requirements, security by design must be implemented from the outset and not simply be an afterthought to modern SaaS implementations. This requires that organizations properly engineer data protection, compliance, and threat protection mechanisms to uphold the security by design methodology.

Data protection, compliance, and threat protection mechanisms

Ideally, businesses need to be able to monitor, manage, and configure data protection, compliance, and threat protection mechanisms using a single pane of glass.

SpinOne provides the one-stop solution for businesses looking to solve data protection, compliance, and threat protection challenges in either Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace (G Suite) public cloud SaaS environments.  Let’s take a look at the next-generation technologies Spinbackup is using to solve security and compliance challenges including the following:

  • Machine Learning
  • Block-chain single-sign-on technology

Both of these technologies allow businesses to have the upper hand when it comes to public cloud security and compliance best practices and technologies.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is an extremely powerful technology across many fronts today.  In the realm of security, machine learning allows businesses to reap many tremendous benefits.  This includes:

  1. Reducing the false positive rate
  2. Automating and removing the human factor for data security

False positives present challenges for organizations trying to create secure and compliant environments.  False positives are legitimate traffic or data access that gets incorrectly flagged and stopped by security mechanisms.  False positives are frustrating, create productivity challenges, and can impact business continuity.

Machine Learning allows security mechanisms that can take advantage of it to be much smarter than simple “rules” based on security mechanisms.  Spinbackup intelligently uses Machine Learning to “learn” the SaaS environment and profile what is normal and be able to recognize the unusual or potentially threatening activity.  Its machine learning capabilities drastically reduce false positives that happen in the environment.

Machine Learning also removes the human factor for data security.  Having powerful machine learning algorithms working at securing SaaS environments is like having an intelligent sentry guarding the environment 24x7x365.  Machine Learning is exponentially more effective, efficient, and quick at analyzing enormous numbers of log files and metrics gathered from the SaaS environment.  No human can compete with the effectiveness of a computer at these types of tasks.

Block-chain single-sign-on technology

As mentioned earlier, identity and access management is an extremely important part of both security and compliance in the public cloud.

However, traditional usernames and passwords are becoming increasingly archaic and can easily allow an attacker to compromise access to restricted data resources.  This is especially true with weak passwords that can easily be cracked in a dictionary attack and accounts without two-factor authentication enabled.

SpinOne has introduced a revolutionary new way of validating identity and implementing certificate-based single-sign-on technology in public cloud environments using blockchain technology. By storing the checksum for the user certificate in the blockchain using the decentralized storage structure contained therein, makes it nearly impossible for a hacker to compromise or forge user certificates.


Concluding Thoughts

For organizations to securely place data in public cloud environments, implementing data protection, cloud computing security compliance and threat protection best practices are going to be key for ensuring success in hybrid infrastructure spanning on-premises and public cloud SaaS. Spinbackup helps customers to achieve all three with a single pane of glass interface as well as seamlessly using Machine Learning and other technologies such as the blockchain to ensure the SaaS environments are safe and secure.

Check out SpinOne data protection and cybersecurity for Google Workspace (G Suite) or Microsoft 365 environments.  

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Director of Support

About Author

Nick Harrahill is the Director of Support at Spin.AI, where he leads customer support, success, and engagement processes.

He is an experienced cybersecurity and business leader. Nick’s industry experience includes leading security teams at enterprise companies (PayPal, eBay) as well as building programs, processes, and operations at cyber security start-ups (Synack, Elevate Security, and Spin.AI).

Credentialed in both cyber security (CISSP) and privacy (CIPP/US), Nick has managed teams focused on vulnerability management, application security, third-party risk, insider threat, incident response, privacy, and various facets of security operations.

In his spare time, Nick enjoys trail running and competing in ultra-marathons, camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors.

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