How to Avoid Cloud Security Hazards


Cloud computing’s popularity in Australia is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, recent studies suggest that the Australian Infrastructure-as-a-Service market is set to hit $1 billion by 2020. A reasonable estimate considering business users turn to cloud computing to increase productivity and streamline operations.

But judging from the countless IT headlines of 2016, security is — and will always be — cloud computing’s greatest foil. Whether it’s denial-of-service, account hijacking, or data breaches, business owners quick to jump on the cloud bandwagon; may forget its numerous security hazards. Companies, therefore, have to tread lightly and consider the following tips in order to avoid the security risks associated with the cloud.

Establish cloud security policies

First and foremost, avoiding any kind of security hazard in the cloud involves a security policy. At its most basic; cloud governance is a set of rules and regulations applied to the use of web-based applications and services. These policies don’t just help you comply with data privacy initiatives, but also help you protect your digital assets.

When establishing a cloud security policy; include the techniques and actions required by employees and IT administrators to ensure that digital assets are maintained and controlled.  The fine print should outline best practices for handling sensitive data; detailed backup plans, uptime requirements, and mandatory cloud-security systems. Essentially, these policies will act as a guideline to help you manage cloud security risks.

Train your employees

Last year, we mentioned how employees are the weakest link in your company’s network. Unfortunately, this is the same in the cloud environment. No matter how comprehensive your data security policies may be; they mean nothing if employees aren’t proactively involved in safeguarding company assets.

To avoid this, provide cloud security training for all employees. This means hosting regular training seminars on mitigating social engineering attacks on the cloud, and addressing the importance of strong password management.

Aside from common security training, teach employees about different attack vectors in the cloud. Talk about the anatomy of malware injections, brute-force, and denial-of-service attacks; and set up a response protocol in case employees feel they have been compromised by any of these exploits. Then, evaluate your staff’s security awareness by running a variety of security simulations. Check out our previous post-holiday training blog for more ideas.

Define user access controls

A company may host a wealth of information and data; but those resources should not be available to business partners, clients, and especially, employees. All it takes is one ill-intentioned individual with unfettered access to corporate cloud data to ruin everything your company has achieved.

With user access controls in a cloud environment; you can regulate who has access to which data and protect your cloud infrastructure in the process. Setting passwords, PINs, and electronic keys for your cloud platform can discourage low-level attackers from attempting to hijack private accounts.

In addition to login gateways; consider role-based access controls where certain employees are only allowed to view specific files that are relevant to their job description. For example, you can allow marketing staff to work with customer information but restrict them from accessing, editing, or viewing private HR records. This helps limit the flow of sensitive information across your company, significantly reducing the chances of data breaches caused from within.

Encrypt properly

Apart from user access controls, strong encryption tools can help you secure sensitive data in the cloud. Whether cloud data is at rest or in-flight, encryption converts private information into code which can be deciphered only by authorised parties. This means that if would-be data thieves intercept a file or message in transit, the sensitive information inside will remain illegible as long as they don’t have access to the encryption key required to crack the code.

That said, make sure encryption keys are kept in a separate server from the cloud platform where you store data. Take ownership of the keys that both encrypt and decipher data to prevent anyone — including your third-party encryption provider — from accessing company information without your permission.

In the process of encrypting your data, it’s a good idea to ask your provider what encryption methods they use. Partner with cloud service providers that offer 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standards to protect data at rest. As for encrypting data in-flight, most CSPs will implement technologies like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) to secure data transmitted from applications and web browsers. But these encryption techniques alone are insufficient. To truly secure data in transit, consider third-party providers that encrypt data at the physical layer of the network stack.

Back up your cloud

Catastrophic failures of cloud-based systems are not mere hypothetical events. Telstra’s string of network outages this year made that vividly clear. And with a barrage of cyber espionage, phishing schemes, and ransomware in 2017; the possibility of permanent data loss is high. When that happens, your cloud infrastructure needs to have mechanisms in place to get back on its feet.

Meet with your CSP and develop a cloud backup plan before it’s too late. Our advice: Deploy a multi-cloud environment that allows you to store non-integral data and records in the public cloud; host mission-critical application on the private cloud; and store confidential information in in-house servers. By building a hybrid cloud framework, you have secondary failover sites that ensure cloud data redundancy.

Test your cloud security

To prevent cloud security hazards you need to think like a hacker; or more precisely, hire one to perform a penetration test. This process involves simulating a real-world hack to detect potential vulnerabilities before a less-friendly hacker exploits them. If any issues are found with your system, the ethical hacker will recommend security solutions to minimize those threats.

Once you’ve deployed cloud-backups and encryption systems; create an inventory of specific cloud applications or servers you want to test, and alert your CSP beforehand. Creating a cloud testing plan may seem like extra work for your organisation; but knowing that your cloud security measures work is well worth the effort.

Avoiding cloud security hazards is not one individual’s responsibility. Employees, processes, and technologies all need to work as one cohesive unit to ensure adequate safeguards are in place. But don’t leave Empower IT out of the equation. With over 12 years of experience; our cloud technicians are familiar with the risks and work tirelessly to mitigate them. Contact us today to ensure your cloud security.