Cloud Security & Compliance: Challenges, Guidelines, and Everything in Between

July 12, 2020
Yuval Tzeiri
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CloudWize is a SaaS tool that helps organizations regain control and visibility over their ever-changing cloud architecture, resulting in incident-prevention, fast troubleshooting, cost optimization and security and compliance assurance.

Moving your data to the cloud has many advantages, but also its share of challenges. Among these are challenges concerning security and compliance, which are crucial for companies to maintain in order for them and their customers to rest assured that their data is protected and that they stay in full compliance with regulatory requirements.  

Annual compliance checkups used to be more than enough, but today’s rapid changes force companies to continuously test their environments’ security and compliance posture. It doesn’t help that the shared responsibility model of cloud service providers leaves the duty of meeting compliance standards resting on companies’ shoulders. The bottom line is easy to explain but hard to deal with: Businesses must protect their data and ensure that policies and guidelines are followed. It is not a one-time effort. Security and compliance require 24/7 monitoring, detection and remediation, and lets’ not forget – understanding what to monitor.   

Top Cloud Security and Compliance Challenges to Consider 

  1. Tracking changes: This was easier to do in the past, when the only ones authorized to allow architecture changes were the CISO or IT Manager. Today, cloud access is distributed across many roles in the company for greater agility, resulting in many people responsible for applying changes. This may affect the compliance status and expose the company to risk. Tracking who made what change and how it affected different aspects of your cloud architecture is a time consuming, difficult process that can create dangerous exposure and noncompliance. This is one of the reasons why receiving alerts whenever policy-violating changes are attempted is so important. 
  1. Keeping up with regulation updates & best practices: The CloudOps industry is constantly evolving and changing, which makes it harder to follow the most recent best practices, including those concerning security and compliance. One continuously changing aspect is regulation, which obviously creates new standards and rules for companies to follow. Whenever new regulation comes into play, companies need to fully understand it, draw conclusions and implement changes across the architecture while assuring these changes do not have implications on other requirements such as performance or availability. This is a long process that is challenging to achieve in today’s fast paced world.   
  1. Ensuring continuous compliance: As mentioned earlier, companies used to be able to meet compliance standards through an annual audit based on specific regulations (e.g., ISO 9001, ISO 14001, SOC2, NIST,  HIPAA). This is no longer the case, and businesses have to constantly measure and improve their compliance standards in real-time. Regulation isn’t the only standard to meet, and everything is far more complex and demanding nowadays when companies need to be able to demonstrate to their customers that they constantly maintain compliance and not expose them, or themselves, to violations..  
  2. Vendor compliance: It’s one thing to make sure that your company’s technology and employees follow the guidelines, and another to do so when external vendors are involved. Briefing suppliers and contractors on the necessary standards to meet (and making sure that their employees are aware and alert) is no easy task. Businesses must make sure that vendors do not create a ‘tunnel’ that bypasses compliance rules and enters the architecture. Once again, we see the need for built-in alerts regarding unauthorized architecture modifications rise. 
  1. Dealing with growing cyber threats: Can you imagine what the tech and business world would look like if hard-working hackers harnessed their talent and passion to promote positive goals? Sadly, security threats such as website hacking and data hijacking grow and change by the minute, leaving companies to face the challenge of staying one step ahead of the game, in a world where threats manifest faster than the security updates can be released. Keeping up with the relevant updates or configuration changes to your cloud architecture requires both professionalism as well as tedious work.
  1. Gaining and maintaining observability: This refers to the ability to ask and answer questions about the system, an important part of cloud security. Low observability levels increase the risk of security breaches because they mean that the company and its employees don’t know enough about what these systems are actually doing. Reaching a certain level of observability and maintaining it on a regular basis is difficult – especially considering the ever-changing conditions – but is nevertheless crucial. 

Strategy misconception: Too many companies adopt a cloud architecture without first formulating a detailed strategy that takes into account matters of security and compliance. There is a misconception that compliance is an “external project” that can be outsourced easily, applying a standard policy across all companies. However, even though the general guidelines and main concept does apply to all, it does not end there. It is important to understand the company’s technology, architecture and implementation differences. One must remember that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to compliance, and therefore the strategy should be tailored to the business and security needs of each company.

Cloud Security and Compliance Guidelines and Methodologies 

Don’t be alarmed by the above challenges, because there’s a lot you can do to overcome them. 

  1. Embrace a security-first approach: Take security issues into account from the get-go and build your cloud architecture and authorization processes with compliance and real-time risk assessment in mind. 
  1. Increase observability: Use tools that enhance visibility and allow you to track changes and breaches as they occur. This will help both prevent security problems and mitigate them more efficiently in case they find their way into the system. 
  1. Understand the shared responsibility model: Don’t go into a cloud service agreement without properly investigating and understanding how security responsibilities are distributed. Make sure that the right mechanism for assuring compliance or alerting about breaches is implemented. Do not assume that your provider is in charge of ensuring compliance when in reality, you are.  
  1. Track changes: Many of the issues mentioned in this article can be prevented with the proper change-tracking strategy and technology. Being able to know who changes what and exactly when may make all the difference, particularly in a technology environment that evolves on a continuous basis. Follow your architecture closely to detect any modification and use dedicated tools that will alert the right people in real-time.  
  2. Define rules and alerts: Speaking of alerts, you can work with libraries of predetermined rules that will save you time and trouble by notifying you when something out of the ordinary occurs. As mentioned, each company should tailor its compliance strategy to meet its specific needs, so using systems that allow you to define these rules yourself is crucial. Platforms like CloudWize enable companies to significantly boost their security and compliance capabilities by choosing rules from a massive library of hundreds of security and compliance rules, as well as the ability to customize each rule to fit their specific requirements.

Conclusion 

Cloud security and compliance is not a sprint but an ongoing, never-ending marathon. Staying on track and adjusting to constant changes is difficult almost as much as it is critical. Use the knowledge, experience and tools available to you to make this journey as simple and secure as possible. 

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