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What is cloud security?

Cloud security is the branch of cybersecurity dealing with cloud data and infrastructure. Cloud security tools keep information safe without compromising the user’s ability to access it easily.

Cloud security.
Woman using a laptop to access the cloud securely.

Why is cloud security important?

Cloud security is important because using the cloud increases your attack surface — it opens up new avenues for hackers to compromise your network. By using cloud computing services without adequate cloud security measures, you are inviting data theft, destruction of sensitive files, and falsified remote sign-ins to your system.

Cloud security is also mandatory if your organization stores personal data in the cloud. Under most data protection regimes, enterprises must take adequate measures to keep private data safe, no matter where it’s stored. The overall responsibility for the loss of data rests with you, not your cloud service provider.

Man accessing his data on a secure cloud.

Finally, if you have finished migrating your work to the cloud, you will find that cloud security offers several advantages over traditional cybersecurity measures. Just like with cloud computing, having a centralized approach to security cuts down on hardware, space, and staff costs, facilitates device updates and configuration, and helps manage crisis events.

How does cloud security work?

To explain how cloud security works, it is helpful to imagine the whole security infrastructure as a set of protective layers over your data. At each stage, different cloud security measures are implemented to prevent unauthorized access, protect data, and recover losses.

Two protective shields with NordVPN icons on them.

Governance

At the top we have policies for threat prevention, detection, and mitigation. This includes intelligence about threats at large, safe online behavior policies, and staff training in cybersecurity. Governance policies aim to neutralize attacks on the cloud before they even materialize.

Different types of data in various file formats protected by cloud security.

Segmentation

Segmentation refers to erecting barriers around your cloud infrastructure to prevent outside access — without these measures, hackers could simply waltz in and wreak havoc. Segmentation can be achieved by using cloud firewalls to block unauthorized internet traffic, keeping different organizations hosted on the same server separate, and dividing data centers into security sectors for extra flexibility

A person using NordVPN and Nordpass on their smartphone.

Identity and access

All cloud computing systems must carefully manage user accessibility privileges to prevent data loss due to inexperienced or malicious actors. Identity and access management tools include restricting user privileges to what’s required for their job, mandating password manager use in the organization, and enabling multi-factor authentication for cloud accounts.

A person using a VPN on their laptop to protect their data in transit.

Data security

Data security refers to measures taken to protect the information held in the cloud from direct attack. These measures involve using tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect data in transit to the cloud and file encryption software to keep stored unreadable in the event of a breach.

A data server, protected by a chain and padlock.

Data retention

Even the best security systems can fail, leading to the destruction of data and a disruption in cloud activities. Data retention and business continuity measures help organizations recover from emergencies and operate as normal. Common measures include keeping backups, maintaining redundant systems, and having detailed recovery plans for employees.

Common cloud computing security issues

More attack vectors

By migrating to the cloud, you’re opening a new front in the war for data. In addition to your network, staff, and internet service provider, malicious actors can now also target your cloud services to breach your defenses.

Breach by proximity

Public cloud service providers often host multiple client infrastructures on the same servers (a practice known as “multitenancy”) to save space and reduce costs. In this situation, you can become collateral damage in an attack on another entity.

Lack of visibility

Cloud service providers rarely expose their infrastructure and processes to clients. Being unable to see how the cloud environment is structured makes it difficult to keep track of who accesses data and identify weaknesses in security.

Provider negligence

Cloud computing service providers are not exempt from human error or lax security habits. By using weak administrative passwords or not following appropriate security policies, cloud services open themselves — and your data — to attack.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the practice of using devices, apps, and systems without the approval of the organization’s IT department. Cloud security needs to cover every access point to the cloud so that employees do not compromise the entire organization by logging in with private devices.

Access management

Just like in traditional cybersecurity systems, user access should be proportional to the demands of their function. Employees with excess privileges can cause damage to data through inexperience or by getting their accounts hacked.

How do you secure your data in the cloud?

Set strong passwords

Passwords are your cloud account’s first line of defense. Use a password manager like NordPass to generate and automatically fill in complex passwords.

Use MFA

Multi-factor authentication protects accounts with an extra security step. In addition to your password, attackers will need a code or device that only you have to log in.

Encrypt files

Use file encryption software or only store data in encrypted spaces (like NordLocker cloud storage). Even if a breach occurs, attackers won’t be able to access your encrypted files.

Use a VPN

A VPN, such as NordVPN, protects data in transit to and from the cloud. It is particularly important to use a VPN to access the cloud from public Wi-Fi.

Limit permissions

Make sure employees have everything they need to do their job — but not more. This prevents one hacked account from compromising the whole organization.

Educate staff

Train staff in the basics of cybersecurity, including how to detect threats and what to do in an emergency. Social engineering attacks prey on uneducated users.

Secure endpoints

Make sure all work devices are running the latest versions of operating systems and security software. Limit access to your cloud infrastructure from personal devices.

Keep backups

Regular backups help keep your organization running if a cyberattack succeeds in destroying parts of your cloud infrastructure.

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