Cloud Encryption: Challenges and Recommendations
Before 2000, Cloud was merely a word that caused people to raise their heads and look to the sky for signs of rain.
After all, no one wants to be left soggy for forgetting to carry their umbrella on what was supposed to be a sunny forecast.
Today, the word translates to “Data Storage”, thanks to the information age.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, here are critical statistics by Tech Jury that will change your entire perception of it.
- By 2020, 67% of companies will enter a cloud-based network
- The average person that is connected to the internet uses 36 cloud-designated services without their knowledge.
- The public cloud market generated $130 billion in 2017 alone
- Cloud-based applications have tripled from 2013 to 2016
- 2020 will see 83% of an entire company’s workload transfer entirely on cloud adoption
- 80% of companies have reported a positive operation improved from adoption cloud technology
Now we understand why ‘Cloud’ went from being a naturally occurring phenomenon to a technology slang in the last 19 years.
But how much of cloud technology do you really know?
Before Cleverism demonstrates the importance of cloud encryption, it’s critical to understand what ‘Cloud’ really is.
CLOUD? WHAT MAKES THE TECH INDUSTRY REVOLVE AROUND THIS BUZZWORD?
You’ve heard these terms like – “Cloud networks” “Cloud encryption” “Cloud-based systems”.
Until now you assumed it was a word that didn’t matter to your life since your work isn’t affiliated around technology.
That’s where you are wrong. Cloud service is a technology everyone must be familiar with as it’s beginning to make a big impact globally in the future.
Cloud computing translates to storing your personal data – image and video files, software, applications, and other multimedia resources that you possess with a third-party service. Cloud service is like Microsoft Office as they are both parts of Software-as-a-service (SaaS).
With cloud computing, you no longer require space on your device to store information. The service provider does this job for you.
Take Gmail for example, all your inbox emails, and attachments that you send are stored in the ‘Google Cloud Platform’ that hosts Gmail. Switching through multiple devices is seamless, continue working on where you left off without the hassle of transferring data.
Cloud-based services provide an instant solution for people requiring a quick means to multitask without worrying about storage and data transfer.
Ran out of charge when sending a message through Whatsapp on your smartphone? No problem! the message isn’t deleted and when you log back in, your progress is saved. The same applies to your email and other forms of software.
Businesses store large amounts of valuable data on cloud-based vendors to eliminate the need to oversee and manage their own server hardware.
All of this is possible without the necessary cost to accommodate physical hardware by paying an upfront monthly or annual fee to third-party cloud vendors.
The famous line from a dying Uncle Ben uttered to Spiderman comes into play here – “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility”.
That is essentially where Cloud Encryption plays such a critical role.
CLOUD ENCRYPTION: THE NEED OF THE HOUR AND ITS CHALLENGES
While cloud technology has undoubtedly changed the way we access data, the threats of a data breach have evolved with it.
To better understand cloud encryption, let’s understand what encryption is.
What is Encryption?
When we store data, encryption is the ideal method used to store this data in an encoded layout to keep it safe from data thefts. The only way to access this data is through accessing the decryption key.
Decryption is directly inverse to encryption.
Without encryption, the data is known as ‘plaintext’ in computing.
Encryption is widely used to keep unauthorized parties from stealing sensitive user data. Encryption is an end-to-end method used to safeguard various areas of digital space.
Here are a few examples where you might have found encryption in play.
Websites – Have you ever glanced at a ‘Lock’ symbol next to a website URL?
The symbol means the website uses encryption to keep your data safe. When we click the lock, it opens an encryption method popularly used for websites known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
When data is transferred between you and the receiver (website), it passes via plenty of other machines to get there. The SSL encryption method keeps your data safe until it reaches the website.
Digital Certificates – How do you verify if a website is truly authentic? Digital certificates.
These digital certificates carry information related to the website owner and contain the company name and the certificate authority. The digital certificates are encrypted and prevent unauthorized sources of tampering with the details.
Payment Portals – Similar to websites, payment portals are where customers enter their sensitive information related to credit cards and other methods of payment. These are high-priority areas where encryption comes into play to ensure no one steals your information.
Electronic Devices – By default, your smartphones, and most new-age gadgets are encrypted to ensure your private data isn’t leaked to the internet by hackers.
Now that we understand encryption, it’s time to understand how cloud encryption works and why it’s important.
What is Cloud Encryption?
Now that we learned about encryption in the previous section, cloud encryption is provided by 3rd party vendors to protect your sensitive data from theft.
Many businesses usually choose their cloud vendor based on the past performances of how effectively their cloud encryption has stalled attacks.
According to a report by Digital Guardian, a single data breach in 2019 can cost anywhere from 1.25 million to an alarming 8.19 million.
We understand now why cloud encryption is such a critical aspect of cloud technology.
Let’s assume you’ve got a smartphone and love taking pictures with it. Since most images are saved via Google Photos through cloud technology, it’s Google’s responsibility to provide cloud encryption to your images.
Now let’s say Google was involved in the largest data breach the world has ever seen – Ask yourself, would you be alright to find your personal images floating around the internet for no fault of your own?
That’s why cloud encryption plays such an important role in providing security and unfortunately, it’s nowhere close to failproof.
In the next section, we’ll discuss some of the biggest challenges posed by cloud encryption.
TOP CHALLENGES OF CLOUD ENCRYPTION
According to a report published by Cloud Research Partners, there are several security concerns related to cloud encryption.
About 1,900 top cybersecurity professionals from LinkedIn have listed the following challenges from their survey –
- 67% of data loss and leakage
- 61% of threats to data privacy (often Anti-Spyware software tools can help mitigate this risk)
- 53% of breaches of confidentiality
- 62% misconfiguration of cloud platforms
- 55% of employee misuse
- 50% of insecure APIs
Even with all the above challenges, the LinkedIn professionals concluded that cloud encryption is still the most secure platform today.
Let’s take everyday cloud encryption challenges that service providers and consumers face.
1. Encryption Key Management
Remember in the previous section, we discussed how encryption utilizes a unique key when securing data?
The biggest challenge in any technology is safeguarding those keys from falling into the wrong hands. When a data stream is intercepted by hackers, the entire encryption process is rendered useless and your sensitive information is out in the open.
The choice of storing encrypted keys between the cloud consumer or the cloud vendor is an ongoing issue of debate.
Some organizations prefer to manage the keys themselves as they believe their customers are likely to lose them with poor protection on their devices.
Others prefer handing over the responsibility of the key management over to the customer in fear that if their cloud servers are hacked, the customers are liable to file charges for data theft.
Key storage is a matter of great distress for cloud vendors and consumers alike.
2. Data Theft in Rest State
Data that remains in the user’s hard drive is known as rest state or when there isn’t any activity taking place.
Most users assume that unless they are sending their data over to a cloud vendor, data in a rest state is usually safe and doesn’t have to be encrypted.
To give you a better understanding of how data theft takes place.
Let’s demonstrate an example.
Assuming you log on to Amazon to buy a product. After finalizing and adding the product to the cart, you hit ‘Checkout’ and are moved to the payment portal page.
You perform all the security checks to see if the ‘SSL certificate’ is valid and that you’re on a secured connection.
After confirming the site is secure, you process the payment and complete your purchase.
A few hours later, you receive an alarming notification from your financial institution stating that your remaining funds have been transferred.
In a fit of panic, you wonder how this could be possible even after taking safety precautions?
Well, the answer is easy. The data you sent to Amazon was intercepted directly from your computer and hence, your payment details were retrieved by hackers through your hard drive.
Many users save their credentials via Browser password managers, notepads, etc. and hence, fall prey to interception.
This is where cloud service providers find it incredibly difficult to come up with new cryptography solutions when setting up their cloud network.
3. Distinct Cloud Platforms
On the cloud platform, you’ll come across 3 different models –
1. Software as a Service (SaaS)
The cloud platform hosts various software and applications to be made available to those with access.
2. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Computer infrastructure provided by the cloud vendor with components relating to servers, hardware, storage drives, data centers, and other network peripherals.
3. Platform as a Service (PaaS)
A complete resource environment that provides development tools and cloud-based applications related to database management, web development, testing, updating, building, and deployment.
As you may have already guessed, each model requires its own form of encryption. Not all cloud vendors are perfect, and they may not be equipped to deal with incoming threats leading to a data breach.
Cloud vendors often find it hard to maintain and upgrade their security solutions to cover all 3 models of the cloud platform.
Due to the complexity of the encryption, if even a single model was subjected to low-level encryption, the entire security platform is at risk.
BEST PRACTICES TO FOLLOW FOR EFFICIENT CLOUD ENCRYPTION
The Cloud Security Alliance offers the following advice to protect data from being stolen.
Data Encryption During Rest State
All data that is transferred via cloud must be encrypted beforehand even in its rest state and then transferred to the cloud service provider.
As a consumer, if you have data on your computer, utilizing an application like BitLocker or Filevault offers complete protection of data even when saved to your PC.
BitLocker is a free inbuilt Microsoft application that encrypts all data on your hard drives. The software can be activated by users running Windows 7 up to the latest Windows 10. Once enabled, the program disables data editing without your permission and protects your personal data even if you’ve accidentally transferred malware.
Filevault is the Mac variant of BitLocker that protects your Apple device from any form of unauthorized access. The software requires you to log in every time you boot up your Mac. This ensures that your Mac is protected right from the time it starts up and prevents any information from being stolen.
Cloud vendors shoulder the responsibility of the consumer’s data during storage. Hence, it’s necessary for cloud vendors to ensure long randomly generated keys are set up to make it less likely for data to be accessed.
Limiting accessibility and utilizing approved algorithms is the way to go when storing large amounts of data. Firmware must remain updated and all software must be regulated to ensure there isn’t any weak encryption management.
Outline Your Requirements
As a consumer, it’s easy to get lost in the alluring words of a cloud vendor offering the best protection for your data.
However, understanding the type of encryption offered by the cloud vendor can make the biggest difference in protecting your data.
Another aspect that must be considered is your personal needs. Every cloud vendor provides various levels of protection for your data and it’s necessary to pick the right encryption.
For example – you may only want to store account credentials and not your entire data with a cloud vendor, a simple HTTPS cloud vendor is easy on your wallet.
On the other hand, if you desire complex end-to-end encryption to store code, software, and other sensitive data, then a complete encryption key management is necessary.
LastPass is a great example that offers protection for your account credentials in the form of local-only encryption. The master password is stored in an encrypted form on your computer and only the owner has access to their data. LastPass doesn’t store any information on their servers to prevent a data breach.
Continuous Response Testing
It’s necessary for the cloud vendor to always be in a continuous test mode to check for vulnerabilities that may arise in the system. Cloud vendors that perform their system tests once in a year are likely to fall prey for attacks.
A cybersecurity assessment that is conducted weekly provides adequate time to stay updated with the latest cloud security trends.
Deletion of Customer Data After Contract Period
Cloud vendors are obliged to delete all data after their consumer has ended the contract.
Any data that is left on the cloud servers are subject to being stolen.
It’s in the best interests of the cloud vendor to provide data deletion at a click of a button to either the consumer or the vendor themselves.
The customer should be sent an intimation notice via email just before their contract ends to ensure they have time to renew the contract or transfer their data.
Encryption at All Levels
For optimum cloud security, data should always be protected.
End-to-end data transfer should be completely secured with no third-party access. Cloud vendors must ensure their SSL transmissions are failproof.
All transmissions must be maintained to end inside the cloud network by the provider to eliminate outside intrusions.
Data in a storage state must remain encrypted to eliminate any risk of a breach.
Field-level encryption must be provided to ensure the consumer chooses the required layers they’d like to encrypt. Changing the keys routinely is a good way to ensure stored data is safe.
Compliance Certified Cloud Vendors
Compliance certifications are necessary for cloud vendors to operate. Cloud consumers must ensure they’ve checked if their cloud vendor has the following essential certification –
- DSS Certification – Data Security Standards or DSS
- PCI Certification – Payment Card Industry or PCI
- SOC 2
The PCI Security Standards Council makes the following 2 security standards necessary for cloud vendors to eliminate the risk of data theft.
The model framework demonstrates the critical rules for vendors to follow such as validated SSL certificates on every payment portal page and providing streamlined encryption for the consumers.
Cloud vendors that have the SOC 2 certification demonstrate that they uphold the highest layers of encryption for their consumers.
Users should ensure they pay attention to the following certifications when choosing their cloud vendors.
Cloud encryption may sound scary at first but when the right steps are taken, it’s the most secure form of data protection on the planet.
The attacks on well-known industrial and retail websites have deterred consumers from choosing cloud as their preferred storage.
Much of the attacks are due to negligence and human error and not by the system of cloud encryption itself.
Are you a stern believer in cloud encryption? Comment below and let us know.
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