Cloud Security

June 18, 2019

The term digital transformation seems to be on the tip of every CIOs’ tongue these days, and in most cases, it’s referring to moving services to the cloud, adopting consumption models for ICT and applications, and ensuring the business optimises its ICT usage through that transformational journey. Security is an underpinning capability that needs to transform along with the rest of the business, and in many cases, without security being an integral part of your new business model, the business will move from a position of being well-defended to entirely exposed. Security is the primary consideration in any digital transformation project, behind only one important aspect: user requirements.

Plotting your Digital Journey

The key to unpacking what digital transformation means to your business begins with looking at what processes underpin today’s operations. Could any of these processes be moved to a less resource intensive, consumption model by using an external provider? Back in the 1980s, outsourcing was investigated by most CIO’s to see if it would be more effective to pass mundane ICT service management to an external expert company, while allowing the organisation to focus more on its core business. This shift to cloud is yet another cycle of outsourcing, where the model has shifted from an external infrastructure providing who comes and runs your technology on premise, to an external service provider who runs your ICT from an external datacentre.

During the last epoch of outsourcing, we went through a learning curve with regards to security, and nothing has changed this time around. What has changed, however, is the world we all operate in.  Legal and compliance frameworks around us demand different levels of security, that must include privacy, safety and reliability. For CIOs investigating cloud service providers, privacy is as important as security since the impact of a privacy breach is a tangible and quantifiable outcome for the business – which could be a hefty fine.

Start with a strategy review and an ICT audit

When planning your organisation’s digital journey, you must first elucidate the outcome you are looking for. What this means is, instead of looking at the nuances of each cloud provider and looking for the technology capabilities they provide, you should start with your business strategy and see where your CEO and board want to go over the next two to three years.

Once you have that vision, you should fully audit the current state of your ICT systems.  In doing so, you can look at what is holding you back from meeting the business’s goals, given the ICT systems you have in place today. Which aspects of running ICT systems yourself as opposed to outsourcing the function to a software as a service provider (for example) would free up enough business resources or de-risk its delivery enough to meet that outcome?

Transforming Digital Security

Any systems that are moving to the cloud should still be able to be audited by your security team. This means that the event logs, configuration and patching levels (if appropriate) all remain important aspects of what you need to know. Even if the service you adopt is software-as-a-service, where your cloud service provider manages the infrastructure and patch levels (such as with Microsoft’s Office 365), you’ll still want assurance that the admins who look after it are maintaining it correctly and they are not exposing your information to undue risk.

Your baseline assessment of today’s security model should show you what information you still need when you shift to the cloud service. And while not every aspect of the cloud service can be monitored in the same way as before (again sticking with patch levels), there should be contractual clauses in that service provision that help you maintain the same level of assurance you have with your on-premise solution.

For next-generation digital security to match your organisation’s digital transformation outcome, the focus of your security team needs to change. Instead of looking at infrastructure security, where all those aspects of managing equipment and operating systems dominate your operational activities, the security team needs to transform to a data-focused management system, since the data and its security is the thing you can control.

Accounting, Encryption and Audit

Information security often begins with an access model, since who can access what data is almost certainly the one security viewpoint your business understands. Encryption capabilities can be included in the cloud service provision, allowing you to obfuscate data if it’s taken out of the application, thus hacked data is useless as the keys are not available to the criminal to decrypt it.

But what if your own staff are the source of the threat? This makes security management difficult, since you are not able to monitor what they do within the cloud service as easily as you can within your own on-premise systems. This is where a well-considered audit model prior to any service migration allows you to develop requirements that any selected service provider must be able to address. If your tendering process says that the preferred supplier should provide the means for you to collect the logs of who accesses your service instance, along with each action they take when in the cloud service, then you can use the same techniques you used to use to detect malicious insiders.

Next generation SIEMs that incorporate Behavioural Anomaly Detection (BAD)  or User Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA) feature heavily in cloud journeys, since UEBA affords a business the insight into what legitimate business users are doing, even inside API-enabled cloud services. UEBA will build a baseline of what normal activity looks like, even within a cloud service (if they offer logs either directly or via an API) so that rogue accounts accessing your data, or malicious insiders who are acting unusually will raise the red flag.

Cloud Success Requires Uncompromising Security Focus

Cloud transformation projects will undoubtedly hit most businesses over the next few years. There is, however, no need to let this transformation compromise security for the benefit of business capability or convenience. Make sure your business has all the capabilities it needs to undertake digital transformation to the cloud – explore next generation SIEM and discover how to detect unknown and unknowable threats.


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