Are You Outsourcing Your Security With a Cloud Application?
You finally decided to use cloud services for your organization? Great! There are definitely many advantages. Your objective was also to outsource the security to the provider? Sorry, not quite. The security of your information will always be your own responsibility. You will still have some shared responsibilities with the cloud provider. True, you will probably manage less technology controls but still many administrative ones.
As with any partnerships, you have the responsibility to perform due diligence on your future business partners. And it is definitely valid for your third-party vendors, including cloud providers. This is only an introduction on the subject when it’s time to discuss a new cloud project.
It should be obvious for many people but do you even know the organization behind the cloud solution? Is it a one-person organization managed from a basement? Is it even a legal entity? Any insurances? Are you able to find a few reviews online? It is beyond the basic security scope but it definitely helps to have a big picture on the situation. It could be the best solution but it is maybe a risk that your organization is not able to accept.
It is important to keep in mind that a cloud provider that is compliant is not necessarily secure. However, it will allow you to have a reasonable assurance on its security processes and internal controls. You should mainly look for a SOC 2 Type 2 report, PCI DSS attestation, or ISO 27001 certificate. Be careful to validate that scope includes services currently used with the provider. You should go through all conclusions and confirm that there are no major deficiencies.
For the following security domains, it is possible to validate the cloud provider responsibility with controls within a report. What about your side of the responsibility?
The physical security is mainly related to the data centre where your provider hosts the IT infrastructure used to support the cloud services. For example, the actual physical access to the infrastructure or the environment controls e.g. HVAC, generators, UPS, network connections, etc. 15 years ago, it was not rare to deal with a provider with servers within its offices with a room that somehow could look like a servers’ room. At the end, it was probably more a closet, but different topic. These days, all serious cloud providers will use a well-known data centre to host its infrastructure e.g. Equinix, Cologix, OVH, etc. Or, be itself on a cloud provider such as AWS, Azure, Google, etc.
A well-known external firm should audit all the physical security measures of the data centre. If you are dealing directly with a data centre, you should be able to receive a copy of this report. However, if your cloud provider is the direct client, maybe you will not be allowed to receive a copy… You will have to ask more specific questions to your cloud provider.
Your cloud provider should perform background checks before and during the employment for everyone with a direct or indirect access to the production environment. It is important for an organization to have a clear picture on the past of its employees. This will be the first step to trust them. Employees and consultants should also receive security awareness. This could be an annual training but even better, training in continue according to the job positions. For example, developers should receive training on best security practice in development to avoid most common vulnerabilities. However, you should do the same within your organization, even with employees not related to technology positions. There are many attacks’ vectors initiated by an unaware user that could lead to a security breach.
There are so many organizations that manage credentials for cloud solutions as an ad hoc process. Procedures for access management should also include all access modifications to cloud applications. For example, for a cloud marketing application, someone should still be responsible for approving new access before the creation. An access review should occur at least once a year for all accounts on the cloud application. When there is a departure, the organization must confirm that they are no accounts left on cloud applications. For many organizations, previous employees are still able to log in many months later into the cloud application.
You are also responsible for configuring the cloud application with best practices. Many cloud providers will offer the possibility to activate a two-factor authentication (2FA) on the application, for all users or specific roles e.g. administrators. However, the organization must take the decision since this feature is often disabled by default. Many cloud applications targeted for enterprises also offer a single sign-on (SSO) feature, often with SAML.
All cloud providers will assert they have the best redundancy and implemented backup strategies. They probably have infrastructure distributed within many data centres. Again, you are still responsible for your own data and you unfortunately can’t rely only on the provider. They will do anything to avoid downtime or lose any data. This situation would be difficult on their business. But, in the fine prints, they are often not responsible for any data or financial loss for your business. You also have to account for the situation where the provider could simply shut down their operations. In any cases, you need to prepare and backup data to a different site than your cloud provider. This will probably be a manual export with most cloud applications but better that than lose all data. For more critical applications, you should negotiate or select a provider where it’s easier to perform backup.
The cloud providers will surely implement the required logs for the infrastructure. These logs are rarely shared with customers considering the multi-tenant environments. However, you should still have access to basic logs within your administrative interface. For example, you should be able to see the latest connections, users’ changes, configurations’ changes, etc. With some enterprise solutions, it is possible to forward logs to your own server. Even if these logs are available, they are not always monitored since this is your organization responsibility.