Some would say that the cloud is the next big step in the world of information technology. While this is arguably true, all new technology comes with some growing pains. As hackers and other bad actors work to uncover the flaws in a new type of technology, information security professionals are equally determined to thwart them. As such, it often takes a while for a good security situation to be established. Such is the case with cloud computing.
Cloud security is a set of practices and measures that are designed to improve the cloud’s ability to resist outside threats. These threats include hackers, corporate espionage agencies, government espionage agencies, extortionists, and all sorts of other online criminals. This is especially important for private cloud structures.
The Different Types Of Clouds
Before we go any further, you should know that there are three basic types of cloud networks. First, there is the public cloud. As the name implies, this one is open to the public, and the infrastructure is usually spread among several companies. Because a cloud of this kind is liable to be used by more than one company at a time, it makes sense to share the responsibility. A private cloud, on the other hand, is only open to members of a certain group or organization. Like a VPN network, it is protected by strong encryptions that are meant to keep intruders out.
The Shared Responsibility Model
In order to understand cloud security, it is essential that you understand the shared responsibility model. It is a very simple concept: The cloud provider is responsible for the cloud, while you are responsible for your data. Let’s explain this concept a little more.
The cloud provider takes responsibility for the maintenance and security of the cloud network itself. This includes regular updates, security audits, and physical on-site security for the servers. They are also responsible for cloud network security. While the company will take responsibility for maintaining the cloud itself, they take no responsibility for your data.
For instance, if you fail to secure your cloud data with a physical backup, and it is then lost in a cloud malfunction (which can happen), that is considered to be your fault. The company is only responsible for providing and maintaining the cloud. When you start using such a service, it is understood that all computer networks go down from time to time.
Who Is Responsible For The Security Of My Cloud Data?
As for information security, that responsibility is split 50/50 between the user and the cloud provider. On the one hand, the company is responsible for preventing intrusion into private clouds, and for keeping out those known to be troublesome in public clouds. However, it is expected that you will take some common-sense measures to safeguard your privacy. These might include:
- Don’t store your most sensitive information in the cloud
- Always read the end-user agreement
- Encrypt your data whenever possible
- Use strong passwords (20 characters, upper and lowercase; A mix of letters, numbers, and symbols)
- Always keep a hard-copy backup
- Always be careful where you click
- Be on the lookout for suspicious pages and emails
Now, let’s look at these measures in more detail and look at these seven cloud security solutions that can be used to improve your privacy within the cloud.
1: Don’t Put Your Most Sensitive Information In The Cloud
Because a cloud is made up of a network of computers, it is usually less secure than offline storage. Of course, security from intruders isn’t the only concern. There is also the possibility of data loss within the cloud. Most reputable cloud providers will do a good job of preventing this, but it can be hard to prevent some issues.
For this reason, you should not put highly sensitive information (like bank account numbers or online banking passwords, for instance) in the cloud. If you do this, you are taking a huge risk, and you should never gamble with something that you cannot afford to lose.
2: Always Read The End-User Agreement
Every piece of software (and most online services in general) will come with an end-user license agreement (sometimes called EULA for short) that sets out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. In most cases, people don’t even read these things. They scroll to the bottom, click “OK,” and proceed with the installation (or whatever else they were trying to do). However, those who are going to use cloud services for serious business should always read the EULA.
3: Encrypt Your Data Whenever Possible
Encryption really is the best thing that you can do to secure your data. In order to understand why encryption works, you need to understand a little bit about how it works. All computer consists of data, which you probably know already. This data takes the form of code that tells the computer what to do and how to proceed.
At a more basic level, this code becomes nothing more than a series of ones and zeros. Encryption works by jumbling up this data, like a bunch of words turned into alphabet soup. All the data is still there and is not damaged, but it is unreadable unless decrypted. To put it in perspective, imagine if you took a great novel and jumbled all the letters into a garbled mess before reprinting the book. No matter how hard you might try, you would never be able to unscramble the original book.
Decryption (returning the data to normal) can only be accomplished through the use of an encryption key. Because the key is generated using the password, it is functionally impossible to decrypt the data without that password and/or the correct encryption key. Unfortunately, people have found ways to get around these limitations, and that’s why extra precautions are always a plus.
You can use various programs to encrypt your files before they are placed into the cloud, and we would recommend that you do so. This way, if someone does manage to intercept your data, it will be useless to them. Even the best hacker can’t do anything with a bunch of scrambled code. You can also choose to use the services of an encrypted cloud service. If you do this while still using basic file encryption prior to placement in the cloud, you will have two heavily encrypted layers of protection. As far as online privacy goes, that’s about as good as it gets.
The only thing more secure than a two-layer encryption system is a multi-layer encryption system. Each layer represents a barrier that must be broken before an intruder can proceed. The TOR network is a good example of a multi-layered (or “onion”) system. However, the TOR network is so secure that it compromises its speed. That explains why it’s not often used for serious work.
4: Use Strong Passwords
Anyone who understands the basics of internet security can attest to this fact: Weak passwords are easily broken. For instance, let’s say that you use a combination of two common words like “sunnyday.” A password like that will be broken in a matter of minutes. Here’s why: Because there are programs out there that are designed to crack simple passwords like this.
These programs work by trying every conceivable option in a variety of different languages. Like a thief probing with a set of lockpicks, the program can tell when it gets something right, and this gives them a piece of the password. By putting these little pieces together, the program can eventually crack the password. The only way to defeat these “brute-force” attacks is to use a very secure password. It should have 20 characters or more. It should contain both letters and numbers (maybe some symbols, too). It should also contain both uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, avoid using common words. Invent new words that don’t even exist for maximum security. From creativity comes good security.
5: Always Keep A Hard-Copy Backup
As we mentioned earlier, it is always possible that you might suffer from in-cloud data loss or data corruption. While these events are relatively rare, you should take a few precautions. The data in the cloud should never be your only source of business data. Your most important data should always be backed up on physical hard drives. Most computers can be set to back up data on a certain schedule automatically.
6: Always Be Careful Where You Click
This is one of the best general rules for safe web surfing. In many cases, hackers and other intruders will attempt to trick you into giving them permissions, usernames, and/or passwords. They usually do this by disguising the attack as a non-suspicious occurrence. For instance, some attacks might involve emails that direct the reader to click on a certain link. When they do so, a special tracker embedded in the link will allow the hacker to gain access to your personal information, including your full home address.
Of course, this isn’t the only reason to be careful where you click. When you start clicking on random and unverified links, you can often end up in places that normal people do not want to go. You may have heard of a place called the “deep web.” There are a lot of tall tales about the deep web, but one thing is for sure: You are much more likely to encounter hackers and far worse people in a place like that. Most people should never go there anyway, as most of what goes on there is illegal.
7: Be On The Lookout For Suspicious Pages And Emails
As we mentioned earlier, cyber-attackers will often try to fool you into giving them special permissions or other user information. This piece of advice goes with tip #6, but we wanted to be more specific about this one. It is always important to be on the lookout for pages and emails that are not what they seem. Many scam artists will create fake pages that look a lot like something legitimate.
For instance, some eBay scammers have been known to make fake emails that look as if they came from Paypal. These emails will tell a person that money has been deposited into their account. The scammer then tells the seller to ship the item. However, the email was fake, and the payment was never sent. Because these scammers will get the victim to engage them outside of eBay’s normal sales procedures, there is no real record and no accountability.
These fake emails and pages can usually be spotted by comparing them to one that is known to be legitimate. For instance, in the above example, you might compare the supposed Paypal email to a real Paypal email. If you have a Paypal account, you will certainly have such an email in your inbox. By comparing the suspicious email to a safe and legitimate example, you can spot the little differences that tell the tale.
Cloud computing security doesn’t have to be a terribly complex thing. It may seem like a very complex matter at first, but that is usually not the case. With a little knowledge and a little help from us, it can be a simple job. We would like to add that it’s very important to vet your IT people thoroughly before hiring them, as such a job would be very appealing to a serious hacker. Subject them to a rigorous background check and hold them accountable for any suspicious activity.
We hope that we have done a good job of introducing you to this subject. We also hope that you have come away with a better understanding of cloud security and internet security in general. If so, please fill out the contact form below to learn more.