Cloud Data Security in 2023: Dangers, Safeguards, and More

The cloud allows organizations to easily store their data on cost-effective, scalable platforms with just an internet connection rather than having to invest in costly on-premise storage solutions that must be continually maintained and expanded. Organizations use cloud storage because not only are their physical systems managed by service providers, but also their storage on it can be easily expanded when needed.

When you’re putting all your data in one place, you want to make sure it’s safe. And, as with any modern data storage system, there are some cybersecurity dangers that organizations and professionals should know about.

In this article, you’ll learn about cloud data security, including the responsibility model it operates under, common threats to it, and some steps organizations can take to protect data. At the end, you’ll even explore cost-effective, flexible courses that can help you learn more about cybersecurity today.

What is cloud data security?

Cloud data security refers to the practice of protecting data and digital assets held within a cloud environment.

Just as with on-premise platforms and databases, cloud-based platforms and storage solutions can hold all kinds of data types, from big data to business-specific internal records, that can be used to identify trends and patterns and generate actionable insights. This also means that cloud platforms face many of the same security threats that traditional, on-premise ones do – along with some new ones.

Cybersecurity professionals work to ensure an organization’s cloud data security by establishing numerous best practices and protocols that limit the potential for bad actors to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. Some common ways to protect data stored in the cloud include by encrypting it, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA), and establishing employee training programs to limit any breaches resulting from human error.

Shared responsibility model

Cloud data security relies on a “shared responsibility model,” which essentially means that the cloud service provider and the customer share responsibility for the cloud’s security. Typically, under this model, the provider takes responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of the actual infrastructure – such as the hardware, software, facilities, and networks – that runs the cloud service offering, and the customer takes responsibility for the security of the data and programs stored within it.

The precise responsibilities held by service providers and customers, however, can vary considerably depending on the provider and the type of service they offer. For example, whether the customer is using infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), or software-as-a-service (SaaS) can greatly impact their responsibilities for maintaining the security of their cloud data. As a result, it’s important for customers to have a clear understanding of their own responsibilities for the security of their cloud data before committing to a particular provider.

Read more: What’s the Difference Between AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud?

Legal compliance

Legal compliance for data stored on the cloud can be complex due to the many different laws and regulations regarding data collection and storage that vary from one region to another. For example, while the United States has only a handful of federal and state laws that protect certain kinds of data, the European Union (EU) has a much more comprehensive data privacy law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that provides extensive data protection to individuals.

Inevitably, these laws also impact the steps organizations must take to ensure the security and protection of their data held in the cloud. In the United States, this is particularly true of health and financial data and data collected from children, which have explicit federal protections. The four core issues that legal experts advise organizations to assess when considering a cloud data solution include [1]:

  • Data security

  • Data location

  • Data oversight

  • Data control

It’s best for organizations to consult with a lawyer before picking a cloud data provider to learn about the precise laws relating to their own cloud data security.

Benefits of cloud data storage

There are many benefits to using the cloud to store data. Some of the most common benefits of cloudy data storage include:

  • Greater accessibility: Data can be accessed anywhere using an internet-enabled device.

  • Scalability: Cloud service providers allow organizations to expand storage as their needs evolve.

  • Potentially reduced cost: Maintaining on-premise databases and storage can be costly for businesses. Using a cloud service could help organizations reduce their overall costs due to providers having to maintain infrastructure themselves.

  • Security: Service providers have the resources required to keep systems up-to-date and secure as technology changes.

Dangers of cloud data storage

Although there are many benefits to cloud data storage, there are also many potential dangers to their security that both organizations and individuals should consider. Some of the most common threats include:

1. Data breaches and misconfigurations

Hackers and other bad actors are a major threat to the cybersecurity of both on-premise and cloud-based data storage. In fact, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, the average cost of a data breach reached a whopping $4.45 million in 2023 [2]. While many attacks simply rely on run-of-the-mill phishing schemes or stolen credentials, a significant amount of these attacks exploit all-too-common cloud misconfigurations within an organization.

2. Insecure APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow applications to speak to one another on the back end. As a result, APIs are critical to transferring data from one application to another, and any security problems that exist within them could lead to a data breach or leak.

3. Over-accessibility

Accessibility is one of the great benefits of cloud data storage, but it could also be one of its major problems if not managed properly. Organizations that don’t limit privileged access to some data may inadvertently compromise it. Furthermore, employees who aren’t properly trained accidentally reveal and share sensitive information without realizing it.

4. Inside actors

In some cases, inside actors may exploit their access to an organization’s cloud data in order to commit cybercrimes like theft and fraud. While this is also a problem for on-premise systems, the accessibility of data in the cloud makes it potentially easier for bad inside actors to gain unauthorized access to it.

Cloud data security best practices

When evaluating a system’s security, cybersecurity professionals rely on a framework known as the “CIA triad,” an acronym that stands for confidentiality, integrity, and availability. According to this framework, a secure cloud data storage platform should keep sensitive data private, consist of reliable information that users can trust, and reliably provide data to privileged users when they need it. Furthermore, none of these elements should compromise one another.

Below, we explore some of the ways that professionals implement the CIA triad to ensure cloud data security.

1. Enable encryption.

To ensure data remains private, it should be encrypted when it is either at rest within the cloud or being transferred to or from it. Encryption scrambles files into unreadable scripts that require a key – either a passcode or string of numbers – to decrypt it and turn it into a readable format.

2. Back up the data.

One of the most common uses of the cloud is to back up data located on a physical hard drive. While this is a good way for anyone to protect their data, organizations that already store their data on the cloud might consider actually backing up their cloud data on the cloud itself. Known as a cloud-to-cloud (C2C) backup, this method involves an organization replicating its data onto another cloud as a failsafe in the event anything happens to the other one.

3. Use unified visibility.

In cybersecurity, visibility refers to the ability to see what is occurring within a network at all times so that professionals can resolve any issues as soon as they arise. To ensure the protection of cloud data, it’s important that organizations have unified visibility – a complete view of their network system – so that they can confidently assess a system’s weaknesses at any given time.

4. Implement IAM and MFA.

To limit who can access sensitive cloud data, organizations should implement identity and access management (IAM) frameworks and multi-factor authentication (MFA). While IAM allows IT managers to grant only specific users access to certain data, MFA ensures that only users who can complete a particular verification method are able to access the data itself.

5. Employ DLP tools.

Data loss prevention (DLP) software helps network administrators control the data that can be sent between users in and out of the network. This important tool can be a critical way to ensure that bad actors like hackers or insiders don’t compromise sensitive data.

Learn more about cybersecurity with Google

Good cybersecurity is integral to ensuring that data stays safe – wherever it’s stored. Learn more about cybersecurity by taking a cost-effective, flexible Professional Certificate on Coursera.

In Google’s Cybersecurity Professional Certificate, you’ll learn how to identify common risks, threats, and vulnerabilities to cybersecurity, as well as techniques to mitigate them from the industry leaders at Google. You’ll even gain hands-on experience with Python, Linux, and SQL to ensure you have the technical skills to help keep systems safe.