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A Moving Target: Tackling Cloud Security As A Data Issue

Today’s challenge is protecting critical information that an increasingly mobile workforce transfers every day between clouds, between cloud and mobile, and between cloud, mobile, and IoT.

The cloud has single-handedly turned the roles of CISOs and CIOs for enterprises upside down, providing unrivaled benefits for hosting and accessing data. At Symantec, 62 percent of the applications deployed that I manage are cloud-based and, according to Cisco, 69 percent of all workloads will be in the cloud by 2017.

So, what’s the downside? As we’ve seen in recent years, large corporate breaches are showing that security in the cloud is, and will continue to be, a main topic of concern. The topic comes up in almost every meeting I have with companies looking for solutions to secure their data.

Five years ago, CIOs and CISOs would be very hesitant to use an application like Salesforce, for example. That’s clearly not the reality we live in today. Proven cloud application providers, like Salesforce or Workday, realize how important and critical security is; it’s crucial to their business model. In some instances, an application like Salesforce could be more secure than an IT infrastructure at a company. SaaS, IaaS and PaaS providers today that are already servicing hundreds of thousands of enterprise customers are doing so safely and securely.

But what about protecting that data transferring fluidly from those applications to mobile and/or IoT devices? Many executives need to dive into this challenge headfirst -- including me. For example, at Symantec we enabled our sales team with an iPad that had a number of cloud applications on it, including Workday and Salesforce, so they could perform various job-related tasks in the field without having to wait to get back in the office. What that required was for us to protect the data they were using while it moved dynamically, between clouds, between cloud and mobile, and between cloud, mobile, and IoT.

You need to protect data in motion. But what data?
It’s of the utmost importance to prioritize data. Organizations must compartmentalize company data, understand which of it is the most critical to the business and put a metaphorical fortress around it.

But today, many CISOs and CIOs aren’t thinking about cloud security this way. They feel like they need to secure every piece of data equally. This is akin to single-handedly pushing a boulder up a mountain; it’s virtually impossible. But when you break your data boulder into smaller, manageable pieces, you can secure the data and avoid devastating, business-ending effects.

Here are a few suggestions:

Accept the fact that not all data are equal. In many organizations there is a fear that security teams need to protect and secure everything equally. For some time, the solution was to simply deploy another point solution to mitigate security risks, solve one problem, and move on to the next. The result was companies running 60 or more security solutions in their environment, saying to themselves, “I don’t know what is securing what anymore.” That’s a problem.

We need an integrated and unified approach. Instead of viewing every piece of data in equal fashion, identify the top 10-15 most critical pieces and put the highest level of security around those pieces. How do you rank compromising customer credit card information vs. other information you have available? Start thinking of securing data in the cloud by compartmentalizing and prioritizing business-critical information. Ask, does your critical data need special security which offers greater control and monitoring capabilities? Then identify the most critical, sensitive data and add multiple layers of protection.

Involve your employees. Security is a data problem so you need to use intelligence, razor precision and technology to solve it. When speaking about security, especially in the cloud, CISOs understandably need to be heavily involved. In addition, get your board involved. And most certainly get your employees involved. When it comes to your employees, teach and empower them and drill down the message that security is every employee’s responsibility. One way I’ve done this is to ask our employees to participate in identifying security gaps wherever they exist. It’s amazing how much your employees know about the problems that are out there, even if they aren’t doing anything right now to fix them. And they want to tell someone. They just need to know who to tell.

Apply “the onion effect.” Once you identify the most critical pieces of data, you’ll need multiple layers of protection, including layers related to security policy, encryption, backup, and archiving. For instance, companies that have critical intellectual property will want to know where it is housed, who uses it, when they are allowed to access it, and if there are any controls in place to detect when it is being accessed inappropriately.

As more and more data migrate to the cloud, hackers will undoubtedly try to exploit it. But with the right mindset and prioritized approach, cloud security doesn’t have to keep you up at night.

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