The cloud has changed a lot about the way we conduct business, but one of the most significant shifts has been in the realm of cybersecurity. The expansion of workloads running in the cloud has driven an uptick in security attacks focusing on cloud technologies. As organizations grapple with an increased attack surface, data breaches have become more common, wider-reaching, and costlier than ever.
How is this different from the workplace of years past? Companies used to run their software on-premises, which meant a firewall was all you needed to protect your employee and customer data. IT teams also relied on a monolithic tech stack, deploying apps from a single vendor that offered closed systems and thick client apps. And before the cloud made remote work easy and accessible, employees had to work in central office locations in order to access company technology.
The shift to the cloud has changed all that. Software has moved from on-premises to cloud-native or hybrid environments, and companies are implementing best-of-breed tech stacks that rely on multiple vendors. At the same time, cloud and mobile technologies are allowing employees to access their work from anywhere in the world, which has given rise to a new age of freedom and limited capabilities for control within the traditional approach to security. These four steps can set your company up for success in today's modern technology landscape.
Step 1: Adopt a zero-trust mentality.
The fact that an increasing number of organizations continue to use cloud services means that companies can't assume that users can be trusted simply based on the network they're on. Rather, all users must be verified regardless of their device, their location, or their IP address before gaining access to corporate data or applications.
There are a couple of ways to implement this approach. First, security teams must understand the true identity of who is accessing their network, and monitor and log all network traffic. This means establishing security checkpoints and enforcing rules about who can continue to access the network past each checkpoint. [Editor's Note: Okta, along with other vendors, markets software to manage and secure user authentication processes in the cloud.] Second, companies need to keep a close eye on access permissions and give the minimum necessary amount of access to every user. For example, if a salesperson doesn't need access to hiring information or customer login credentials, don't give it to them. The more a user or employee can access, the higher the risk of a compromised account.
Step 2: Implement micro-segmentation.
Traditional security measures like firewalls are good at regulating what comes in and out of your network. But today, when the workloads themselves are in the cloud and virtual, and access is happening from all over, knowing who is coming in and out of your network doesn't make you any more secure. This is where micro-segmentation comes in. Micro-segmentation will allow your team to establish customized policies for different segments, giving you more comprehensive security overall. These policies can also be deployed virtually, making a micro-segmented approach ideal for a cloud environment.
Step 3: Encrypt data and move to a passwordless experience.
Encryption is one of the simplest ways to secure your data. Only people with the correct passwords or keys can access encrypted data, so it's a straightforward way to secure information stored in the cloud. However, Have I Been Pwned (HIBP) reports that hackers have managed to breach 555,278,657 passwords, and research Okta commissioned from Opinium in May revealed that over a third of users reuse the same passwords for multiple accounts.
Ultimately, this reinforces why password-specific policies should not be the last line of defense for your organization. In fact, because login credentials are compromised and reused so frequently, going passwordless is often the best long-term way to keep data safe. Your team can eliminate passwords altogether by investing in technology like physical security keys and relying on more robust contextual access systems, and as identity management continues to evolve, a passwordless future is becoming more and more possible for organizations. But if going passwordless is not an option at your organization, you should, at a minimum, establish strong password regulations. Greater password lengths encourage the use of passphrases, which provide greater protection against brute-force attacks. Eliminating the reuse of old passwords curbs the potential for future account compromises as well.
Step 4: Don't forget life-cycle management.
In November 2018, an employee who was fired by the Chicago Public Schools system stole personal data from 70,000 people from a private CPS database. This scenario is every HR and security executive's worst nightmare: a disgruntled employee leaves the company and retaliates by taking sensitive data with them. Unfortunately, even if an employee quits or gets terminated on good terms, passwords stored in the cloud could later be breached if their account is left open, or is orphaned. Although immediate offboarding can be daunting, it's a vital part of security and worth the investment. As soon as someone stops working at your organization, you need to cut them off from future access to any data.
Onboarding is equally as important. When a new employee starts, a streamlined onboarding process that requires them to set up secure accounts and participate in security training will mean there is less room for error and risk down the road.
Underestimating the security changes that need to accompany a shift to the cloud could be fatal to a business. As soon as your company starts leveraging cloud tools, you need to embed security in your plan from day one. By adopting a zero-trust approach and carefully managing who can access your data and network, you'll go a long way toward preventing a crippling data breach.
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