Data privacy and information protection have become pressing issues in today’s technologically evolved era, where data is considered the new oil. The massive volumes of data that companies gather and process daily have made them attack hotspots for cybercriminals. Cloud computing is a technology that has changed the way organizations manage and store their data. However, as companies migrate their data to the cloud, there is an urgency to ensure that data privacy and protection are maintained. This blog will deep dive into the world of data privacy and protection powered by the cloud and explore the measures that companies can take to ensure uncompromised data security. But before that, let’s take a quick look at how cloud cyber threats are evolving at a lightning speed.

Navigating the Threat Landscape

Cyber criminals are employing new technologies to expand their reach, evade capture, and boost the productivity of their operations. Cloud computing providers are constantly being targeted owing to their relatively lax registration processes and their limited capacity for fraud detection.

  • Identity, authentication, and access management - These issues include not deploying multi-factor authentication, improperly configuring access points, employing weak passwords, non-availability of scalable identity management systems, and not automating the regular rotation of cryptographic keys, passwords, and certificates.
  • Vulnerable public APIs - Application programming interfaces must be protected against both unintentional and intentional attempts for accessing sensitive data, starting from authentication and access control to encryption and activity monitoring.
  • Account turnover- Attackers may attempt to monitor user interactions and transactions, manipulate data, provide false information, and direct users to malicious websites.
  • Malicious insiders - A present or former employee or contractor with access to a company's network, systems, or data may purposefully misuse that access in a way that it amounts to data breach or hampers the organization's information systems' availability.
  • Data sharing - A lot of cloud services are designed to make data sharing seamless between businesses. This expands the attack surface areas for hackers who now have more potential targets for breaching sensitive data.

Cloud Computing: Making Data Protection and Privacy a Part of Your Business in Every Aspect

The cloud allows users to access and store data and applications online. Instead of using traditional servers, it allows businesses to store and process data in big data centers. Businesses can benefit from cloud computing in many ways, including cost savings, scalability, and agility. Privacy of data is one of them.

Protecting personal information from unauthorized access or use is known as data privacy. Data privacy is made more tedious by cloud computing because businesses no longer have control over their data. To manage and store their data, they depend on cloud service providers, which can increase vulnerabilities. Selecting a trustworthy cloud service provider that complies with data privacy laws like GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA is essential.

You can take precautions to protect data from cyberattacks, data breaches, or data loss thanks to data protection. Security issues specific to cloud computing include unauthorized access, data breaches, and data loss. The implementation of adequate security measures by cloud service providers is required to safeguard the data of their clients. Data encryption, access control, and multi-factor authentication are required as part of the security measures.

Best Practices for data privacy and protection on Cloud

Selecting a Trustworthy Cloud Service Provider

Selecting a trustworthy cloud service provider is one of the most crucial steps in ensuring data privacy and protection. Companies should check if the cloud service providers enjoy a good reputation and strictly comply with data privacy laws. An adequate security system, including data encryption, access control, and multi-factor authentication, should be offered by the cloud service provider.

Maintaining Data Confidentiality

A fundamental aspect of data protection is preserving data confidentiality. Usually there’s great risk associated with data breaches in remote data storage, a lack of network perimeter, third-party cloud service providers, multi-tenancy, and extensive infrastructure sharing. Hence preserving the confidentiality of sensitive data and information of all users, associates connected with it is crucial. Additionally, because enterprise cloud landscapes often combine new technologies and legacy systems together in a hybrid model, it will invariably create new security risks because of flaws in both system design and implementation. Data security versus usability, system scalability, and dynamics present challenges in providing satisfying security assurance in terms of data confidentiality.

Is Data Encryption the best Way? Key Questions to Answer

The simplest way to guarantee data confidentiality is to encrypt all sensitive data when it is being stored, processed, and transmitted by cloud servers. However, there are several subtle and difficult issues to be addressed with data encryption which we can list as follows.

  • How can data decryption keys be efficiently distributed to authorized cloud users?
  • How can user dynamics, particularly user revocation, be handled effectively?
  • How can data dynamics be handled effectively in terms of data modification?
  • How can user accountability be ensured?
  • How can computing be enabled over encrypted data?

The first three questions touch on the subject of key management. In large-scale application scenarios, efficient key distribution is a particularly complex problem. As providing elastic and scalable computing resources to potentially large-scale applications is a fundamental aspect of cloud computing, it is very likely that the system will support both a large volume of data and a sizable user base. When users enter the system, it can be difficult to efficiently and securely distribute the key(s) to authorized users because typically the data owner must remain online to provide the key distribution service. Additionally, user revocation, which is a problem in conventional cryptography, is yet another deterrent. User revocation frequently entails broadcasting to every user in the system and/or re-encrypting any cloud-stored data that has already been encrypted.  In large-scale systems, the ideal solution is one that can make data encryption an independent task with little impact on the key distribution process, meaning that any data modification or re-encryption does not result in an update or new distribution of the decryption key. Special consideration should be given to the system design and selection of the underlying cryptographic primitive(s) for this purpose. Such a problem is specifically connected to data access control based on cryptography.

Data access privileges for encryption-based solutions are based on necessary decryption key(s). This makes it possible for malicious users who have access to data to abuse it by giving data decryption keys to unauthorized users. One way to stop such key abuse is to protect the data decryption key with temper-resistant hardware from the user's end. This will help in preventing the potentially malicious user from accessing the key while allowing him or her to decrypt data. Temper-resistant devices are made in such a way that when tampered with, the sensitive data, such as the decryption key, is zeroed out or the chip simply breaks. This severely restricts the ability of attackers because now the only way a malicious user can misuse the key is by sharing the physical device with others. However, because the malicious attacker is in physical possession of the device, it is possible to launch vicious attacks that can get past the device's internal security system, such as chosen message attacks, fingerprinting attacks and others. As an alternative to using proactive methods, people can deal with the problem of key abuse by using reactive methods.

Data Prioritization Methods

Removing sensitive data and only storing non-sensitive data in the cloud is an alternative strategy for maintaining data confidentiality. For instance, to protect user privacy when working with data containing personally identifiable information (PII), this uniquely identifying information would be removed. This method is comparable to the principles of database k-anonymity and its improvements. This approach keeps data processing's efficiency and flexibility intact in comparison to data encryption. Since key distribution and management are no longer necessary, this method also greatly reduces the complexity of system management. The main drawback of this solution is that by removing the sensitive information, it will result in information loss. This process will render the data useless in many application scenarios while maintaining data confidentiality.

Another technique is referred to as "information-centric" protection. With this approach, the data is encrypted with a usage policy of some sort. The system will launch a program that checks the environment against the data usage policy each time the data is accessed. The data will be decrypted, and a secure virtualization environment will be created if the verifying program determines that the environment is secure enough. Applications in this secure environment can access the data in plaintext.

Enabling Data Integrity on Cloud

Another crucial security concern in cloud computing is data integrity. Data integrity is required for data stored on cloud servers as well as for communications between cloud users and cloud servers. Particularly when outsourcing valuable data assets for storage in the cloud, cloud users may have serious concerns about data integrity. The potential long lifespan of outsourced data would make it more susceptible to intentional or unintentional modification, corruption, or deletion, due to sloppy system maintenance or the efforts of reducing costs.

While the problem of data integrity for communications can be solved using pre-made methods like message integrity code, the problem of data integrity for data storage appears to be more challenging for the following reasons:

First, it's possible that cloud users won't be ready to fully rely on cloud service providers to protect data integrity. This is due to the fact that cloud services are typically offered by independent contractors who do not necessarily fall under the same level of trust as cloud users. Although service level agreements and other mechanisms help cloud users and cloud service providers build trust relationships, these practices may occasionally engage in intentional or unintentional misconduct that prevents cloud users from having complete confidence in the integrity of their data.

Second, timely service for data integrity should be offered. This is due to the fact that in practical applications, it is frequently too late for cloud users to discover data corruption at the point of data retrieval. This is especially true for the long-term storage of large volumes of data because many portions or blocks of data may not be accessed frequently over an extended period of time.

Third, cloud users must not only actively participate in the "self-served" data integrity check but also provide the necessary knowledge and computing power. But in the world of cloud, users' skill levels and resources range widely. It turns out that the majority of cloud users might not be able to perform a data integrity check on their own.

The best solution would be for a data integrity protection mechanism to support frequent data integrity checks on large volumes of data while allowing third-party verification and data dynamics. Cryptographic techniques can be used to offer robust data integrity protection. Precisely, this is how message authentication codes (MAC) should be used for data integrity. A small number of MACs are initially locally generated and kept on hand by data owners (cloud users) for the data files that will be outsourced. Recalculating the MAC of the received data file and comparing it to the locally pre-computed value allows the data owner to check the data integrity whenever they need to retrieve the file.

Ensuring Data Availability

The ability of cloud users to store and process data will be greatly enhanced by the limitless and elastic resources provided by cloud computing. For instance, cloud users can benefit from robust data storage that may not be available locally due to limited resources by creating multiple replicas of data in the cloud. Cloud users (data owners) may replicate data on geographically dispersed cloud servers and permit their customers to access data effectively via local cloud servers (the use of which is similar to the content distribution networks (CDNs)). This enables them to offer high-quality data services to their own customers. By giving the task of data maintenance to the cloud service provider, who might be more skilled at it, cloud users can also save time and effort. In other words, cloud computing allows users to operate high-quality, massive data services with little local deployment and maintenance work.

Securing Data Access

Cloud computing requires that cloud data storage and sharing services facilitate secure, effective, and reliable distribution of data content to a potentially large number of authorized users on behalf of the data owners. This is because different sensitive data information is pooled in the cloud. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is one such access control mechanism that can be implemented by cloud servers as a solution to this problem. The aim of data access control can be successfully accomplished because mature techniques like RBAC's access control mechanisms are capable of handling fine-grained access control in large-scale systems. Alternatively, cryptographic techniques are a different approach to offering secure data access services. This type of solution encrypts data before it is stored in the cloud, and the data owner (cloud user) keeps the secret key to themselves. The data decryption key is given to authorized users to enable data access. By doing this, we are able to facilitate end-to-end security without revealing its contents to the cloud servers.

Deploying Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication needs users to provide two or more forms of authentication before they can access data. Cloud service providers should enable multi-factor authentication to allow only authorized personnel to access their clients' data. Multi-factor authentication should include a blend of something the user knows, such as a password, something the user has, such as a security token, and something the user is, such as biometric data

Adhering to Regulations and Compliance

Sensitive data storage and access are strictly regulated for mission-critical applications. Before moving sensitive data into the cloud, the data owner and the cloud service provider should both be aware of the underlying laws/compliances:

  • HIPAA- stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The proper use and disclosure of private health information held by "covered entities," as defined by HIPAA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is governed by the privacy rule of HIPAA. It establishes guidelines for the proper use and disclosure of PHI and defines 18 different types of Protected Health Information (PHI).  PHI typically refers to data that can be used to identify a specific person. This may include the entire person's medical history or payment history.
  • Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA): Information security for U.S. federal government agencies and/or their contractors will be governed by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), or FISM. All agent information systems are required to adhere to a security framework that defines information security. A number of security measures, including information categorization, security control, and risk management, are mandated by this framework.
  • SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley): With the main objective of protecting against corporate and accounting scandals in the financial market, SOX was implemented for public companies. This act contains 11 titles that cover a variety of financial information security topics, including integrity, accountability, secure audit, etc.
  • No. 70 of the Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS): The purpose of SAS 70 is to regulate the contracted internal controls for service organizations, such as hosted data centers, businesses that handle insurance claims and credit information. It specifies a set of standards for auditing that an auditor must follow.

These regulations place different requirements on data security. Due to cloud characteristics like multi-tenancy, internet-based services; adhering to compliances can be difficult in a cloud computing environment. Before sensitive data can be stored in the cloud, the cloud service provider may need to obtain security certification and/or accreditation. This type of security certification typically includes a thorough evaluation of the service provider's operational and/or technical security controls. For instance, FISMA mandates that such certification or accreditation be obtained prior to the agents using cloud services for data processing or storage. Firms are also increasingly opting for compliance-as-a-service offerings to remain compliant all time, across any activity at less manual hassle.

Streamlining Auditing

The entire service architecture design must be both secure and practical to enable public auditing from a systematic standpoint. Considering this, we can briefly describe a set of suggested desirable properties that satisfy this kind of design principle below. Note that these specifications are desirable ends. They may not even be entirely feasible or in tandem with the current technology.

  • Reduce auditing overhead as much as possible: The overhead that the auditing process imposes on the cloud server cannot, in any way, outweigh its advantages. Both the I/O cost and the bandwidth cost associated with data transfer may fall under this category of overhead. Additionally, the extra online workloads for the data owner should be kept to a minimum. After auditing delegation, the data owner should ideally be able to simply enjoy the cloud storage service without having to worry about the auditing of storage accuracy.
  • Protect data privacy: A key component of service level agreements for cloud storage services has always been data privacy protection. Therefore, implementing a public auditing protocol shouldn't violate the owners' right to privacy regarding their data. In other words, TPA should be able to audit cloud data storage effectively without requesting a local copy of the data or even understanding its content.
  • Leverage data dynamics: As cloud storage is more than just a data warehouse, owners are required to dynamically update their data for a variety of application purposes. This significant aspect of data dynamics in cloud computing should be incorporated into the auditing protocol design.
  • Support batch auditing: The widespread use of extensive cloud storage services increases the need for efficient auditing. TPA should be able to handle multiple auditing tasks quickly and affordably even when they come from various owners' delegations. This feature effectively makes it possible for public auditing services to scale, even for storage clouds with numerous data owners.

The Path Forward

The Cloud computing model has received a lot of attention from businesses and the academic community. Data security is a critical concern when deploying applications to the cloud. With Cloud4C, one of the leading managed services providers, gain end-to-end data protection for your enterprise IT landscape, regardless of the scope and complexity of your IT infrastructure. Prevent Data leaks (Data Loss Prevention) in hosted systems and assets, examine databases and dataflows across multiple assets, assess logs and telemetry from various sources, study information to find malicious links and hidden threats, and predict vulnerabilities for preventive maintenance. For the strictest data protection, integrate cutting-edge intelligent security solutions, cloud-native tools, and proprietary platforms. Utilize round-the-clock assistance from top cybersecurity professionals to safeguard sensitive data and workflows. To know more, get in touch with us today.

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Team Cloud4C
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Team Cloud4C

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