Cloud computing has always been the focus of fierce debate when it comes to cybersecurity. In its earliest days, there were many in the IT community who simply could not bring themselves to believe that transporting sensitive business data to some nameless configuration of virtualised servers, and what is more doing so over a public IP network, could ever be secure.
Fast forward more than a decade, and not only has the cloud come to dominate (or indeed, make possible) the digital world we live in, it has also proven its security credentials many times over. The accepted wisdom now is that data saved in the cloud is safer than it would be on a local server or device.
The managed data centres which host cloud services benefit from more sophisticated firewalls, anti-malware and threat monitoring than most other businesses could reasonably afford, they store and communicate data using the most advanced encryption available, and they are staffed by highly trained professionals who are unlikely to accidentally give up the keys to the kingdom in response to a crafty phishing email.
There are those, however, who still lament the end of the old ‘castle and moat’ approach to data security, where the aim was to build an impenetrable fortress of cybersecurity protocols around a company’s own (geographically fixed) assets. This nostalgia for times of yore (oh the good old Noughties!) is likely driven by two factors – the continuing growth in sophistication of cybersecurity threats, and the equal increase in the complexity of cloud-based systems.
As digitisation continues apace, as businesses embrace more open, flexible, dynamic IT architectures and all the benefits they bring, they are also faced with the fact that their digital networks and assets are more heterogeneous, more dispersed and more complicated than ever before. This might be great for building an ultra-agile modern business, but it creates serious security headaches in the face of mounting threats.
In 2020, of course, we have also seen a sharp rise in cloud adoption in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as businesses have had little choice but to embrace home working and shift their commercial operations online. As a result, we can expect the cloud to once again dominate cybersecurity conversations throughout 2021 and beyond. Here are three key trends to watch out for.
Cloud Endpoint Security
Let’s start with an obvious concern created by the pandemic-fuelled rush to home working – maintaining the integrity and security of your systems when a large number of employees are accessing them from way beyond the company ramparts, on their own home networks, perhaps on their own devices. Endpoint security is an approach that focuses on the point of access to a network, rather than, say, surrounding everything with a company firewall.
On a basic level, endpoint security is loading individual devices with antivirus and data protection software. But for any company operating a dispersed workforce (or a bring-your-own-device arrangement), this poses serious logistical problems – installing software directly to potentially dozens of different devices, configuring each so they provide consistent protection, running patches and updates, monitoring threats remotely, and so on.
The solution, neatly enough, lies in hosted, or cloud-based endpoint security. As with any type of SaaS cloud service, the key advantages of cloud endpoint security suites include remote provisioning and centralised management, not to mention scalability and cost-effectiveness. Check out PC Magazine’s take on the best cloud endpoint security solutions out there here.
Following on from cloud-based endpoint protection, Zero Trust is more of a strategic approach relating to network architecture than a cybersecurity ‘product’ or application. It is founded on taking what might be considered quite an extreme position on potential security threats – trusting absolutely nothing and nobody, whether they are outside or inside your oganisation.
As hardline as it sounds, there is an excellent rationale for adopting this approach when operating complex, distributed cloud networks. When centering protection on particular locations (i.e. the office network) is no longer viable (because so many people are working from home), Zero Trust shifts the focus to agents instead. Someone is requesting access to your IP network? Well, nevermind where they are or what firewall they happen to be behind or otherwise – don’t let them in until they have been authenticated and authorised.
Zero Trust is designed to address the fact that, in the case of most serious data breaches, hackers need only breach the perimeter firewall, or steal a user’s credentials, and they can move around with virtual impunity within a company system, often for extended periods. This is a totally different mindset founded on robust access control measures for all services.
Cloud Security Posture Management
Finally, an approach which recognises that the modern digital world is a fast-moving landscape in which yesterday’s security protocols could easily become outmoded and vulnerable by tomorrow. With the twin forces of rapidly evolving threats and dynamic cloud infrastructures, businesses are constantly having to adjust their cybersecurity measures in response to very fluid circumstances.
Done manually, such constant vigilance is incredibly labour-intensive, and raises the possibility of human error leaving the door open to attacks because of misconfiguration. Cloud Security Posture Management, or CSPM, is an emerging approach that automates not just the monitoring of security threats, but of misconfigurations which could potentially lead to breaches. You might, for example, have a situation where an endpoint security update has been run across several hundred devices, but there have been errors in a handful. CSPM would identify these vulnerabilities and alert the cybersecurity team so they could be resolved.