Despite an ongoing spike in cloud-based security vulnerabilities and risks, an overwhelming amount of cloud data remains unprotected as companies continue to migrate apps and data to the cloud. As reported by a survey, only 45% of sensitive cloud-stored data is currently encrypted. 39% of respondents, however, have encountered a cloud security breach in the past year.
Cloud data encryption which is the encapsulating and rearranging of data before its transmission to the cloud, is vital. It guarantees that regardless of whether the data is lost, stolen, or inadvertently shared, its contents are practically irrelevant without the encryption key, which is only accessible to authorized users.
Understanding the Meaning of Cloud Data Encryption
Cloud encryption is a data security mechanism that encrypts plaintext data into unintelligible ciphertext to ensure that it is safe and secure as it travels between, or inside cloud environments. Data is encrypted before migrating into the cloud or when moving between two clouds.
Encryption is a straightforward but efficient method for preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data stored on the cloud in the unfortunate case of a breach. Even if the data is stolen, these offenders cannot decipher the information in encrypted files.
Importantly, cloud data encryption cannot prevent data breaches, it simply makes them far less dangerous for your enterprise.
Encryption, however, increases expenses for cloud storage providers because of the greater bandwidth necessary. This is because encryption must be implemented before transferring data to the cloud (and ultimately to their customers). As a result, many vendors restrict their cloud encryption offerings, and some customers secure their data locally ahead of uploading it to the cloud.
Encryption has been deemed one of the most powerful elements of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. In addition to safeguarding the data from exploitation, it addresses the following additional crucial security concerns:
- Compliance with regulatory confidentiality and safety standards
- Enhanced protection against unauthorized access to data from other tenants of the public cloud
- In certain instances, protecting the organization from having to disclose breaches or other security incidents.
Why the Urgent Need for Cloud Data Encryption?
As data and workloads rapidly migrate to the cloud, it gets more difficult to control and safeguard sensitive data. Since 2020, 86% of businesses have increased the extent and scale of their cloud initiatives. However, encryption features are still deficient, which is why Forrester most recently emphasized the importance of safeguarding cloud data.
1. More stringent compliance and audit requirements
Most businesses need to comply with stringent privacy regulations like PCI-DSS, GDPR, CCPA, GLBA, HIPAA, etc. In the past, these requirements were met by storing data in on-premises, air-gapped systems, which is not feasible in cloud environments.
2. Hybrid and Multicloud are hindering visibility
Multicloud deployment means that information is housed across multiple sites, including AWS, Azure, GCP, Salesforce, SAP, etc. This leads to a lack of complete visibility into the data and necessitates substantial administrative assistance to handle and monitor data migration.
3. Cloud migration from legacy apps is complicating key management
Several organizations depended on legacy, on-premises, or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software until recently. When it pertains to cloud migration, they rely solely on ISVs who migrate applications without amending or restructuring. COTS apps lack the notion of BYOK (bring your own key), which is problematic if the client desires to assume ownership of encryption.
Only 14% of businesses are confident that they control all of the encryption keys for their cloud-based data. Globally, nearly two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed have five or more essential management systems, leading to increased complexities.
A strategic approach to cloud data encryption, and a centralized solution, is necessary for this reason.
4. Access to cloud data is often uncontrolled
Unfortunately, identity and access management (IAM) are not always executed in the cloud, despite its crucial role in preventing data intrusions. Without encryption, then, your data could easily fall into the wrong hands. Surprisingly, only 41% of organizations globally have put in place zero-trust cloud infrastructure access controls! Even fewer organizations (38%) deploy such controls inside their cloud networks.
5. No cloud data encryption solution results in low cloud adoption
Most businesses lack a reliable method for separating sensitive information from non-sensitive data. Inexperienced with encryption frameworks, they believe they must encrypt both structured and unstructured data before uploading it to the cloud. This diminishes cloud adoption overall.
6. Integrations become simpler and more secure
Application programming interfaces or APIs are frequently used by organizations that work in cloud environments to manage the various aspects of their online systems. Whether internal or external, APIs with inadequate security protocols represent a risk, particularly when information is being transferred. Encryption services in the cloud can assist in mitigating risks created by insecure APIs, empowering you to confidently build an integrated environment.
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Enterprises Need Two Types of Cloud Data Encryption
All cloud data encryption tools and protocols can be categorized into two broad groups: symmetric or asymmetric. In the first method, only one key is employed to both encrypt and decrypt plaintext. As an easy example, the word “fog” can be encoded by advancing each letter in one position in alphabetical order – to “gmh.”
It is sufficiently intricate to be secure but suitably basic to be fast. To guess the key would require countless attempts. Nevertheless, this single-key method is more susceptible to being compromised.
In asymmetric data encryption, both encoding and decoding take place using linked pairs of private and public keys. This is akin to a lock with a coded key: you can secure it (via a public key) without learning the code, but only the individual who understands the code (that is, the private key) can unlock it.
Today, asymmetric methods like Transport Layer Security (TLS) are used because they are less susceptible to infiltration.
When compared to symmetric encryption, the most significant disadvantage of asymmetric encryption is that it is generally slower. Companies need to choose between the two wisely when it comes to cloud data security. Workloads that need to be fast but do not convey sensitive information, e.g., video conferencing on the cloud, work well with symmetric cloud data encryption.
On the other hand, dataflows that contain sensitive information, without a time-bound context, such as business intelligence apps, are better suited to asymmetric protocols.
What is the Risk of Leaving Data Unencrypted and Uninspected?
The 2018 Equifax data breach compromised the personally identifiable information (PII) of over 148 million people. The right encryption and surveillance processes would have diminished the chance of this taking place.
An expired site certificate allowed traffic to pass unchecked for ten months, allowing an adversary to exfiltrate customer information without being detected. If the data had been encrypted before uploading, the hackers would have exposed only illegible ciphertext.
Encryption of cloud data is crucial, but without investigation, it may produce blind spots. According to research, over 80% of attacks now occur over encrypted channels. Red flags can be identified by decrypting, scrutinizing, and obtaining visibility into network traffic through inspection techniques.
Ongoing Cloud Journeys Necessitate Closer Attention to Encryption
Companies are ramping up their cloud investments, but nearly seven in ten (68%) continue to view their cloud ventures as unfinished. Having selected the low-hanging fruit, i.e., migrating an app from an on-premises server to a cloud service, they are now transferring more sophisticated and business-critical infrastructure, but they are yet to comprehend the extent of its repercussions on data security.
A few encryption best practices can help enterprises make sense of today’s security needs:
- Avoid retaining encryption keys with the data they serve to encrypt and decrypt. Bring Your Own KMS (BYOKMS), also referred to as External Key Management (EKM), offers the highest level of possible cloud encryption security.
- Software solutions that store encryption keys may be corrupted or accidentally exposed at various infrastructure levels. Set up a hardware-led trusted implementation setting, like a hardware security module (HSM), to store keys.
- With most organizations following a multi-cloud strategy, having discrete policies, auditing processes, and individualized security measures for each cloud deployment escalates risk and costs. Centralizing the administration of keys for all public cloud or SaaS encryption is a recommended best practice.
- Use confidential computing for the in-house development of apps that work with sensitive data. Here, applications run in hardware-driven secure execution settings. Avoid leveraging the cloud at all in such scenarios, as the app has not yet been fully tested.
Cloud data breaches are an unavoidable reality in today’s digital, increasingly hyperconnected world. Due to zero-day threats, preventing these attacks may not always be possible. You can, however, protect your data by encrypting it before migrating to the cloud. Enterprises also need to pay attention to workload protection within the cloud through emerging security solutions like secure access service edge (SASE), meant specifically for cloud-native enterprises.