Widespread uncertainty about cloud security

More and more organizations are transferring sensitive or confidential information to public cloud services even though more than a third expect a negative impact on security posture. In response, the use of encryption is increasing but more than half of respondents still admit their sensitive data goes unprotected when it is stored in the cloud, despite data security topping the global news agenda.

Released at Infosecurity Europe 2014, the independent global study of more than 4,000 organizations conducted by the Ponemon Institute reveals differing opinions over who is responsible for security in the cloud – the cloud provider, or the cloud consumer and how best to protect the sensitive data that is sent there.

The report explores the impact on security posture of moving to the cloud, the transparency of cloud providers, how organizations are treading the line between trust and control with regard to encryption and how encryption keys should be managed.

Cloud security is here to stay: The use of the cloud for processing and storing sensitive data seems inevitable. More than half of all respondents say their organization already transfers sensitive or confidential data to the cloud and only 11 percent say that their organization has no plans to use the cloud for sensitive operations, down from 19 percent only two years ago.

Cloud confidence is on the up, but at what cost? Although nearly half of respondents believe that their use of the cloud has had no impact on their overall security posture, those that believe it has had a negative effect (34 percent) on their security posture outnumbered those that experienced a positive effect (17 percent) by a factor of two to one.

Where does the security buck stop? The perceived responsibility for protecting sensitive data in the cloud is very dependent on the type of cloud service in question. In software-as-a-service (SaaS) environments more than half of respondents see the cloud provider as being primarily responsible for security. In contrast, nearly half of infrastructure-as-a-service/platform-as-a-service (IaaS/PaaS) users view security as a shared responsibility between the user and cloud provider.

Visibility improves but gaps remain: The good news is that visibility into the security practices of cloud providers is increasing with 35 percent of respondents considering themselves knowledgeable about the security practices of their cloud providers compared with 29 percent only two years ago. But, half of SaaS users still claim to have no knowledge of what steps their providers are taking to secure their sensitive data.

Encryption usage increases but data still exposed: The use of encryption to protect sensitive or confidential data stored in the cloud (data at rest) appears to be increasing. For SaaS users we see an increase from 32 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2013 and for IaaS/PaaS users respondents report an increase from 17 percent to 26 percent over the same period, but still, more than half of respondents report that their sensitive data is in the clear and therefore readable when stored in the cloud.

Treading a line between trust and control: There is currently an almost equal division in terms of how stored data is encrypted while in the cloud. Of those respondents that encrypt stored data just over half apply encryption directly within in the cloud with just over 40 percent elect to encrypt the data before it is sent to the cloud.

Who holds the key? When it comes to key management there is a clear recognition of the importance of retaining ownership of encryption keys with 34 percent of respondents reporting that their own organization is in control of encryption keys when data is encrypted in the cloud. Only 18 percent of respondents report that the cloud provider has full control over keys.

Standards enable trust in a shared environment: The need to share keys between organizations and the cloud highlights the growing interest in key management standards – in particular OASIS Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP) – where 54 percent of respondents identify cloud based applications and storage encryption as the area to be most impacted by the adoption of the KMIP standard.

Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder, Ponemon Institute, says: “There are still concerns that many organizations continue to believe that their cloud providers are solely responsible for protecting their sensitive data even though the majority of respondents claim not to know what specific security measures their cloud provider is taking.”

Richard Moulds, vice president strategy, Thales e-Security, says: “Encryption is the most widely proven method to secure sensitive data in the enterprise and in the cloud, and yet more than half of respondents report that sensitive data in the cloud goes unprotected. Those that are using encryption have adopted a variety of deployment strategies but once again a universal pain point is key management. Very often, the way that keys are managed makes all the difference with poor implementations dramatically reducing effectiveness and driving up costs. Key management is a critical control issue for respondents, who are increasingly focused on retaining ownership of keys as a way to control access to data. Deployed correctly encryption can help organizations to migrate sensitive data and high risk applications to the cloud, allowing them to safely unlock the full potential for economic benefit the cloud can deliver.”

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