A majority of IT organizations are kept in the dark when it comes to protecting corporate data in the cloud, putting confidential and sensitive information at risk. This is just one of the findings of a recent Ponemon Institute study commissioned by SafeNet. The study, titled “The Challenges of Cloud Information Governance: A Global Data Security Study,” surveyed more than 1800 IT and IT security professionals worldwide.
The research indicates that while organizations are increasingly using cloud computing resources, IT staff is having trouble controlling the management and security of data in the cloud.
The survey found that only 38 percent of organizations have clearly defined roles and accountability for safeguarding confidential or sensitive information in the cloud. Adding to the confusion, 44 percent of corporate data stored in cloud environments is not managed or controlled by the IT department. And more than two-thirds (71 percent) of respondents say it is more difficult to protect sensitive data in the cloud using conventional security practices.
As the cloud’s popularity grows, so does the risk to sensitive data
Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of IT professionals confirmed that cloud computing is very important today, and more than three quarters (78 percent) believe it will be over the next two years. The respondents also estimate that 33 percent of their organizations’ total IT and data processing requirements are met with cloud resources today, and that is expected to increase to an average of 41 percent within two years.
However, the majority of respondents (70 percent) agree that it is more complex to manage privacy and data protection regulations in a cloud environment, and they also agree that the types of corporate data stored in the cloud, such as emails, and consumer, customer, and payment information, are the types of data most at risk.
Cloud security, Shadow IT and the need for more accountability
On average, half of all cloud services are deployed by departments other than corporate IT, and an average of 44 percent of corporate data stored in the cloud environment is not managed or controlled by the IT department. As a result, only 19 percent of respondents are very confident that they know about all cloud computing applications, platforms, or infrastructure services in use in their organizations today.
Along with this lack of control over the sourcing of cloud services, views on who is actually accountable for cloud data security are mixed. Thirty five percent of respondents say it is a shared responsibility between the cloud user and the cloud provider while 33 percent say it is the responsibility of the cloud user and 32 percent say it is the responsibility of the cloud provider.
Encryption, multi-factor authentication seen as strong alternatives to conventional data security measures
More than two-thirds (71 percent) of respondents say it is more difficult to protect sensitive data in the cloud using conventional security practices, and nearly half (48 percent) say it’s more difficult to control or restrict end-user access to cloud data. As a result, more than one-third (34 percent) of IT professionals surveyed say their organizations already have a policy in place that requires the use of security safeguards such as encryption as a condition for using certain cloud computing resources. Seventy-one (71) percent of respondents say the ability to encrypt or tokenize sensitive or confidential data is important, and 79 percent say it will become more important over the next two years.
In terms of what companies are actually doing to secure data in the cloud, 43 percent of respondents say their organization is using private data network connectivity. Nearly two-fifths, or 39 percent, of respondents say their organizations use encryption, tokenization or other cryptographic tools to protect data in the cloud. Thirty-three percent say they don’t know what security solutions they use and 29 percent say they use premium security services provided by their cloud provider.
Respondents also noted that the management of their encryption keys is important to securing data in the cloud, given the increasing number of key management and encryption platforms their companies use. Fifty-four percent of respondents say their organization controls the encryption keys when data is stored in the cloud. However, 45 percent say they store their encryption keys in the software where they store their data while 27 percent say they store their keys in more secure environments such as hardware devices.
Regarding access to data in the cloud, 68 percent of respondents also say that the management of user identities is more difficult in the cloud, and 62 percent of respondents say their organizations have third parties accessing the cloud. Nearly half (46 percent) say their company uses multi-factor authentication to secure third-party access to data in the cloud environment. About the same percentage (48 percent) of respondents say their organizations use multi-factor authentication for employees’ access to the cloud.
Key recommendations for data security in the cloud
The role of IT organizations is changing and they need to adapt to the new realities of Cloud IT by educating employees on security, setting comprehensive policies for data governance and compliance, creating guidelines for the sourcing of cloud services, and establishing rules for what data can and cannot be stored in the cloud.
IT organizations can accomplish their mission to protect corporate data while being an enabler of “Shadow IT” by implementing data security measures such as “encryption-as-a-service” that allow them to manage the protection data in the cloud in a centralized fashion as their internal organizations source cloud-based services as needed.
As companies store more data in the cloud and utilize more cloud-based services for their employees, IT organizations need to place greater emphasis on stronger user access controls with multi-factor authentication. This is even more important for companies that give third-parties and vendors to access their data in cloud. Multi-factor authentication solutions can be managed centrally to provide more secure access to all applications and data whether in the cloud or on-premises.