As the cloud’s popularity grows, so does the risk to sensitive data

While the vast majority of global companies (95%) have adopted cloud services, there is a wide gap in the level of security precautions applied by companies in different markets. Organizations admitted that on average, only two-fifths (40%) of the data stored in the cloud is secured with encryption and key management solutions.

Who is responsible for protecting sensitive data stored in the cloud?

cloud popularity sensitive data risk

The findings – part of the Ponemon Institute “2018 Global Cloud Data Security Study” – found that organizations in the UK (35%), Brazil (34%) and Japan (31%) are less cautious than those in Germany (61%) when sharing sensitive and confidential information stored in the cloud with third parties. The study surveyed more than 3,200 IT and IT security practitioners worldwide to gain a better understanding of the key trends in data governance and security practices for cloud-based services.

The majority (61%) of German organizations revealed they secure sensitive or confidential information while being stored in the cloud environment, ahead of the US (51%) and Japan (50%). The level or security applied increases further still when data is sent and received by the business, rising to 67% for Germany, with Japan (62%) and India (61%) the next highest.

Crucially, however, over three quarters (77%) of organizations across the globe recognize the importance of having the ability to implement cryptologic solutions, such as encryption. This is only set to increase, with nine in 10 (91%) believing this ability will become more important over the next two years – an increase from 86% last year.

Managing privacy and regulation in the cloud

Despite the growing adoption of cloud computing and the benefits that it brings, it seems that global organizations are still wary. Worryingly, half report that payment information (54%) and customer data (49%) are at risk when stored in the cloud. Over half (57%) of global organizations also believe that using the cloud makes them more likely to fall foul of privacy and data protection regulations, slightly down from 62% in 2016.

Due to this perceived risk, almost all (88%) believe that the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will require changes in cloud governance, with two in five (37%) stating it would require significant changes. As well as difficulty in meeting regulatory requirements, three-quarters of global respondents (75%) also reported that it is more complex to manage privacy and data protection regulations in a cloud environment than on premise networks, with France (97%) and the US (87%) finding this the most complex, just ahead of India (83%).

Head in the clouds

Despite the prevalence of cloud usage, the study found that there is a gap in awareness within businesses about the services being used. Only a quarter (25%) of IT and IT security practitioners revealed they are very confident they know all the cloud services their business is using, with a third (31%) confident they know.

Looking more closely, shadow IT may be continuing to cause challenges. Over half of Australian (61%), Brazilian (59%) and British (56%) organizations are not confident they know all the cloud computing apps, platform or infrastructure services their organization is using. Confidence is higher elsewhere, with only around a quarter in Germany (27%), Japan (27%) and France (25%) not confident.

Fortunately, the vast majority (81%) believe that having the ability to use strong authentication methods to access data and applications in the cloud is essential or very important. Businesses in Australia are the keenest to see authentications put in place, with 92% agreeing it would help ensure only authorised people could access certain data and applications in the cloud, ahead of India (85%) and Japan (84%).

Use of multi-factor authentication for third-party access

cloud popularity sensitive data risk

“While it’s good to see some countries like Germany taking the issue of cloud security seriously, there is a worrying attitude emerging elsewhere,” said Jason Hart, CTO, Data Protection at Gemalto. “This may be down to nearly half believing the cloud makes it more difficult to protect data, when the opposite is true.

“The benefit of the cloud is its convenience, scalability and cost control in offering options to businesses that they would not be able to access or afford on their own, particularly when it comes to security. However, while securing data is easier, there should never be an assumption that cloud adoption means information is automatically secure. Just look at the recent Accenture and Uber breaches as examples of data in the cloud that has been left exposed. No matter where data is, the appropriate controls like encryption and tokenization need to be placed at the source of the data. Once these are in place, any issues of compliance should be resolved.”