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How to Ensure Data Security and Privacy in a Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud providers must ensure the security and privacy of your data, but you are ultimately responsible for your company’s data. This means that industry and government regulations created to protect personal and business information still apply even if the data is managed or stored by an outside vendor.

The three key areas of concern related to security and privacy of data in the hybrid cloud are

  • Location of your data

  • Control of your data

  • Secure transport of your data

It’s important to note that some experts believe that certain kinds of data are just too sensitive for the public/hybrid cloud. This might include highly regulated data, such as medical information. Others believe that if the right level of transparency and controls can be provided, consumers can be protected. Clouds that host regulated data must meet compliance requirements such as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Sarbanes-Oxley, and HIPAA.

For more information about security in the cloud, check out the Cloud Security Alliance.

The location of data in the cloud

After data goes into the cloud, you may not have control over where it’s stored or how it’s used. Numerous issues are associated with this situation:

  • Specific country laws: Security and regulatory laws governing data can differ across different geographies. For example, your own country’s legal protections may not apply if your data is located outside of it. A foreign government may be able to gain access to your data or keep you from having full control over your data when you need it.

  • Transfer of data across country borders: A global company with subsidiaries or partners (or clients for that matter) in other countries may be concerned about cross-border transfer of data because of local laws. Virtualization makes this an especially tough problem because the cloud provider might not know where the data is at any particular moment, either.

  • Secondary use of data: In public cloud situations, your data or metadata may be vulnerable to alternative or secondary uses by the cloud service provider. Without proper controls or service level agreements in place, your data may be used for marketing purposes. It could be merged with data from other organizations for such alternative uses.

The control of data in the cloud

You may or may not have heard the term the CIA Triad. No, this isn’t about covert operations. CIA stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. These three attributes have been around a long time in the world of auditing and management controls; they’re critical for data in the cloud environment for the following reasons:

  • Confidentiality: Only authorized parties with the appropriate privileges can access certain data; that is, there’s no theft of the data.

  • Integrity: Data is correct and no malicious software (or person) has altered it; that is, there is no tampering with the data.

  • Availability: Network resources are available to authorized users.

These three attributes are directly related to controlling data. Controls include the governance policies set in place to make sure that data can be trusted. The integrity, reliability, and confidentiality of your data must be beyond reproach. This holds for cloud providers, too.

You must understand what level of controls will be maintained by your cloud provider and consider how these controls can be audited.

Here’s a sampling of different types of controls designed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data:

  • Input validation controls to ensure that all data input to any system or application are complete, accurate, and reasonable.

  • Output reconciliation controls to ensure that data can be reconciled from input to output.

  • Processing controls to ensure that data are processed completely and accurately in an application.

  • Access controls to ensure that only those who are authorized to access the data can do so. Sensitive data must also be protected in storage and transfer. Encryption can help to do this.

  • Re-identification (the process by which anonymized personal data is matched with its true owner) controls to ensure that codes are kept in a separate location to prevent unauthorized access to re-identification information.

  • Change management controls to ensure that data can’t be changed without proper authorization.

  • Data destruction controls to ensure that when data is permanently deleted, it is deleted from everywhere — including all backup and redundant storage sites.

The concept of controls in the cloud is so important that the Cloud Security Alliance has put together a list of over 100 controls called the Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM) to guide cloud vendors and assist potential cloud customers in assessing the overall risk of the provider.

Your company needs to develop and publish a consistent set of rules and policies regarding the creation, capture, management, transmission, access, storage, and deletion of confidential and business-critical data. Use techniques such as encryption and tokenization to reduce exposure to data theft and misuse.

The secure transport of data in the cloud

Say that you’ve decided to move some of your data to the cloud. Regarding data transport, keep two things in mind:

  • Make sure that no one can intercept your data as it moves from point A to point B in the cloud.

  • Make sure that no data leaks (malicious or otherwise) from any storage in the cloud.

In the hybrid cloud, the journey from point A to point B might occur any number of ways: within a cloud environment, over the public Internet between an enterprise and cloud provider, or even between clouds.

The security process may include segregating your data from other companies’ data, then encrypting it by using an approved method. In addition, you may want to ensure the security of older data that remains with a cloud vendor after you no longer need it.

A virtual private network (VPN) is one way to manage the security of data during its transport in a cloud environment. A VPN essentially makes the public network your own private network instead of using a dedicated connection. A well-designed VPN needs to incorporate two things:

  • A firewall to act as a barrier between the public Internet and any private network

  • Encryption to protect your sensitive data from hackers; only the computer you send it to should have the key to decode the data

In addition to transport, in a hybrid world, there will be touchpoints between your data and the cloud. Therefore, it’s important to deal with the storage and retrieval of this data.

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