Gambling with InfoSec in the Cloud

The enduring onslaught of data breach events such as the theft of 4.5 million health records from Community Health Systems or the recent staggering loss of information for 76m JP Morgan accounts continues to highlight the need for robust information security and the ability to proactively prevent and redress potential security incidents. In response, organizations have increased investment in better information security programs and supporting technologies. However, while more organizations may be better positioned to cope with data breach events, information security continues to lack appropriate coverage of cloud and mobile device technology risks.

Lags in InfoSec Deployment:

According to the 2014 Global State of Information Security® Survey of information, executives and security practitioners, organizational leaders expressed confidence in their information security activities (nearly three-quarters of study respondents reported being somewhat or very confident). However, the survey reveals gaps in the application of information security for cloud and mobile technologies. Nearly half of respondents reported that their organizations used cloud computing services but only 18% reported having governance policies for cloud services. Furthermore, less than half of respondents reported having a mobile security strategy or mobile device security measures such as protection(s) for email/ calendaring on employee-owned devices.

Real Issue is Lack of Knowledge

Gaps in cloud and mobile information security represent a broader trend that even exists in regulated industries. For example, in the 2013 Ponemon report, “The Risk of Regulated Data on Mobile Devices & in the Cloud”, 80% of IT professionals could not define the proportion of regulated data stored in the cloud and on mobile devices. The gap in information security does not appear to be limited to the deployment of polices and controls. Instead the potential issues with cloud and mobile information security stem from lack of knowledge concerning storage and use of data. As noted in the study “Data Breach: The Cloud Multiplier Effect” their organizations as having low effectiveness in securing data and applications in the cloud.

Reducing Cloud and Mobile Technology Risks

Developing an appropriate security posture for cloud and mobile technologies should begin with the realization that information security requirements for these technologies differ from traditional IT infrastructure. For example, the responsibility for storage and use of data in the cloud is shared by a greater number of parties—organization, employees, external vendors, etc. Additionally, contracts and written policies for cloud applications must specify more granular coverage for access, use, tracking and management of data. In the event of a potential security incident, possible sources of evidence, such as security logs, are stored externally and may require the assistance of specific employees or service providers.

The following considerations provide a starting point for the development of information security practices that are relevant to cloud and mobile technologies.

1. Identify security measures that are commensurate with cloud and mobile technologies.

a. Use security features that are built into cloud and mobile technologies. This includes access controls and encryption. Frequently, security features that would have prevented major cloud-based breaches (such as multi-factor authentication and text-to-cellphone warnings of suspicious activity) are already made available by cloud service providers. However, users of these services, whether individuals or large corporate clients, are frequently delaying full implementation of available security options due to cost or organizational concerns.

b. Implement additional security tools or services to address gaps in specific cloud and mobile technologies. For example, software-based firewalls to manage traffic flow may also provide logging capability that is missing from a cloud service provider’s capabilities.

2. If possible, use comprehensive solutions for user, device, account, and data management.

a. Manage mobile devices and their contents. Mobile device management (MDM) solutions enable organizations to coordinate the use of applications and control organizational data across multiple users and mobile devices.

b. Use available tools in the cloud. Cloud service providers such as Google Apps provide tools for IT administration to manage users, data and specific services such as Google Drive data storage. Unfortunately, many organizations do not utilize these tools and take risks such as losing control over email account access and content.

3. Maintain control over organizational data.

a. IT should control applications used for file-sharing and collaboration. Cloud- based tools such as Dropbox provide a robust method of sharing data. Unfortunately, Dropbox accounts often belong to the employee and not the organization. In the case of a security incident, IT may be locked out of an employee’s personal account.

b. Users should not be responsible for security. Organizations often entrust employees and business partners with sensitive data. This includes maintaining security requirements such as use of encryption and strong passwords. The organization that owns the data (usually its IT department) should have responsibility for security, and this includes organizational data stored outside of an organization’s internal IT infrastructure.

c. Encryption keys should be secured and available to IT in the case of a potential incident. With the advent of malware such as ransomeware that holds data captive and employees who could destroy encryption keys, securing encryption keys has become becoming a vital step in the potential recovery of data. If IT does not maintain master control over encryption keys, important organizational data could be rendered inaccessible during a security incident.

4. Actively evaluate InfoSec response and readiness in the cloud.

a. IT should have a means to access potential sources of organizational data. If data is stored on an employee’s tablet or at a third-party data storage provider, IT should have a vetted plan for access and retrieval of organizational data. Testing should not occur when a potential security incident arises.

b. Important digital assets should be accessible from more than one source and should be available within hours and not days. IT should have backup repositories of corporate data, in particular for data stored in cloud environments. This may include using a combination of cloud providers to store data and having an explicit agreement on the timing and costs required to retrieve data (in the event of an incident).

c. Audit systems should be turned on and used. Cloud providers often have built-in auditing capability that ranges from data field tracking (e.g., a phone number) to file revision history. The responsibility for setting up audit capability belongs to the organization. As part of using a cloud provider’s technology, the use of auditing should be defined, documented and implemented.

d. IT staff should have the knowledge and skills to access and review log files. The diversity and complexity of log files have grown with the number of technologies in use by an organization. Cross-correlating logs files across differing technology platforms requires specialized knowledge and advanced training. If an organization lacks the skill to analyze logs files, the ability to detect and investigate potential security events may be severely compromised.

5. Incident response plans and investigation practices should cover scenarios where data is stored in the cloud or on mobile devices.

Hackers have become more aggressive in seeking out data repositories. As organizations continue to adopt cloud and mobile technologies, information security must keep pace and extend the same internal focus on information security to external sources of organizational data. In particular, incident response plans should cover an increasing phenomenon—where attackers infiltrate an organization’s physical network solely to gain the keys to its cloud data repository.

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