Cloud Compliance: What It Is + Best Practices

Cloud Compliance: What It Is + Best Practices

  • March 15, 2022

In the last 18 months, 79% of companies have experienced at least one data breach. 

Understanding and following cloud compliance requirements is essential to protecting your company from a costly cloud security vulnerability. 

Cloud compliance is the process of complying with cloud usage regulatory standards as well as local, national, and international laws. To be cloud compliant means your organization’s cloud computing services are following all requirements. 

Ready to learn more? We discuss the importance of cloud security compliance and offer tips to bolster your cloud security below. 

Teal background with text that defines what cloud compliance is next to an icon of a cloud and security shield.

Components of cloud compliance 

Cloud compliance requirements will vary depending on your industry and the regulations that guide your business. 

We dig into the components that shape general cloud compliance below.  

Governance

Cloud governance controls help manage a company’s data within the cloud and provide clear policies on how to use (and how not to use) the cloud. 

Companies should have guidelines on organizing, sharing, and tracking information on the cloud, ownership and responsibility of cloud strategy, and expanding cloud usage. 

Laws and regulations

Laws and regulations — at the global, national, and state levels — also help shape cloud compliance requirements. 

It’s important to understand your country’s laws and regulations for cloud compliance, data localization and protection, and cybersecurity. 

A few common regulations include HIPAA, PCI DSS, and SOX.  

Standards

Certain industries also outline specific instructions for properly handling data within the cloud. For example, ISO includes cloud-specific security controls within ISO 27017.

HIPAA also specifies that a covered entity and their cloud service provider (CSP) must enter into a business associate agreement where the CSP will be held liable for compliance with HIPAA Rules.

Why is cloud compliance important?

It’s estimated that the total amount of data stored in the cloud will reach 100 zettabytes by 2025. To put that in perspective, one zettabyte equals a trillion gigabytes. 

With so much data being stored within the cloud, a business must understand its own role and responsibility for keeping that data safe.

Failure to comply with cloud requirements can result in costly data breaches. In 2018 and 2019 alone, organizations that struggled to protect cloud security exposed more than 33 billion records

Light blue background with an icon depicting information being breached from the cloud along with a statistic about how many records were exposed from the cloud in 2018 and 2019.

To reap the benefits of cloud computing (cost-effectiveness, backup and recovery of data, scalability) and avoid costly data breach consequences, you must first ensure cloud compliance.  

Cloud compliance challenges

While cloud solutions offer a variety of benefits, they also come with a unique set of challenges. 

Cloud compliance opens the door to shadow IT by using cloud technology without explicit approval. 

While this term may sound scary, shadow IT in practice could be as simple as purchasing additional cloud storage without proper approval. Left unchecked, shadow IT can lead to lost data, an increased attack surface, and non-compliance. 

Using a well-known CSP can also give companies a false sense of security that their data won’t fall victim to a breach. 

Take the 2021 Azure Cosmos DB vulnerability, for example. Used by brands like Mercedes-Benz and Mars, Incorporated, the database experienced a large vulnerability that went undetected for two years and created the potential for any user to steal the access keys of any other user. 

Even with a hefty list of compliance certifications, Azure, like other well-known CSPs, can experience vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s so important for businesses using CSPs to put a high priority on their own security and compliance monitoring. 

7 tips for better cloud compliance

Wondering how you can level up your cloud compliance practices? We offer seven tips below. 

List of seven tips that people can use to better their cloud compliance.

1. Identify regulations and guidelines

To ensure you’re meeting compliance requirements, you must first identify which regulations and industry standards your organization needs to comply with.

Common cloud compliance frameworks include:

2. Understand responsibility

Many cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) outline specific cloud usage responsibilities. AWS uses the shared responsibility model, which splits responsibility between AWS and the customer. 

AWS is responsible for security of the infrastructure that runs all of the services in the AWS Cloud. The customer is responsible for security within the cloud, which includes customer data.

The AWS shared responsibility model leads many businesses to mistakenly think that compliance is also shared. This is not the case. 

The burden of compliance ultimately falls on the business’s shoulders because you are responsible for the data you choose to put on the cloud. 

3. Ensure proper access control

Just like companies have a process for sharing access control with new hires or vendors, you need something similar when it comes to cloud security. 

Companies should establish a policy for limiting and granting access to the cloud and data stored within the cloud. You can also introduce need-based access rules and expiration dates to help you keep track of who has access and for how long. 

4. Classify your data

When it comes to storing data on the cloud, it’s important to know where server locations are because many regulations require servers to reside within the U.S.

Once you’ve chosen a cloud provider, you need to determine what types of data you want to live on the cloud. You can do this by classifying your data. 

Data classification is the process of sorting data into different categories. This helps businesses more easily manage, secure, and store their data. 

As a general best practice, highly confidential or sensitive data should remain on an internal network rather than migrating to the cloud. 

5. Encrypt all sensitive data that exists in the cloud

Encryption is key to protecting sensitive data that must exist on the cloud. Encrypting data also helps you meet most compliance requirements such as PCI DSS and GDPR. 

Your cloud provider may offer encryption services, but remember that it’s still the business’s responsibility to protect data while it’s being moved and stored.

6. Conduct regular internal audits

One of the best ways to uncover security gaps and vulnerabilities is by conducting regular internal security audits

Re-examine your cloud compliance to ensure it aligns with regulatory requirements. It’s also a good practice to stay on top of updates to regulatory requirements so you can make adjustments proactively. 

7. Understand your service level agreement inside and out

Simply put, service level agreements (SLAs) spell out ground rules and expectations that a company has for the cloud service provider they choose to entrust their data with. 

An SLA should be very clear on roles and responsibilities, incident response execution, and data breach remediation. Everything in the SLA must be in accordance with the regulations governing your business. 

Your SLA should also be a guide for how to handle problems — both expected and unexpected. 

How Secureframe can help you monitor and maintain cloud compliance

Managing your cloud compliance doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Secureframe helps you monitor and maintain cloud compliance by connecting with your cloud infrastructure including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. We scan your cloud provider and deliver risk reports along with tailored step-by-step guides for remediation. 

Schedule a demo today to find out how Secureframe can help you manage cloud compliance. 

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