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Data Privacy and Security Concerns for Multi-Cloud Organizations

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The world is going multi-cloud. Enterprises are leveraging the benefits of multi-cloud services to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and drive faster innovation. What does this mean for data privacy? With data residing in multiple locations, it’s more important than ever for organizations to understand their data privacy risks and ensure that any sensitive data is protected. 

In the previous “mono-cloud” generation, adopting diverse cloud services across different departments (for example, Salesforce for Customer Success, Zendesk for Help Desk, Google Docs for collaboration) enabled businesses to optimize their resources and spend less on IT infrastructure maintenance. However, with so much data being centralized in one place, there were growing concerns about the privacy and security of data

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One serious data privacy issue arose from centralized data storage in the cloud. When data was centralized in the cloud, it was highly accessible but also highly vulnerable to security threats, data breaches, and privacy violations. One of the dangers of centralized data storage was the single point of failure. In the event of an outage, users were not able to access critical business data. Another danger was the probability of data breaches, which made it easy for hackers to access it. Also, if the data was not encrypted, it posed a risk to the privacy of customers. 

To mitigate these issues, businesses started adopting a multi-cloud strategy. This enabled organizations to store data across multiple cloud service providers. This way, if one vendor went down, users could still access critical data from another vendor. In the typical multi-cloud organization, user data is spread across many cloud systems

But here are the primary data privacy challenges of multi-cloud organizations:

  • Data location transparency: It can be difficult for you, the end user, to know exactly where your data is stored. Because many cloud computing providers offer what may appear to be similar services, it can be difficult for organizations to determine which provider hosts a given piece of data. This can make it challenging for businesses to comply with data privacy regulations, retain control over sensitive information, and monitor the security of their data. 
  • Data breaches due to incorrect contacting practices: A second data privacy challenge in the multi-cloud organization is the problem of data breaches emanating from poor contracting practices. If businesses fail to adopt the right multi-cloud strategies, they may not be able to oversee their contracts properly. This can lead to data breaches when their cloud service providers fail to meet certain standards like data sovereignty laws, data protection laws, and so on. To avoid this, businesses can make sure that they are contracting with vendors that meet the legal requirements.

In short, multi-cloud data management environments bring their own data privacy and security challenges.

Key Security Challenges and Solutions for Multi-Cloud Organizations

As multi-cloud adoption continues to rise among global organizations, Gartner has suggested that presently almost 70% of organizations have put a multi-cloud strategy in place. Consequently, one of the biggest concerns for companies operating in the multi-cloud era is data security. Data security is the protection of information, systems, and devices from theft or unauthorized access. In the multi-cloud era, businesses must adopt a strong data security strategy. Here are reasons for this:

  • Businesses are likely to store sensitive data across different cloud service providers. This makes it imperative for businesses to have a strategy to ensure that their data remains protected from breaches in the event of a disaster. 
  • Businesses are legally obligated to protect customer data in case of a data breach. As per GDPR, if customer data gets breached due to negligence on the part of a company, they are liable to pay a hefty fine. 

The multi-cloud environment brings significant security challenges to organizations. The following are some key security challenges organizations face as they implement multi-cloud strategies. As organizations move forward with a multi-cloud strategy, they are challenged to enforce consistent security configurations across workloads and applications. 

Challenge 1: One false expectation is that you can just extend on-premises security infrastructure to the cloud. Unfortunately, tools from just one cloud vendor, or your own scripts written for your on-premise data centers, are not going to get you through the challenges of a multi-cloud architecture. You need a cloud-native security platform that allows you to protect different cloud services from multiple providers. 

Probable solution: It is highly risky to implement the same “data governance, access, and security framework” across multiple clouds. This approach will result in inconsistencies in policy implementations across different cloud service providers and different service environments (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS). It is far better to allow cloud service providers to deliver service-related security, while organizations, on the other hand, take responsibility for data security within the multi-cloud environment. Cloud service providers should monitor infrastructure-related security threats, while the end users – organizations – secure their data, cloud applications, and other assets on cloud. 

Challenge 2: A poorly developed multi-cloud security strategy can end up in loss of data integrity confidentiality. Enabling multi-cloud architecture for better security and privacy involves the risk of losing track of data. So, the answer is adopting a “data-centric security approach” within an organization, which ensures that an organization’s most critical assets stay protected regardless of their location: on-premises, on a private cloud, or in a multitude of public cloud service provider environments. With data-centric security, organizations substantially reduce the risks related to regulatory requirements in the multi-cloud.

Probable solution: Having a complete approach to data privacy and security throughout your organization helps to mitigate costs, complexity, and, in turn, risk. This approach makes it possible to protect data throughout the data lifecycle. Comprehensively managing data encryption, or data masking, for data protection in cloud or on-premises environments is critical. 

Challenge 3: While many people claim that the cloud platform has built-in, inherent security controls, and that you do not have to bother to implement your own, keep in mind that the cloud is about shared security. For instance, you might be using the services of CrowdStrike for security on the cloud platforms, and Falcon Horizon/Cloud Security Positioning Management (CSPM) for protection against configuration errors.

Probable solution: While the “shared security approach” enables cloud service providers to ensure the security of certain services, your organization’s internal security teams must take responsibility for the security of others. 

Challenge 4: Protecting sensitive data in the cloud is an additional challenge for multi-cloud organizations. This means organizations have to routinely revisit and re-engineer their security strategies and tools related to data access to incorporate real-time, continuous monitoring and compliance measures. This becomes challenging when organizations try to support least-privileged access models across all their data stores in the cloud. Generally speaking, enterprises have little control over data exposures and security gaps. 

Probable solution: Because protecting workloads spread across on-premises and multiple cloud frameworks is especially complex, automation is crucial for monitoring workloads such as VMs and Kubernetes containers distributed over multiple environments – on-premises, mono-cloud, and multi-cloud. Automated solution platforms help keep track of and monitor workloads across systems.

Challenge 5: This is the most formidable challenge – an acute shortage of qualified security professionals with deep knowledge and experience in working on multiple cloud platforms. Given the lack of trust and experience in this field, all the above-mentioned challenges could result in significant security vulnerabilities. When adopting a cloud strategy, security leaders face challenges like controlling cloud costs, data privacy, and security issues.

Probable solution: As more organizations shift toward full-cloud adoption, security teams will need the right talent and resources to manage their cloud infrastructures and navigate security and privacy obstacles posed by the cloud.

Given the range and complexity of privacy and security challenges in the multi-cloud, the security settings must be consistent across all of your clouds. Ongoing communications with cloud service providers is necessary to ensure that all are following the same security measures. Cloud security technologies such as cloud security posture management, cloud workload protection, cloud identity and rights management, data loss prevention, encryption, and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are the most common technologies that should be kept in mind while planning privacy and security for multi-cloud environments. 

Other Multi-Cloud Issues That Threaten Data Privacy and Security 

Here are some other concerns unique to the multi-cloud environment, which makes enterprise Data Management an ongoing challenge: 

  • Latency due to distance between the organization’s data center and cloud service providers is a grave concern. This can reduce the speed at which employees can access critical data. 
  • Bandwidth issues can also pose a challenge. If a multi-cloud organization keeps all its critical data with one cloud service provider’s servers, it is likely that bandwidth issues will surface when the amount of data transferred exceeds the provider’s capacity. This can be particularly problematic for businesses that operate in real-time environments, such as healthcare, financial services, or manufacturing businesses. 

Wrap-Up

Each cloud platform is different, so even if you successfully understand who has access to what data and workloads, keeping up with vendor updates and new controls requires ongoing monitoring. To run a successful, secure multi-cloud operation, you probably need an external, centralized platform that controls access for users with appropriate permissions.

data security strategy for cloud environments requires ongoing, continuous evaluation to ensure data protection, advanced standards compliance, and adherence to all regulatory laws. Data Management practices are required for the regulation of users’ access to sensitive data in the cloud to enhance data privacy and security. 

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

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