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December 07, 2015

Data takes up space, and it needs a retrievable system to manage it. Storage, backup, disaster recovery and archiving are all elements that are essential to most organizations. There are currently choices available for maintaining your data storage; you can keep it in-house, or have it live on a cloud. Technological advances have enabled everything to exist outside of the infrastructure boundaries of your company. Cloud service providers can do it all for you, creating an agile and dynamic customizable solution to fit your needs. There are naturally some concerns that occur whenever something of value leaves the premises. To decide on the best approach for your organization, it is wise to dive a little deeper into the layers of cloud storage, from concept to lock down. We will go there in this article.


Data Security: In the Hands of the Beholder

Graphic showing red cloud outline with a lock inside over a binary code background.

The internal option is certainly the most familiar one. To create and maintain an in-house solution, you will need to build your organization’s own data center and then at least another backup one. Then hire a team to protect all your data 24/7/365 from hackers, hurricanes, and threats, both known and unknown. Your company can function on the belief that you only have secure data if you actually have your own hands on it. This is akin to keeping your money in your house under the mattress. The cloud? That’s much more difficult to conceptualize. It’s up in the air somewhere, somehow? Are you imagining your precious data mixed in with everyone else’s data? Exactly how safe and secure is it? Once out of your company’s site – is your precious, confidential data easily accessible to everyone else? Is THIS your visualization of cloud storage? If so – you should consider abandoning THAT image. Fortunately, that misconceived picture is not the reality of how your data on a cloud is actually secured, stored, and protected. It is accomplished in a way that most organizations – for many reasons – cannot do in-house.


Encryption – A Complex Algorithm to Crack

To rows of computer server towers under cloud images with binary code numbers coming down from the blue sky to connect them.

Cloud security for your data is one of the safest current methods of storage. Layers and layers of protection are incorporated in an effort to ensure that your data is safe, and remains that way. To gain access, a hacker would have to have the key to the encryption. Undertaking a successful decryption – while not impossible – is extremely difficult. Forensic software, major computer power, and a determined effort over a substantial amount of time would be necessary to even attempt to infiltrate the secure cloud storage system. Additionally, hacking attempts on cloud storage will generally not target an individual organization’s data – it would be more of a global cloud hack trying to infiltrate the bigger cloud service scope. It takes the same amount of effort and ingenuity to get into the whole system. A reputable cloud system, however, has redundant safeguards and is very secure.


Encryption, Obfuscation, Identity Management & Limited Access

In order to prevent tampering, programmers create code that is difficult for humans to understand. It supports the theory that you can’t hit what you can’t see. Obscurity as opposed to something definitive. Technically created decoys and smoke screens keep cyber criminals from exploiting and compromising cloud systems. Encryption and obfuscation are important aspects of data security. Encryption addresses alphabets, alphanumeric and symbols. Text that goes in as readable is no longer readable because it is processed through an algorithm and a key. Obfuscation addresses numeric data similarly, incorporating mathematical functions and/or programming modifications. The proper key is needed for deobfuscation. Together these two disguising techniques combine to shield data from being accessed off of the cloud. In simpler terms, even if access into the cloud was attained by an unauthorized contingent, the actual data remains cryptic to them. It will be like breaking into a car that you can’t start and drive away with. With this overview in mind, let’s display three main components of secure cloud data.

  1. The data needs to be readily available for the appropriate parties to access whenever there is a retrieval need.
  2. Users of the system need to be authenticated.
  3. The stored data has to always remain confidential – even within a cyber-attack where access into the system is gained by an unauthorized party who creates a positive but bogus authentication.

The quality of item #3 determines the overall security of cloud storage. Encryption and obfuscation are applied before the data is put into the data base of the cloud. Both are needed to ensure confidentiality.


Data Breeches: A Human Cat & Mouse Game

A large screen projection of numbers with the red text warning that says "Data Breach" & "Cyber Attack".

Humans create systems and humans try to take advantage of them. A data breech has substantial negative ramifications and effects. The consequence of the breech is determined by how vital the compromised data is; often it can be devastating. That is why cloud security has to be and remain at maximum level, because just like in the wild, the strongest, fastest gazelle in the herd will remain safe; the slow, sick one will not. Security is nothing more than a mirage unless it is layered and applied to the most appropriate areas in ratio. Cyber threats are constantly restructuring themselves, incorporating Trojans, key loggers and other methods. New appliances are connected to the Internet, and are intended to co-mingle with other devices and data. A path of entry to an entire system can be as seemingly innocent as one brief USB connection to a port on one computer that is connected to the network. The threat can live in a self-created stealth environment until activated remotely. Because of this, cloud security cannot just rely on a rigid structure of defense destined to become compromised and obsolete. It has to stay on top of mutating threats to detect and neutralize them. Software needs to be fully patched with current versions – this will secure an important potential vulnerability. “Static defense” is no longer appropriate. A network’s current environment must be constantly viewed in comparison to what it should be and the register of authorized changes. Persistent and pernicious threats will be ongoing, and only the highest level of security will win the cat and mouse game.


The Financial Overview of Cloud Based Storage

A dollar sign in blue neon light connected to a computer mouse.

With cloud security an organization does not have the entire infrastructure cost. The task is being outsourced to a provider. Your own data is not mirrored in real-time across the data centers. Instead it is held in virtual machines in a section of a data center, compartmentalized and recognized as your own. It is not co-mingled with other data. It is ready to go for you 24/7/365. If you store your own data, a natural disaster – hurricane, earthquake and other occurrences – can render your data center useless and inaccessible. Often self-storage is only backed up daily, at night, and may only update the day’s changes. The entire environment may not be regularly backed up. Cloud security is much different. Cloud-hosted solutions have already invested in everything necessary to ensure the level of protection desired. Data can be quickly migrated to different data centers in a matter of hours, unlike a self-storage system that would need to incorporate a whole new server space with the ability to conduct a transfer. This can be potentially cost prohibitive for your organization.


Choosing a Cloud Partner

In choosing a reliable cloud service partner to host your data, your organization should investigate what type of services are offered. You also need to acquire the information on how competently they address current and changing regulations. Often, companies seek professional third party assistance to make sure the needs of your situation are researched diligently, and that there is a clear overview of all parameters that need to be addressed with a cloud security provider. The right questions need to be asked because only a small percentage of firms provide a robust range of data protection. You should want nothing less.

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