A recent study by Crowd Research Partners showed that 300,000 security professionals of LinkedIn deemed cloud encryption the most trusted security technology today. While these experts agree that encryption is the most effective approach to data security in the cloud, it can be challenging. There are so many types of encryption services available in the online marketplace. All kinds of organizations, from small to big businesses, find these services promising yet they can be confusing and complicated.
In this article, we will tackle cloud storage security issues with encryption and understand the challenges, issues, and mistakes that prove that encrypting data is not always the sole solution to prevent data breaches.
Cloud Data Encryption Challenges
What are the challenges cloud consumers and cloud service providers face when it comes to data encryption? These are as follows:
- Cloud platform differences
Differences in cloud platforms pose complications in data encryption. There are three models with regards to the cloud platform and these are Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Each of these models offers security solutions and perform different tasks to provide security to an immense amount of data. Because of the differences between these models pose, there are complexities in the encryption approaches. As a consequence, an organization’s cloud service provider will find it hard to maintain and perform various encryption processes.
- Key management complexity
Dealing with data encryption, key management is the most complicated issue of any security system and network. Key management is the process of safeguarding encryption keys from loss, unauthorized access, and corruption. However, key management is usually the major reason encryption is not being implemented by organizations. According to John Droge of Raytheon, a cybersecurity solutions company, “key management is the most difficult discipline within cryptography and requires extreme attention to detail by every vendor and user/operator in the information.”
- Diversity of encryption architectural approaches
There are a lot of architectural approaches for encryption in the cloud, such as application level, file system based, agent-based, and storage device level approach, according to the Cloud Standards Customer Council. These approaches have their own features based on the management of encryption keys and their performances. During the process, moreover, various algorithms are differently utilized. As a result, it is hard and challenging to establish connections and communication among these approaches.
- Compliance regulations in different locations or countries
One of the cloud issues in using data encryption is the variety of compliance regulations in different territories. Thus, data encryption is not straightforward and goes through various processes before it gets done. For instance, if a business is required to comply with a regulation in its country, but its data is internationally stored and encrypted, other compliance regulations in other countries might perform data assessment first. In consequence, the cloud storage provider will more likely to find it hard to manage and perform encryption on this occasion.
- The challenge of responsibility
According to a study conducted by Thales e-Security and Ponemon Institute, the most responsible for protecting cloud data are cloud service providers, followed by cloud consumers. Because of the challenges mentioned above, whoever takes the responsibility of data encryption will need to overcome and manage them all. Instances of this challenge could be an upsurge in financial expenses and complicated communication and collaboration between both the cloud service provider and the cloud consumer.
Security Issues to Consider When Encrypting Cloud Data
While encryption in the cloud seems the silver bullet in data security, it shouldn’t be viewed so, as indicated by Gartner, a leading research and advisory company. According to Gartner, organizations should prepare a data security plan first when it comes to cloud encryption. If enterprises fail to do so, it could result in more complexities and financial problems. There are some cloud storage security issues and risks to ponder on when organizations store and encrypt their data in the cloud.
The biggest issue is the password or the security key. If the assigned password is lost during the process of encryption in the cloud, there’s no way to salvage the data. Another issue about passwords is that people create common words, such as their email passwords or spouse’s name. The easier the security key to guess, the easier the data can be breached.
Moreover, one of the cloud issues with encryption is the false sense of security. Encryption promises that encoded data can’t be invaded and stolen because of its complex processes and procedures. However, there is no perfect solution for data security. The organization sees encryption to have many resources required that’s why it’s viewed as the most effective solution. Its complexity creates this false sense of security. It’s not a cure-all solution.
Another security issue to consider when encrypting cloud data is that it requires cooperation. For instance, if a member of an organization shares a file that needs secrecy to another member, this file should be always encrypted when sending. However, either of the members might find it time-consuming and boring to encode and decode that data. Encryption requires cooperation and this can be challenging to all parties involved.
Common Cloud Encryption Mistakes
Organizations and security professionals see cloud encryption strong and perfectly secure. But the right question to ask is this: why are enterprises and even the government still get hacked and breach? The answer is they’re not doing it right.
Here are some of the mistakes organizations make when encrypting cloud data:
- Believing that complying to regulations means full security
This is a misconception. It is right that regulations like the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services), PCI DSS (The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), among others entail and require any organization to protect all sensitive data. However, these compliance regulations don’t even mention encryption and don’t go into much detail on how the organizations do the compliance.
- Reliance on low-level encryption
Low-level encryption is viewed as a one-click solution to data breach prevention. Examples of this are disk and file encryption. This is usually performed by beginners. However, it is dangerous to mainly depend on this kind of solution. For instance, while the server is off, disk encryption only works during that time. The operating system will decrypt data when the server is turned on and the data will be accessible to all users that are logged in. Reliance on low-level encryption is as easy as one click, but attackers will be at ease at breaching, too.
- Assuming that software developers have full expertise
Software developers and engineers are typically not experts in security. Experts are usually in the IT field and they are pen testers, CISOs, and system administrators. Organizations rely on software developers because they’re good at solving difficult problems. However, when it comes to data encryption, they can fail at implementation. Some of the mistakes of software developers include unprotected encryption keys, unprotected keystore, weak crypto, using old libraries, and using one key for everything.
- Dependence on cloud providers when it comes to data security
Because data breaches have been increasing over time, more and more technology companies provide cloud storage services. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon spend millions of dollars to be the most secure cloud in the cybersecurity industry. Because of this, organizations assume that if they avail of these companies’ cloud services, their data will have full security under these providers. That is a dangerous assumption. Contrary to the study by Thales e-Security and Ponemon Institute mentioned above, almost all cloud providers state that cloud consumers have the most responsibility in securing data. Even Amazon Web Services created a chart illustrating the responsibility of the consumers and this includes data encryption.
- Incorrect key management
Getting key management wrong is the biggest mistake an organization can make. Even if the data is encrypted the right way, improper handling of key management could lead to data breaches. This is akin to spending on the most effective lock on Earth and storing it under the mat. Key management failures include fetching the key insecurely, leaving the key unprotected with another layer of the encryption key, using the same key and never changing it.
Recommendations and Closing Thoughts
Due to the above-mentioned challenges, issues, and mistakes, the Cloud Security Alliance has given recommendations in protecting sensitive data. These simple yet strong recommendations are the following:
- Sensitive data should be encrypted before it is transmitted from the organization to the cloud service provider.
- Sensitive data should be encrypted in use, at rest and in transit.
- The decryption keys should never be accessible to the cloud service provider and its staff.
- Sensitive data should be encrypted with random, long keys and approved algorithms.
Although there are cloud storage security issues when it comes to encryption, it still remains the top tool for data protection. Despite its weaknesses, encryption could still show that strong data protection is still possible. Having a thorough understanding of the “hows” of cloud encryption is the key. Learning from encryption mistakes and applying some useful recommendations will alleviate an organization’s chances of getting attacked. Contact RSI Security today to get started.