Over the past decade, organizations worldwide have relied more and more on cloud-based technologies. From small companies to international corporations — businesses from all walks of life have been enjoying the benefits cloud platforms offer. This trend is here to stay, as predictions show that cloud-based solutions will continue being an integral part of the operations of businesses worldwide. According to the CompTIA IT Industry Outlook 2021, companies rank cloud computing second, only behind networking, as a critical area of IT infrastructure. It is no wonder since this technology approach promises a lot in terms of convenience, process optimization, flexibility, and scalability.
While hosting an expertly developed, in-house CRM or marketing automation software platform can be a great way to go, cloud-based platforms still have a lot of benefits to offer. You can migrate your CRM platform to the cloud or purchase a software as a service (SaaS) product. However, there are some valid questions surrounding cloud technology and the amount of risk involved. Indeed, many organizations have been hesitant to fully embrace the cloud because of concerns over data access, data privacy and security, and overall dependence on a third-party provider.
While providers are doing their best to ensure the security and integrity of their software, there are also some steps that businesses can take to mitigate any cloud-associated risks.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important things to consider when it comes to cloud-based platforms and risk mitigation. We will explore what issues may arise and the best strategies to prevent or remedy them. By the end, you will hopefully understand that with some effort on your side, cloud platforms can be as safe and secure as your in-house system — or even more so.
How to mitigate risk in cloud-based platforms
While there are many factors to take into account when it comes to cloud risk mitigation, some are definitely more important than others. When it comes to risk, you have to start by first enumerating them. Issues surrounding data protection and availability usually take the forefront. After all, such problems can have serious consequences for your business and bottom line. However, there are some more practical matters that you need to keep an eye on. Let’s take a look at the five main risks associated with cloud platforms and how you can mitigate them.
1. Access to data
It is understandable that every business wants to have unlimited, unconditional and exclusive access to all its data. After all, you are placing important data into a third party’s environment that might include business processes and confidential information. If your organization doesn’t understand data use policies, then you may end up losing a measure of control. This is usually an unacceptable situation. Such loss of control might result in serious problems and even make using a cloud-based service pointless.
When using cloud-based platforms, you need to have in-depth knowledge of the provider’s internal organization and data management policies. This will help you retain control and identify areas where you need to improve data security. Depending on the type of platform you are using, you might also have access to advanced tools for backup and protection. Make sure you explore all options and upgrade for additional services if necessary.
2. Compliance and regulations
While we are on the topic of data, many businesses doubt the effectiveness of cloud platforms because they often do not make it clear where their information is stored. Depending on the location of your business, you might want the data to be stored at a particular geographical region or location. Even more so, you might want it to not be stored in a country that has unfavorable laws when it comes to data protection.
An easy way to mitigate any risk associated with compliance and regulations is to utilize standardized assessment questions. There are specific data protection policy standards (such as PCI-DSS, GDPR, and HIPAA) that you can use. In the ideal scenario, both your organization and your cloud service provider will meet all needed requirements as per those standards.
3. Data breach and data theft
Perhaps the most serious concern that keeps businesses away from cloud platforms is the fear of data breaches and theft. Indeed, cloud data breaches happen more often than they should. But such problems are no more prevalent than data center or installed solutions. Such events can have the same disastrous consequences as any other approach, including loss of data, leaks of private information, loss of access, etc. Hackers usually take advantage of low-security APIs and methods such as phishing and pretexting. While platform providers need to take the best defense measures possible, businesses can also take some concrete steps to minimize this particular risk.
Here are some practices you need to implement to protect your business from cloud data breaches:
Enable monitoring solutions for your cloud-based applications
Implement multi-factor authentication for all accounts
Design and implement cloud usage guidelines for the entire company
Regularly audit (i.e., pen test) your cloud presence
Properly train your IT professionals. Get cloud certifications for your IT professionals utilize data loss prevention and remediation workflows
Make use of data discovery, data classification, and behavior analytics
Ensure proper activity logs are kept for all accounts
Implement centralized logging to help streamline any investigation processes
Extensively test all applications in a “staging,” pre-production, environment
4. Platform dependence and vendor lock-in
Unfortunately, many cloud providers out there do not offer the tools and methods needed for quick migration to another service. This fact leaves business owners feeling insecure about committing to a service. They often worry about the cost of additional security services. Also, if a specific platform is deemed ineffective in regard to security after a certain period, migrating to another might be a huge chore. Even worse — it might be impossible. Vendor lock-in is one of the main factors that keep some decision-makers from switching to cloud-based solutions for their companies.
However, there is a solution for that as well. First, conduct extensive comparisons and tests of the applications you plan to use before you migrate to a cloud provider. Create a staging and testing environment, and audit it extensively. There is a second, complementary solution, as well: Similar to standards in data protection, now there are corresponding standards for structured information. CAMP and TOSCA, for example, allow you to easily switch from one cloud provider to another. They eliminate platform dependence and vendor lock-in scenarios and are used more and more on the market. Make sure you keep those standards in mind when considering cloud-based platforms for your business.
5. Data availability
Another problem that you need to consider has to do with the availability of data at any given time. Cloud platforms are not immune from issues with their uptime. In some cases, their hosting provider can be running scheduled maintenance. On the other hand, you might experience problems with your Internet connectivity. In such scenarios, you are effectively locked out of the platform and the information contained within. Imagine this happening if you are working on a time-sensitive project. Usually, though, availability issues occur because of your use of the cloud provider’s tools, not the cloud provider itself.
While Internet connectivity around the globe is better than ever, there are still issues that happen from time to time. Of course, you need to find a reliable provider that suits your particular needs. Even then, you need to be prepared for possible downtime, as you would with a data center or server room. If possible, make local backups of your critical data — this will ensure that any loss of Internet connectivity does minimal harm. You can also look into Content Delivery Network (CDN) options, which can make critical content available to your customers in case a downtime event occurs.
As far as the cloud platforms themselves are concerned, there is not much you can do to prevent downtime. What you can do, however, is make sure that the provider you are working with offers assured of uptime. You can do this by investigating the provider’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) options. Read what the SLA says about loss of data or other damages caused by system disruption. Also, go over all disruption mitigation services internally with your organization so that everyone is on the same page. The last thing you need during a security incident or downtime event is to have a “soft understanding” of the promises made between you and your cloud provider.
So, there’s a quick, high-level overview of the risks involved in using cloud-based platforms. You’ll find that several are very similar to using a data center, or even a server room. When it comes to the cloud, it’s vital to have a deep understanding of the explicit – and implicit – issues that present themselves. Once you understand and communicate these issues throughout your organization, you can move forward confidently in the cloud.