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What is cloud security?

Cloud security refers to the cybersecurity policies, best practices, controls, and technologies used to secure applications, data, and infrastructure in cloud environments. In particular, cloud security works to provide storage and network protection against internal and external threats, access management, data governance and compliance, and disaster recovery.

Cloud computing has become the technology of choice for companies looking to gain the agility and flexibility needed to accelerate innovation and meet the expectations of today’s modern consumers. But migrating to more dynamic cloud environments requires new approaches to security to ensure that data remains secure across online infrastructure, applications, and platforms. 

Learn more about Google Cloud’s security model and how we’re helping solve the toughest security challenges with advanced security products and solutions. 

Cloud security defined

Cloud security is the set of cybersecurity measures used to protect cloud-based applications, data, and infrastructure. This includes applying security policies, practices, controls, and other technologies like identity and access management and data loss prevention tools to help secure cloud environments against unauthorized access, online attacks, and insider threats. 

How does cloud security work?

Cloud security mainly focuses on how to implement policies, processes, and technologies together so they ensure data protection, support regulatory compliance, and provide control over privacy, access, and authentication for users and devices. 

Cloud service providers (CSPs) typically follow a shared responsibility model, which means implementing cloud computing security is both the responsibility of the cloud provider and you—the customer. Think of it as a responsibility framework that defines which security tasks belong to the cloud provider and which are the duty of the customer. Understanding where your provider’s security responsibilities end and yours begin is critical for building a resilient cloud security strategy. 

Broadly speaking, the CSP is always responsible for the cloud and its core infrastructure, while the customer is expected to secure anything that runs “in” the cloud, such as network controls, identity and access management, data, and applications.  

Shared responsibility models vary depending on the service provider and the cloud computing service model you use—the more the provider manages, the more they can protect.

Here’s a look at how this typically works:

Cloud computing service model Your responsibility CSP responsibility
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) You secure your data, applications, virtual network controls, operating system, and user access.  The cloud provider secures compute, storage, and physical network, including all patching and configuration.  
Platform as a service (PaaS) You secure your data, user access, and applications. The cloud provider secures compute, storage, physical network, virtual network controls, and operating system. 
Software as a service (SaaS) You are responsible for securing your data and user access.  The cloud provider secures compute, storage, physical network, virtual network controls, operating system, applications, and middleware. 

More recently, a new model for cloud computing security is emerging which sees shared responsibility models shifting to shared fate models. Under shared fate, a cloud provider provides more comprehensive guidance, resources, and tools to help customers sustain secure use of the cloud, rather than leaving customers to navigate risk management in cloud-native environments.

Why is cloud security important?

It’s imperative to rethink security approaches as more companies move to the cloud from on-premises environments, especially with data governance and compliance under the regulatory microscope. 

In an increasingly hybrid and multicloud world, you have more freedom than ever to build where and when you want. But it also means, security is a lot more complicated than stopping someone from accessing your network. Unfortunately, many organizations tend to treat security as an afterthought and may forgo best practices in favor of chasing after faster digital transformation. As a result, attackers see cloud-based targets as a potentially easy path to big gains and are adapting their tactics to exploit vulnerabilities accordingly. 

While cloud security can never guarantee complete prevention of attacks and vulnerabilities, a well-designed cloud security strategy can go a long way toward preventing breaches or mitigating damage, improving compliance, and building stronger customer trust.

Cloud security risks and challenges

Cloud suffers from similar security risks that you might encounter in traditional environments, such as insider threats, data breaches and data loss, phishing, malware, DDoS attacks, and vulnerable APIs.  

However, most organizations will likely face specific cloud security challenges, including: 

Lack of visibility

Cloud-based resources run on infrastructure that is located outside your corporate network and owned by a third party. As a result, traditional network visibility tools are not suitable for cloud environments, making it difficult for you to gain oversight into all your cloud assets, how they are being accessed, and who has access to them. 

Misconfigurations

Misconfigured cloud security settings are one of the leading causes of data breaches in cloud environments. Cloud-based services are made to enable easy access and data sharing, but many organizations may not have a full understanding of how to secure cloud infrastructure. This can lead to misconfigurations, such as leaving default passwords in place, failing to activate data encryption, or mismanaging permission controls. 

Access management

Cloud deployments can be accessed directly using the public internet, which enables convenient access from any location or device. At the same time, it also means that attackers can more easily gain authorized resources with compromised credentials or improper access control.   

Dynamic workloads

Cloud resources can be provisioned and dynamically scaled up or down based on your workload needs. However, many legacy security tools are unable to enforce policies in flexible environments with constantly changing and ephemeral workloads that can be added or removed in a matter of seconds. 

Compliance

The cloud adds another layer of regulatory and internal compliance requirements that you can violate even if you don’t experience a security breach. Managing compliance in the cloud is an overwhelming and continuous process. Unlike an on-premises data center where you have complete control over your data and how it is accessed, it is much harder for companies to consistently identify all cloud assets and controls, map them to relevant requirements, and properly document everything. 

Benefits of cloud security

Although cloud security has often been framed as a barrier to cloud adoption, the reality is that cloud is no more or less secure than on-premises security. In fact, cloud computing security offers many advantages for businesses that can improve your overall security posture.

The top cloud providers have secure-by-design infrastructure and layered security that is built directly into the platform and its services, including everything from zero-trust network architecture to identity and access management to multi-factor authentication, encryption, and continuous logging and monitoring. Plus, the cloud helps you to automate and manage security at an enormous scale. 

Other common cloud security benefits include:

Greater visibility

Only an integrated cloud-based security stack is capable of providing the centralized visibility of cloud resources and data that is vital for defending against breaches and other potential threats. Cloud security can provide the tools, technologies, and processes to log, monitor, and analyze events for understanding exactly what’s happening in your cloud environments. 

Centralized security

Cloud security allows you to consolidate protection of cloud-based networks for streamlined, continuous monitoring and analysis of numerous devices, endpoints, and systems. It also enables you to centrally manage software updates and policies from one place and even implement and action disaster recovery plans. 

Reduced costs

With cloud security, you don’t have to pay for dedicated hardware to upgrade your security or use valuable resources to handle security updates and configurations. CSPs provide advanced security features that allow for automated protection capabilities with little to no human intervention. 

Data protection

The best cloud computing providers will provide data security by design, offering strong access controls, encryption for data at rest and in transit, and data loss prevention (DLP) to secure your cloud data wherever it’s located or managed. 

Cloud compliance

Cloud providers go to great lengths to comply with both international and industry compliance standards, often undergoing rigorous independent verifications of their security, privacy, and compliance controls.

Advanced threat detection

Reputable CSPs also invest in cutting-edge technologies and highly skilled experts to provide real–time global threat intelligence that can detect both known and unknown threats in the wild and in your networks for faster remediation.

Types of cloud security solutions

Cloud security is constantly evolving and adapting as new security threats emerge. As a result, many different types of cloud security solutions are available on the market today, and the list below is by no means exhaustive.

  • Identity and access management (IAM): IAM services and tools allow administrators to centrally manage and control who has access to specific cloud-based and on-premises resources. IAM can enable you to actively monitor and restrict how users interact with services, allowing you to enforce your policies across your entire organization. 
  • Data loss prevention (DLP): DLP can help you gain visibility into the data you store and process by providing capabilities to automatically discover, classify, and de-identify regulated cloud data. 
  • Security information and event management (SIEM): SIEM solutions combine security information and security event management to offer automated monitoring, detection, and incident response to threats in your cloud environments. Using AI and ML technologies, SIEM tools allow you to examine and analyze log data generated across your applications and network devices—and act quickly if a potential threat is detected. 
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI): PKI is the framework used to manage secure, encrypted information exchange using digital certificates. PKI solutions typically provide authentication services for applications and verify that data remains uncompromised and confidential through transport. Cloud-based PKI services allow organizations to manage and deploy digital certificates used for user, device, and service authentication. 

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