Cloud Security 101: An Overview for Beginners

The use of cloud computing has grown exponentially, with 94% of enterprises now using cloud services in some capacity (Source: Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report). However, with the benefits of cloud computing come new security risks and challenges. In 2020, the average cost of a data breach was $3.86 million, and 24% of all data breaches involved cloud assets (Source: IBM 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report). 

Cloud Security

With more sensitive data being stored in the cloud, it’s crucial for businesses and individuals to understand the basics of cloud security and how to protect themselves against potential threats.

Basic Concept of Cloud Security

Cloud security comprises a set of protocols and tools developed to combat both external and internal threats to business security. As organizations shift towards digital transformation and integrate cloud-based tools and services into their infrastructure, cloud security becomes an essential aspect of their strategy. 

Cloud security is vital for protecting sensitive data and systems, such as financial information, personal data, and intellectual property, from cybercriminals and other malicious actors. It also helps to minimize the risks associated with cloud-based operations, enabling organizations to enjoy the benefits of cloud computing while safeguarding their assets.

Understanding Cloud Computing First

The “cloud” or, more specifically, “cloud computing” refers to the process of accessing resources, software, and databases over the Internet and outside the confines of local hardware restrictions. This technology gives organizations flexibility when scaling their operations by offloading a portion, or majority, of their infrastructure management to third-party hosting providers.

The most common and widely adopted cloud computing services are: 

  • IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service): A hybrid approach, where organizations can manage some of their data and applications on-premise while relying on cloud providers to manage servers, hardware, networking, virtualization, and storage needs. 
  • PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service): Gives organizations the ability to streamline their application development and delivery by providing a custom application framework that automatically manages operating systems, software updates, storage, and supporting infrastructure in the cloud. 
  • SaaS (Software-as-a-Service): Cloud-based software hosted online and typically available on a subscription basis. Third-party providers manage all potential technical issues, such as data, middleware, servers, and storage, minimizing IT resource expenditures and streamlining maintenance and support functions.

Why is cloud security important?

Modern enterprises are increasingly shifting towards cloud-based environments and adopting Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) computing models. These models offer several benefits to organizations by allowing them to offload many time-consuming IT-related tasks. However, managing the dynamic nature of infrastructure, especially when scaling applications and services, can present challenges for enterprises. 

As companies continue to migrate to the cloud, the importance of understanding security requirements for data protection has become critical. While third-party cloud computing providers may manage the infrastructure, the responsibility for data asset security and accountability does not necessarily shift along with it. Most cloud providers follow best security practices and take active steps to protect their servers. However, organizations must take their own steps to protect their data, applications, and workloads running on the cloud.

As the digital landscape evolves, security threats have become more advanced and explicitly target cloud computing providers. Organizations face significant governance and compliance risks when managing client information, regardless of where it is stored, without actively improving their cloud security. Therefore, cloud security is a crucial topic of discussion for enterprises of all sizes. Cloud infrastructure supports nearly all aspects of modern computing across industries and verticals. 

Successful cloud adoption is dependent on implementing adequate countermeasures to defend against modern-day cyberattacks. Regardless of whether an organization operates in a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment, cloud security solutions and best practices are necessary to ensure business continuity.

What are some cloud security challenges?

Lack of visibility 

It’s easy to lose track of how your data is being accessed and by whom, since many cloud services are accessed outside of corporate networks and through third parties. 


Public cloud environments house multiple client infrastructures under the same umbrella, so it’s possible your hosted services can get compromised by malicious attackers as collateral damage when targeting other businesses. 

Access management and shadow 

IT While enterprises may be able to successfully manage and restrict access points across on-premises systems, administering these same levels of restrictions can be challenging in cloud environments. This can be dangerous for organizations that don’t deploy bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies and allow unfiltered access to cloud services from any device or geolocation. 


Regulatory compliance management is oftentimes a source of confusion for enterprises using public or hybrid cloud deployments. Overall accountability for data privacy and security still rests with the enterprise, and heavy reliance on third-party solutions to manage this component can lead to costly compliance issues. 


Misconfigured assets accounted for 86% of breached records in 2019, making the inadvertent insider a key issue for cloud computing environments. Misconfigurations can include leaving default administrative passwords in place, or not creating appropriate privacy settings.

What types of cloud security solutions are available?

Identity and access management (IAM) 

Identity and access management (IAM) tools and services allow enterprises to deploy policy-driven enforcement protocols for all users attempting to access both on-premises and cloud-based services. The core functionality of IAM is to create digital identities for all users so they can be actively monitored and restricted when necessary during all data interactions. 

Data loss prevention (DLP) 

Data loss prevention (DLP) services offer a set of tools and services designed to ensure the security of regulated cloud data. DLP solutions use a combination of remediation alerts, data encryption, and other preventative measures to protect all stored data, whether at rest or in motion. 

Security information and event management (SIEM) 

Security information and event management (SIEM) provides a comprehensive security orchestration solution that automates threat monitoring, detection, and response in cloud-based environments. Using artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technologies to correlate log data across multiple platforms and digital assets, SIEM technology gives IT teams the ability to successfully apply their network security protocols while being able to quickly react to any potential threats. 

Business continuity and disaster recovery 

Regardless of the preventative measures organizations have in place for their on-premise and cloud-based infrastructures, data breaches and disruptive outages can still occur. Enterprises must be able to quickly react to newly discovered vulnerabilities or significant system outages as soon as possible. Disaster recovery solutions are a staple in cloud security and provide organizations with the tools, services, and protocols necessary to expedite the recovery of lost data and resume normal business operations.

How should you approach cloud security?

Approaching cloud security can vary for each organization and may depend on various factors. Nevertheless, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has compiled a list of best practices to help establish a secure and sustainable cloud computing framework. 

NIST has created a set of essential steps that organizations can use to self-assess their security preparedness and implement appropriate preventative and recovery security measures for their systems. These principles are based on NIST’s five pillars of the cybersecurity framework: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. 

Another emerging technology in cloud security that supports the execution of NIST’s cybersecurity framework is cloud security posture management (CSPM). CSPM solutions address a common flaw in many cloud environments – misconfigurations. 

Enterprise or even cloud provider misconfigurations in cloud infrastructures can lead to several vulnerabilities that significantly increase an organization’s attack surface. CSPM solves these issues by helping to organize and deploy core components of cloud security, including identity and access management (IAM), regulatory compliance management, traffic monitoring, threat response, risk mitigation, and digital asset management.


cloud security is a critical consideration for any organization that uses cloud-based technologies. The benefits of cloud computing can only be realized when adequate measures are taken to mitigate the risks associated with cloud-based operations. 

By following best practices and implementing the appropriate security technologies, businesses and individuals can help ensure the safety and integrity of their cloud systems and data. As the digital landscape evolves and new threats emerge, continued investment in cloud security will be essential to maintaining a strong security posture in the cloud.

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