Cloud computing - the delivery of services and resources such as servers, storage, databases, networking, software and analytics over the internet - has experienced rapid growth among organizations of all sizes in recent years, and for good reason. Cloud computing offers clear benefits including a foundation for improving efficiencies and remote access to networks and services and the ability to respond to changing market conditions with increased agility, all while reducing maintenance concerns and cutting costs. That being said, when relying on off-premises cloud computing services, robust data security that includes the use of cloud encryption technology to encode data traveling to and from the cloud is of critical importance. This article will explore how cloud data encryption provides an effective way to protect all information in transit or at rest in cloud systems, the different cloud encryption options available to organizations, common challenges associated with cloud encryption and best practices for cloud encryption to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches.

 

What Is Cloud Encryption & How Does It Work?

Cloud encryption is the process of encrypting data that is stored in the cloud. This means that the data is converted into a code that can only be decrypted by authorized users. Cloud encryption is a way to keep your data safe and secure, and to ensure that only authorized users can access it.

Cloud encryption is one of the strongest forms of protection for companies using cloud services. The process of cloud encryption involves encoding data before it is transferred to cloud storage. Algorithms convert the data from plaintext to a format that can only be unlocked with an decryption key, preventing it from being read by unauthorized users.

An encryption platform takes the data that starts out as plaintext and transforms it into ciphertext, which cannot be read unless converted back into plaintext with a decryption key. The platform can encrypt data whenever it is sent to or from a cloud-based application, storage, or to the system’s authorized remote users, existing in an encrypted format on the cloud servers. Unauthorized individuals or bots are prevented from reading the files and only authorized individuals require the decryption key to access the data in its original form. 

What are the Types of Cloud Encryption?

There are multiple levels and types of cloud encryption available an organization must choose from when working with a cloud provider. The three main types of cloud data encryption include:

  • Data-at-rest encryption refers to the encryption of data once it is stored, ensuring that an attacker who gains access to the physical infrastructure or hardware cannot read the data or files. The encryption can be handled on either the cloud provider side, the client side, at the disk or file level. 
  • Data-in-transit encryption is a method that secures data when traveling from your organization’s devices to the cloud provider. The cloud provider’s server exchanges encryption files with the client company’s computers, creating a secure tunnel through which the data travels. The most common implementation of this is through the HTTPS protocol, which is typically what we use when visiting secure sites through our web browsers.
  • Data-in-use encryption is an emerging method designed to protect data while it is being used. This approach is not widely adopted, however includes “confidential computing,” which offers real-time encryption at the computer chip level and “homomorphic encryption,” which utilizes an algorithm that only allows certain kinds of computation to be performed on the data.

What Are the Benefits of Cloud Encryption?

Encryption is one of the strongest and most effective approaches for securing data, according to technology and cybersecurity experts. Benefits of cloud data encryption include:

  • Proven effectiveness: Using cloud encryption along with secure key management, ensures that unauthorized users are unable to access data. Should the data, files or hardware be lost or stolen, the data remains unreadable.
  • Compliance benefits: Organizations use cloud encryption for help meeting strict regulatory requirements for data protection such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act (U.S. financial reporting), General Data Protection Regulation (EU privacy protection), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for healthcare organizations and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard for e-commerce and retail organizations.
  • Customer and employee benefits: Cloud encryption provides peace of mind for customers and employees who know their data is encrypted and secured.

Cloud Encryption Challenges

Cloud data encryption has been proven to be difficult for users in the past, however, most modern cloud encryption services are streamlined, easy-to-use and often virtually invisible to the end user. Some common cloud encryption challenges that organizations should be mindful of are: 

  • Increased costs: Encryption outside included server-side encryption can gauge costs of cloud deployments and upgrades.
  • Encryption key risks: Losing encryption keys can be a risk to data, so key management must be a priority.
  • Implementation and configuration: Clients must configure services properly to avoid any gaps in data security.
  • Rogue Devices: Remote work and personal device policies introduce greater risk to access your data.
  • Cloud Credentials: Encrypting cloud data requires a high level of collaboration from other team members.

Cloud Encryption Best Practices

Cloud encryption is likely similar to other forms of encryption most companies have used. The key difference is that the cloud provider is typically responsible for the cloud storage encryption. Because of this, the organization must ensure that their security needs are met. When implementing cloud encryption your organization should:

  • Determine your security needs for cloud deployments. Note the data being moved to the cloud, determine what should be encrypted and when.
  • Understand the cloud provider’s encryption offerings. Consider the provider's technologies, policies and procedures to confirm they meet your requirements for the data.
  • Consider client-side encryption. When working with sensitive data, opt for on-premises encryption to ensure that the data is protected even if the provider is compromised.
  • Invest in secure encryption key management. It’s critical to protect your own encryption keys and those provided by cloud vendors. Store them separately from encrypted data and keep backup keys offsite.

Key Takeaways

Cloud encryption is the process of transforming original plaintext data to ciphertext, an unreadable format, before being transferred and stored in the cloud. Implementing cloud encryption is one of the most practical steps organizations can take to protect their data, as well as sensitive customer information. 

As more organizations migrate to the cloud, data encryption is becoming increasingly critical to a strong digital security posture and can provide the level of protection required to secure sensitive information and meet regulatory requirements. Organizations that evaluate and understand their individualized cloud encryption needs, research cloud providers and engage in cloud encryption best practices can reap the benefits of the cloud while mitigating the risk of attacks and breaches.

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