Why Small Businesses Must Prioritize Cloud Security Assessments

Offloading in-house infrastructure to the cloud is an excellent move for many businesses. However, if you’re not on top of the security aspect of cloud migration, then all the talk of potential benefits will become ash in your mouth when a breach occurs.

In this context, prioritizing cloud security assessments is the founding principle of cyber threat circumvention. If this sounds daunting and you have second thoughts about your digital transformation, stick around. We’ll do our best to demystify what’s involved and why it’s important.

Making the Case for Robust Cloud Security

Since the cloud security software market alone is worth $1.66 billion, it’s clear that plenty of businesses are taking this aspect of their operations seriously. And with the acceleration towards cloud-based solutions to streamline workflows and outsource the complexities of IT management, this growth will only pick up steam.

The motivations here are equally apparent, with an IBM report identifying many worrying figures:

  • Data breaches cost companies $4.45 million on average
  • 45% of breaches occur in the cloud
  • Companies anticipate saving a typical figure of $1.76 million by moving to an automated approach to protecting vital assets.

What Is a Cloud Security Assessment & Why Does Your Small Business Need One?

cloud Even if you take action to deflect threats to cloud assets, you can’t simply assume that your investment has been worthwhile and that your armor is impenetrable. Instead, you need to seek out third-party scrutiny that looks into the real-world viability of your setup - and since vendors like Wiz offer a free security assessment for cloud infrastructure, there’s no excuse to ignore this.

Here’s what a typical cloud security assessment involves:

  • Cloud Environment Auditing: A comprehensive cloud security assessment will take stock of your entire cloud environment to give you the lay of the land.
  • Critical Attack Path Detection: Next, the audit will identify the attack paths that cybercriminals will most likely exploit to assault your cloud assets while also providing context for each.
  • Remedial Action Recommendation: The final stage of an assessment is to suggest next steps that will shore up any chinks in your cloud armor, making mission-critical resources less vulnerable with logic and hard data rather than guesswork.

The sad reality is that it’s not a case of wondering whether attacks will happen but when. By then, preparation will have made all the difference, drawing a line between a quick recovery and a catastrophic breach that could scupper business continuity and mar your reputation irreparably.

What Types of Vulnerabilities & Misconfigurations Will a Cloud Security Assessment Reveal?

We’ve established that small businesses that use cloud resources should seek out a security assessment to prevent problems with this environment from arising. Now it’s time to get down to the technical side of the types of flaws that will be dragged into the spotlight by the work of specialists:

  • Inadequate Access Controls: It's often not a case of having walls that are too low but gates that have been left wide open. An assessment pinpoints roles and permissions that are more lenient than necessary, reducing the chance of unauthorized access.
  • Unencrypted Data Storage and Transmission: The audit will spotlight where your encryption protocols may be lacking - both at rest and in transit - so that sensitive data isn’t exposed unnecessarily.
  • Outdated Software or Systems: Your assessment will identify obsolete technologies begging for updates or replacement.
  • Exposed APIs: This review element locates APIs that could serve as potential entry points for hackers if they aren’t adequately secured and monitored.
  • Configuration Errors: Misconfigured cloud assets are common and can lead to potential vulnerabilities. A security assessment will root them out and make human error less of a concern.
  • Weak Authentication Processes: A security assessment will highlight weak points in your authentication system, and recommendations such as moving to multi-factor authentication can be made based on what’s found.
  • Lax Network Security Controls: This crucial part of the review highlights insufficient network protections that could allow malicious traffic to move laterally across your cloud environment.
  • Unpatched Vulnerabilities: Regular system updates are essential; the assessment will catch overlooked and, thus, unapplied patches that need immediate attention.

What Are the Benefits of a Cloud Security Assessment?

cybersafetyWe’ve brought you up to speed with what assessors will be sniffing out as they review your cloud environments with a fine-toothed comb and touched on some top-level aspects of why this is worth doing. That said, it’s worth looking at a few more motivating factors at play here, which include: 

  • Risk Identification and Prioritization: As mentioned, an assessment reveals risks before they breach your defenses. It helps you prioritize which threats need immediate action and which can be monitored over time.
  • Compliance Assurance: Regulations are there for a reason—to keep you and your customers safe from the dangers lurking in the web’s dark corners. Your assessment ensures you're in line with industry standards and legal requirements, protecting you from compliance-related penalties, the largest of which can top $1 billion.
  • Cost Efficiency: Uncovering vulnerabilities early with a cloud security assessment prevents financial loss due to data breach or system downtime.
  • Enhanced Trust and Reputation: Trust is built with customers who know their data is housed securely on your systems. A cloud assessment is a testament to robust security practices, which conjures customer loyalty and affords you an untarnished brand reputation.
  • Streamlined Incident Response: Security assessments prepare teams with clear procedures for incident response - drastically reducing recovery times should a breach occur.

What Are The Key Components of a Cloud Security Assessment?

There are several pillars to a typical cloud security assessment process, so it makes sense for small businesses to take these onboard ahead of time, thus minimizing the window of opportunity for any potential breach. Even if you are outsourcing the assessment to a third-party specialist, you need a base level appreciation for what their work involves, which should include:

  • Risk Identification: Map out every asset within your cloud environment - from customer databases to internal communication channels. Recognize the value and risk associated with each to prioritize your protective measures accordingly.
  • Threat Modeling: Understand not just current threats but anticipate potential future attacks. Adjusting defense strategies dynamically as new threats emerge can keep small businesses one step ahead.
  • Security Controls Evaluation: Assess existing security controls against recognized benchmarks and best practices. Are they robust enough? Where do they fall short? This forms the basis for strengthening your defenses.
  • Incident Response Readiness: An effective response plan can be the difference between an inconvenience and a disaster. Your assessment should evaluate response protocols to ensure rapid action in case of an incident.

These pillars support an environment where cybersecurity becomes integral to your business operations instead of just an afterthought. The benefit is twofold in that it minimizes both exposure to risk and potentially crippling downtime should you become a target.

What Are the Steps Involved in a Cloud Security Assessment?

Whether you’re thinking of recruiting a third party to handle the assessment or you want to take it on in-house, it’s useful to understand the steps typically taken to complete it. Here’s what they typically look like:

  • Scope Definition: Establish what parts of your cloud environment will be examined. This can include specific applications, data centers, or entire infrastructures.
  • Security Control Review: Review all existing security measures and policies to understand how they align with best practices and regulatory requirements.
  • Vulnerability Scanning: Employ automated tools to scan your cloud services for known vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
  • Risk Assessment: Analyze the vulnerabilities detected to evaluate their potential impact on business operations and classify them based on severity.
  • Penetration Testing: Simulate cyber attacks on your systems to identify weaknesses that could be leveraged in real-world scenarios.
  • Result Analysis: Compile the data from scans and tests into a report detailing vulnerabilities, risk levels, and potential impact areas.
  • Remediation Planning: Develop a strategic plan outlining prioritized actions for addressing identified risks and strengthening overall security posture.

Implementing Assessment Insights

business email securityThe next step is to turn the insights from your cloud security assessment into tangible protective strategies. Knowing where vulnerabilities lie is no point if you’re not also going to fix them. 

Of course, many companies stumble at this point, with a recent survey finding that 96% of organizations have a tough time getting a handle on cloud adoption as consistently as they initially anticipated. 

This signifies the importance of proactive and, most of all, informed implementation, which involves the following steps:

  • Prioritize Based on Risk: Take your list of vulnerabilities and assign a priority level based on potential impact and likelihood. Deploy your resources where they can make the most significant difference.
  • Policy Enhancement: Use assessment outcomes to develop or refine data protection policies, ensuring staff members understand their role in maintaining cloud security.
  • Invest in Automation: Automate threat detection and response where possible. It’s an efficient way to reduce human error and provide round-the-clock monitoring without additional manpower.
  • Regular Reviews & Updates: Security isn't static, so schedule regular assessments to adapt as new threats arise and technologies evolve.

Implementing these strategies takes commitment, but consider them less as chores and more as investments in your business's longevity and trustworthiness.

Elevating Cloud Security with Advanced Techniques

While foundational measures are indispensable, the more you rely on the cloud, the more you need to look beyond the basics and move to the next level of protection. This is playing on the minds of many industry professionals, as one survey found that 69% are worried about the likelihood of data loss in cloud environments, while 66% voiced fears over privacy.

In certain industries, these sticking points are more pressing than others, with healthcare businesses being especially vulnerable to serious ramifications from even the smallest cybersecurity slip-up. Patients are on high alert in the wake of the Change Healthcare breach that exposed 144 million records to all and sundry.

Because of this, it’s worth it for any small business to study and potentially adopt one or all of the following measures:

  • Zero Trust Architecture: Implement a Zero Trust framework that assumes no one is trustworthy until verified, dramatically enhancing security in your cloud environment.
  • Encryption and Tokenization: Safeguard sensitive data through encryption both at rest and in transit, paired with tokenization for additional layers of security.
  • AI and Machine Learning: Employ Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms to predict and respond to unusual activity patterns indicative of a breach or attack.
  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) Solutions: A CASB can act as a gatekeeper between your users and cloud services, providing additional visibility and policy enforcement across multiple clouds.

In addition to preparing you for today's and future threats, an elevated approach to cloud security and carrying out assessments to ensure it is up to scratch will earn and retain customers' trust.

Cultivating the Human Element of Cloud Security

Even the most advanced security systems can be undone by human error, and your cloud security assessment has to consider this - meaning it can’t just focus on digital systems but also employee policies. Mistakes made by team members are attributed to breaches by 84% of businesses that have suffered them - and 74% said that failure to adhere to best practices was a root cause of their cyber catastrophes.

So, based on the findings of regular cloud security assessments, it’s sensible to step it up with the following human-focused initiatives:

  • Tailored Training Programs: Design and enforce ongoing cybersecurity training tailored to different roles within your organization, ensuring relevance and engagement.
  • Phishing Simulation Exercises: Regularly conduct simulated phishing attacks to test employee awareness and reflexes; this practical experience cements knowledge far better than theoretical learning alone.
  • Promote Password Hygiene: Encourage strong password practices complemented by multi-factor authentication for an added layer of verification.
  • Reward Vigilance: Create a culture where caution is appreciated by rewarding employees who spot potential threats or demonstrate exceptional security practices. This is doubly important given that insider threats are just as dangerous as external actors and well-trained team members can sniff out the threat of problematic colleagues if properly incentivized.

These steps must be carried out with the direct involvement of employees since they must follow the rules you set out daily. Ask for feedback and work through any issues they raise to get the best results.

Recognizing and Preparing for Cloud Perils

cybersec tipsIn a cloud-infused marketplace, awareness of potential threats is half the battle. There are many varieties to have in your sights, such as:

  • Ransomware and Malware: Understand how these insidious programs can encrypt your data or corrupt your systems, and ensure your assessment includes strategies for prevention and recovery.
  • Phishing Scams: Be vigilant against deceptive communications that trick employees into divulging sensitive information. Routine checks on email filtering and user training are critical defense mechanisms.
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks can overwhelm your systems with traffic, disrupting operations. Include mitigation services as part of your cloud provider's package.
  • Insider Threats: Consider external attackers and potentially disgruntled or negligent inside actors. Assess protocols for access controls and monitoring behavior within your network.
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs): Prepare for sophisticated attackers infiltrating networks to mine sensitive data over time. Your assessment must incorporate detection methods that account for long-term patterns of unusual activity.

It’s also worth mentioning the range of other snafus that can stifle security in a cloud environment but which you have more control over internally. The oft-cited example on everyone’s lips is misconfiguration, which is more likely when you have multiple overlapping cloud assets as part of your infrastructure. 

There’s also legitimate concern regarding third-party API integration, so if you truly want to achieve comprehensive cloud security, no stone can be left unturned.

Keep Learning About Improving Cloud Security

Whether handled entirely internally or conducted by an independent third party, cloud security assessments must be part of any small business’ adoption strategy. If they aren’t undertaken consistently and frequently, cracks can appear, and you can bet your house that crooks will try to exploit them when they do.

  • Implementing a comprehensive email security system can help prevent advanced threats like targeted spear phishing and ransomware. 
  • Following best practices, you can improve your email security posture to protect against cyberattacks and breaches.
  • Keep the integrity of your email safe by securing the cloud with spam filtering and enterprise-grade anti-spam services.
  • Get the latest updates on how to stay safe online.

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