How to Write a Cloud Security Policy for Your Business
The major cloud computing platforms are more secure than the average on-premises infrastructure deployment. But “more secure” isn’t the same as “sufficiently secure.” Cloud security is a shared responsibility: cloud vendors provide the foundations, but it’s up to cloud customers to build secure systems. That’s unlikely to happen without a well-documented, comprehensive, and enforced cloud security policy (CSP). A cloud security policy sets security parameters for managers and employees, and that’s essential if your business is to avoid expensive, compliance-busting security mistakes.
What Is a Cloud Security Policy?
A cloud security policy formally states an organization’s intentions and directives applicable to security on cloud platforms. Cloud security policies tell executives, employees, and other stakeholders what the organization expects of them as they use cloud services. They provide a high-level framework that guides day-to-day cloud operations and a security-focused structure for implementing cloud-based projects.
We all use the term “cloud” to refer to a particular type of computing environment, but, in reality, the cloud is heterogeneous. There are many kinds of cloud and cloud services: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, cloud storage, cloud databases, and cloud machine learning services, to name just a fraction. Each vendor and service has security best practices, so organizations should develop custom cloud computing security policies that reflect their real-world cloud use.
Does Your Business Need a CSP?
You may be wondering why your organization needs a cloud security policy. You need secure systems, but does that require a documented policy? Can’t you rely on your team to follow security best practices? Although that may seem viable, it doesn’t work in practice.
- Executives and employees prioritize speed, efficiency, or cost if security isn’t officially mandated and supported by executives.
- Teams and business units lacking a framework tend to implement ineffective ad-hoc security practices.
- Partners and service users expect your organization to demonstrate a coherent security policy, particularly if they entrust you with sensitive data.
- Many information security standards and regulations expect organizations to produce a documented cloud security policy.
Many cloud security breaches and data leaks result from employees using cloud platforms insecurely. For example, businesses leak millions of secure records every year because cloud storage and databases are left open to public access. This is sometimes the result of ignorance, but it’s often done to expedite data sharing with internal and external stakeholders. A documented cloud data security policy with rigorous training and data management requirements minimizes data leaks by motivating employees to do the right thing. Cloud security policies can also document sanctions for those who put data at risk, giving Human Resources professionals and managers recourse when employees behave contrary to cloud best practices.
A documented cloud security policy has advantages beyond fostering improved internal security practices. It also demonstrates to third parties that your organization takes security seriously. Customers want assurance their data is safe on your platform. Every business claims to follow cloud security best practices, but the frequency of catastrophic data leaks makes customers look askance at those claims. A cloud security policy can diminish their concerns by demonstrating your understanding of the risks and the controls implemented to mitigate them. Many companies create an abridged version of their cloud security policy for this purpose.
Third-party certifications and reports further increase the customer’s confidence. Security standards such as ISO 27001 and SOC 2 require organizations to create security policies and document controls. The same is true of regulatory frameworks like HIPAA and GDPR. Undergoing audits and attaining security certifications is only possible if your business has done the work to create rigorous security policies in line with accepted best practices. KirkpatrickPrice’s cloud security audit is based on the CIS Benchmarks, an excellent starting point for organizations looking to implement effective cloud security policies.
What Should You Include in a Cloud Security Policy?
Organizations should customize cloud security policies —no two businesses use the same mix of cloud vendors and services. Additionally, organizations have varying compliance requirements, and cloud security policies should be shaped to address them. It is often helpful to have multiple cloud security policies, each concerning a separate business area or a distinct cloud security concern. However, most organizations should include policies that impact the following areas:
- Which data can be uploaded to the cloud, and how should it be protected
- Risks for each type of data and how they are to be mitigated
- Who is authorized to use cloud platforms and the constraints they operate under
- Cloud use and how it should conform to compliance objectives
- Planned responses to security threats and data breaches
- Logging and monitoring objectives
Organizations can draft the cloud security policy document to meet their needs and documentation standards, but the following summarizes a widely used cloud security policy template.
- Purpose: Outline what the policy is intended to achieve. For example, it might be a policy to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of sensitive data.
- Policy scope: Which data and systems does the policy cover, and which hardware, software, and other relevant systems are within scope?
- Data types: The categories of data covered by the policy, e.g., financial data, personally identifiable information, intellectual property, and sensitive proprietary information.
- Ownership: To whom does the policy apply, and what are their responsibilities? This might include the individuals who use the cloud service, the person responsible for ensuring security best practices are followed, and the person in overall charge of cloud use decisions.
- Permitted services: Which cloud services are approved for storing and processing the data described above? This section might include cloud vendors (AWS, Azure, GCP) and individual services offered by those vendors (AWS S3, SimpleDB, EBS, etc.)
- Denied services: Services that should not be used. The use of unauthorized services is a common cause of cloud vulnerabilities. This section may prohibit all cloud services not on the Permitted Services list.
- Acceptable use of cloud services: Establish acceptable use criteria for adopting cloud services. This section describes under which circumstances cloud platforms can be used and the processes that must be followed.
- Cloud inventory: How does the organization intend to track cloud infrastructure and its data? Because it’s easy to deploy cloud infrastructure, businesses often lose track, leaving sensitive data at risk on unmonitored services.
- Risk assessment: Delineate the risk assessment process to be completed before adopting a cloud service or making a significant change to the cloud infrastructure configurations.
- Security controls: Describe the controls that the organization will implement to mitigate risk and protect data. The CIS Benchmarks and CIS Controls are helpful starting points when deciding which controls to include.
- Security incident response: How will your organization respond to and recover from security incidents? This section may include incident reporting requirements, data recovery priorities, and systems to facilitate recovery.
- Policy enforcement: How will the above policies be enforced? Enforcement is a critical aspect of your cloud security policy. Detail specific penalties for failure to comply.
- Training: Your cloud security policy is useless if employees don’t know about it and their role in its implementation. This section mandates training processes that include onboarding and security awareness training.
Secure Your Cloud with KirkpatrickPrice
KirkpatrickPrice offers a range of cloud security services to help businesses build secure and compliant cloud environments, including:
- Cloud risk assessments
- Cloud security audits
- Information security policy reviews
- Risk assessment reviews
- A wide range of compliance audits
Enhance your cloud security today with a free cloud security scan, or contact a cloud compliance expert to create a cloud security policy that proactively protects your organization’s cloud environment.