CIO Corner: Cloud Security in the Era of the Data Breach

By on Jan 09, 2017

Now that the first one-billion-account data breach has arrived in the record books, it is safe to say the majority of Internet users are breach victims. IT departments are staring down a post-password world. While they navigate new methods of authentication and security in depth, IT departments are also shepherding large-scale migrations to the cloud. Cloud security needs to play a role before, during, and after the move to cloud applications. This week, we look at how CIOs are overseeing these converging trends.

Human error continues to play a role in data breaches at all types of organizations. Los Angeles County suffered a data breach affecting more than 700,000 Californians. The breach originated with a single phishing attack that scammed 108 employees. Even a single successful phishing attack can lead to a catastrophic incident, so over one hundred stolen passwords nearly guarantees a compromise. The attack’s high success rate and relatively low cost illustrates why phishing will continue as a prominent method for hackers.

With data breach victims routinely numbering in the hundreds of millions and reaching a billion in Yahoo’s case, hackers can easily purchase stolen credentials online. CIOs are now forced to assume that employees have stolen passwords available on the Darknet. Multi-factor authentication should be standard practice for organizations, especially for applications containing sensitive data. Database breaches will continue to grab headlines, but IT security professionals should already be on high alert.

In the world of organized cybercrime and mega breaches, the notion of a well-secured corporate perimeter feels like a distant memory. Cloud computing has also played a role in expanding corporate IT environments beyond the perimeter, and now companies can harness its benefits to enhance security. Cloud enables unrivaled scalability and agility – features increasingly in demand for security solutions that need to process billions of events across decentralized computing environments. Machine learning lets security teams use employee behavior as a means of authentication by monitoring user activity for anomalous events.

The majority of reported government data breaches arose from legacy software. Security difficulties with the status quo have driven government agencies to move to cloud solutions as more secure, scalable, and cost-effective alternatives. The Air Force is making the move in phases, first transitioning 68,000 users to Office 365 ahead of the full 550,000 user deployment. By this point, organizations have sufficient confidence in Microsoft’s platform security. IT security cannot ignore user behavior, however. For example, 9.3% of files shared outside of organizations through the cloud contain sensitive data. Organizations look to third-party providers to secure user behavior against insider threat and compromised accounts.

Cloud migrations always require participation from multiple departments including audit, Infosec, and IT. For their part, c-level executives want to manage cloud projects at a strategic level. Cloud project teams should track quantitative metrics like the amount of data uploaded to high-risk services and which external business partners have access to data. If possible, CIOs should have their own dashboard to make sure metrics are trending in the right way.

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