Creating cloud security policy: step-by-step guide
In the modern world, almost every business uses cloud services in some form. Application usage, infrastructure management, and data storage all take place in the cloud. That's a huge boost to productivity. But cloud dependence brings major security risks.
Every business operating in the cloud needs to have a robust cloud security policy. This policy is a set of rules and principles that protect cloud assets. It provides guidelines for users to follow, allowing them to access workloads securely. And it sets out ways to handle cloud security threats.
What elements should your cloud security policy include, and what form should it take? These are key cybersecurity questions that every company needs to answer before adopting cloud technology. Let's find out more.
What is a cloud security policy?
Having a cloud security policy is crucial for all-round cybersecurity. Cloud security policies are documents featuring rules about how to use the cloud (and how not to use it). Elements can include:
- Data handling regulations. What data types workers can move into the cloud and data types that are prohibited. Information about the risks associated with each data type, and measures to mitigate those risks.
- Who is accountable for cloud security? Under the RACI model, policies must explain who is accountable for meeting security goals. The policy also clearly explains who is responsible for security tasks such as migrating data to the cloud, running regular security audits, and managing cloud workloads.
- What resources need to be secured? A good cloud security policy defines what cloud resources require protection. Every cloud endpoint, application, storage container, and infrastructure service must be included.
- Authorization and access control. Cloud security requires in-depth access control to admit authorized users and block malicious entry. The policy may include measures like two-factor authentication, use of VPNs, and rules about safe remote access.
- Risk analysis. Security policies should show evidence of thorough risk analysis. Cloud security risks should follow regulations, showing clear evidence of compliance. The document should reflect risk priorities and focus on the most urgent cloud security threats.
- Threat responses. The security policy should cover the most important cloud security threats with clear guidelines about how to respond.
- Enforcement – How the company enforces the terms of the security policy. Includes reporting and user monitoring, as well as the levying of penalties for breaching policy rules.
Put simply, individuals reading the cloud security policy should understand:
- How to behave securely when accessing cloud resources
- What are the main cloud security threats?
- Who is responsible for securing cloud assets?
- The penalties for breaching the cloud security rules
When every user knows this information, cloud resources will be as secure as possible.
At the same time, cloud security policies must combine with other security policies. Rules about network security, remote working, physical security, and cybersecurity threats should work alongside cloud security rules. The policies work together, not as stand-alone tools.
Why is it important to have a cloud security policy?
There are many reasons to prioritize policy creation before making transitions to the cloud. Some key reasons to devote resources to your cloud security setup include:
- Cloud security threats are extremely damaging. Cloud apps and storage systems are convenient but vulnerable to hacking attempts. Attackers can exploit poorly secured endpoints or cloud assets. Data breaches cost money, but also damage corporate reputations.
- Customers expect solid cloud security. Clients realize that companies rely on cloud resources. But customers need reassurance that their data is secure at all times. Companies must protect confidential data and financial information via transparent policies. This builds trust and shows that companies take cloud security seriously.
- Security policies manage complexity. Multi-cloud environments involve many cloud providers. Several teams or third-parties may require access to a complex range of cloud assets. But no matter how complex your network, every cloud asset requires protection. Security policies bring everything together, providing a set of rules applicable to all cloud resources.
- Staff need direction and information. Workers using the cloud want to work securely. A cloud security policy provides clear information about how to do so. Workers can consult a transparent, easily accessible document. Training regularly updates staff knowledge, reinforcing cloud security best practices.
- Regulatory compliance. A cloud security policy is a critical aspect of data protection. Regulators expect companies to create clear rules about how to handle data, access the cloud, maintain apps, and prevent cyberattacks. Under regulations like HIPAA or PCI-DSS. companies are eligible for huge penalties without this evidence.
The value of a robust cloud security policy should be clear. Companies expose themselves to reputational, operational, and regulatory disaster without a well-written, comprehensive security policy.
Cloud security policies vs. standards
Cloud security policies apply over the whole cloud computing environment. They specify regulations for accessing and using all digital assets in the cloud, without exception.
Cloud security standards operate at a level below policies. They explain the tools and methods needed to execute a cloud security policy. So in practice, security protocols and standards work together as part of the same unit.
Cloud security standards cover major operational challenges in securing cloud operations. This could include DevOps management and rules for using cloud apps. Standards apply to API usage, how cloud resources are segmented, and the way assets are tagged and classified on the network.
There should also be a set of security standards setting out how to assess risks and security postures. Standards specify threat responses and the tools required to monitor and neutralize attacks.
Standards are flexible and subject to change. As the cloud environment changes, standards change as well. The same applies to the threat environment.
Security policies are more static. The rules they contain are fixed, but the way companies apply them changes all the time.
How to create a cloud security policy
The ingredients of a cloud computing security strategy vary between companies. However, every company using the cloud requires a cloud security policy, and these security guidelines tend to have a similar structure.
Follow this step-by-step guide to create a cloud security policy meeting your requirements.
Step 1: State the purpose of the policy
The first step is identifying why you need a cloud security policy. Create a short explanation of what the policy seeks to achieve. Use this as the introduction to your policy, so readers have a good idea of what the document contains.
Step 2: Define your regulatory requirements
Security policies for cloud computing must meet relevant data protection and cybersecurity regulations. Assess which compliance regulations apply to your business. Ensure that every part of the policy contributes to meeting those regulatory requirements.
Step 3: Create a policy writing strategy
Writing a good cloud security policy requires careful planning. Bring senior management in early to approve the process. Create an overall plan that sets milestones and timescales. Then bring together a team from all stakeholders to strategize, draft, and disseminate the policy.
It helps to include regular management consultations during the writing process. Input from your legal and HR teams is also valuable. Gather all relevant expertise and ensure everyone is on board from the start.
Step 4: Understand your cloud providers
The next step is assessing your existing cloud services. List every cloud service provider. Investigate the security features they provide. This information allows you to understand areas of focus. Providers may handle some security issues such as access control well. But other providers may provide very few security options.
Step 5: Document data types covered by the policy
This is the core of the cloud security policy. Drafting teams must list the data types covered by the policy. This explains the scope of the policy, and provides a clear overview of what needs to be protected.
Generally, cloud security policies divide data into practical categories. For example, you should include sub-sections for financial data, customer information, employee personal information, and any proprietary data used in everyday workloads.
Prioritize data types by sensitivity and risk. Focus on the most valuable and most exposed data when assigning responsibilities and security controls.
Step 6: Set out responsibilities and ownership
Knowing who is responsible for cloud data protection is essential. This section should show which roles are responsible for protecting cloud applications. Show who has authority to add applications, make changes to cloud infrastructure, or migrate data from the cloud.
This section should also document who is responsible for auditing the cloud security policy. Explain what information is logged, and who has access to this information.
Include more general information about the responsibility of employees. Note any role-based access rules such as different privileges for management tiers. Everyone should know their security requirements.
Step 7: Document data protection standards
Concisely explain the standards used to execute your cloud security policy. Cloud security architecture includes technical controls, physical security measures, and any special rules for mobile security.
Security controls listed here could include:
- Data encryption
- Access management tools such as IAM, Public Key Infrastructure or 2FA
- Endpoint protection systems such as SSL, VPNs, or network traffic scanning
These security controls should be defined for each cloud provider. Readers should know how to access cloud providers securely, with specific guidance for each service.
Mobile security controls may include:
- Information about secure cloud access from mobile devices
- Monitoring tools used to track mobile devices
- Anti-malware controls
Physical security controls may include:
- Anti-theft systems in data centers
- Device theft prevention
- Measures to ensure a safe operating environment in the data center – e.g. temperature control, power supplies, moisture levels
Include information on how security controls will be audited. This could include scheduled security assessments to check that standards are operating properly. It may also include details about device or mobile security audits.
Step 8: Policies for adding additional cloud services
Your policy should include information about how to safely add a cloud service to existing setups. Each cloud service has its own security features and potential vulnerabilities. Set out a clear risk assessment process for each provider.
Link this section to information about roles. Staff should know who has the authority to add a cloud service and how to do so securely.
Step 9: Plan for threat response and disaster recovery
Provide a concise threat response procedure to deal with cloud attacks. Cover the main cloud threats, including ransomware, advanced persistent threats, insider attacks, and DDoS attacks. List the response for each attack, and note down who is responsible for taking action.
Plan for cloud disaster recovery as well. Schedule regular cloud backups of high priority data. Document how the company will handle data breaches, system outages, and large-scale data loss.
Step 10: Establish auditing and enforcement rules
Explain how network managers will audit the security policy. Set timescales for audits and reporting to senior management. Note down the penalties for non-compliance, and methods of enforcement.
Step 11: Disseminate and entrench the policy
When the policy is approved by stakeholders and management, the final step is dissemination. Make the policy accessible to all users of cloud services. Send copies to all employees and make reading the policy mandatory.
Include the cloud security policy in cybersecurity training, with regular assessments of employee knowledge. This will embed the policy standards in everyday behavior, and build staff knowledge about cloud security best practices.
These steps are general guidelines that should make it easier to plan and write a cloud security policy. This sample template provides a clear structure to follow when writing the final document.
Cloud security policy takeaways
Cloud security does not need to be complex. Follow the template and guidelines above to write a security policy that protects sensitive data and resources while making life easy for employees.
Before you start planning, here are some quick takeaways to bear in mind:
- Focus on all endpoints and attack surfaces
- Implement Zero Trust security as much as possible
- Train staff to implement your policy
- Adapt standards regularly with up to date security knowledge
- Prioritize the most important data
- Expect human error and plan for threat responses
- Make information available. Be transparent about your security goals and policies.