10 Best Practices for Application Security in the Cloud
Data security cannot be overlooked today, especially with the rising cyber threat landscape and evolving attacks that are more difficult to track and address. A report found that in the first month of 2019 alone, over 3,800 publicly disclosed data breaches exposed 4.1 billion records.
Regardless of size, all businesses need to adopt better security measures to protect their data and prevent data loss. Not having adequate security plans in place for information security can result in severe consequences for businesses.
While providing data security isn’t a cakewalk, it is absolutely worth the time and effort. Encryption alone can provide significant protection to your data.
It’s best to integrate security within your organization as much as possible for quick detection and mitigation of security vulnerabilities.
Here are some simple ways you can prevent data loss and secure your business from cybersecurity attacks:
1. Build a Security-First Culture
According to a report, less than 50% of new employees receive cybersecurity awareness training and regular updates on security throughout their careers.
This calls for a security-first culture where the silo culture is broken down and a practice of making security everyone’s shared responsibility across the organization is adopted.
It’s an indirect way to prepare your organization to prevent data loss.
Ensure the security team is involved through all stages of the business from top management, to operations. By integrating security at all stages, you encourage cross-collaboration and enhance communication.
Cybersecurity practices are not just limited to addressing known risks, rather also focusing on future needs and the ever-changing cybersecurity threat landscape.
Creating a security-first culture will help employees stay updated with the latest cybersecurity threats and ways to address them. This can be done by organizing cybersecurity awareness programs or training on a regular basis.
2. Secure Database Access
Database security is an extremely important aspect of data loss prevention. Here are some best practices for securing database access:
One of the best ways to prevent data loss is to secure a database by hardening it as much as possible. Immediately look to disable or uninstall features or services that you are not using. Ensure that you only keep services that are absolutely needed for your operations.
Incorporating a fine-grained access control can also contribute to database hardening by limiting the access and privileges of users to a minimum (only up to the functions or applications they need access to perform their job responsibilities).
Once you have performed all of these actions, audit the hardened configuration by using an automated tool if necessary. Alternatively, you can look for more database hardening guidelines at CIS and get help from a security expert and have them conduct an audit of your database.
Manage Database Access Tightly
Focus on users created within the database and limit their access controls to tables, stored procedures, views, etc that could modify the database or have an impact on the overall database security.
Along with this, you need to carefully examine who has access to what. For example, can users create data, modify data, delete data, or just view data? This will give you better visibility into your database access and allow you to enforce stringent access policies to ensure security and prevent data loss.
Finally, you need to ensure that a single database flaw doesn’t impact your entire system, so you’ll have to reduce dependencies to limit the impact of a problem and thus, avoid blast radius.
You need to take into account that if a single user account is compromised, the scale of data loss, and if you have the needed data recovery plan (we’ll discuss this later in the article).
Database accounts should have strong password policies with minimum permissions required to complete their job. Administrative access should require multi-factor authentication and all user privileges should be limited as finely grained as possible.
Most databases support a wide variety of communication methods including APIs, services, etc. Some of these methods are secure (authenticated and encrypted) while others are insecure (unauthenticated and unencrypted).
It’s recommended that you should rely more on secure communication to protect databases from unauthorized access. You may only be communicating on the internal network, but those communications should be secured regardless. It’s a crucial strategy to prevent data loss.
3. Application Whitelist
Application whitelisting is a stronger security control that allows only pre-approved and specific programs to run. Any other program that is not whitelisted is automatically blocked by the system.
This method places control over which programs are secure and authorized to run on a network or on a user’s machine. It ensures that users cannot run malicious or unauthorized programs that may be harmful to the organization.
What’s more interesting is that application whitelisting doesn’t just limit the number of authorized programs but also streamlines inventory management. In simple words, organizations often grant access to an array of applications, even if it’s irrelevant to many users’ roles.
While application whitelisting seems to be an all-in-one security solution to prevent data loss, it’s not a replacement for traditional security practices, rather it’s a supplement to them. Many penetration testers will attest that application whitelisting alone isn’t sufficient as many standard applications such as PowerShell can be abused.
You can use application whitelisting in conjunction with both emerging and standard security technologies to ensure that your organization is well-protected from the threat landscape. It’s a great way to ensure that you are prepared to prevent data loss.
4. Encrypt Sensitive Data
Encryption is one of the most basic yet effective preventive measures to be taken for preventing data loss. End-to-end encryption enhances data protection regardless of whether the data is in a private or public cloud, on-device, or in transit.
The primary goal of encryption is to provide confidentiality and drive key security processes like authentication, authorization, integrity, and non-repudiation.
Properly implemented strong encryption algorithms are one of the few things that you can rely on when it comes to DLP. Companies can incorporate encryption in security lifecycle processes to provide persistent data protection.
As always, secure key management is paramount for data security and the prevention of data loss.
5. Implement Digital Identity
Digital identity is the unique representation of a user or a program that helps authenticate that individual or an entity is who they claim to be. It can consist of the credentials necessary to gain access to a network or system, or advanced identifiers like voice recognition, face recognition, and biometrics.
It is frequently said that identity is the new perimeter, and in many respects, it is. Having a robust and tested identity management can is a critical element of your overall security posture.
By implementing digital identity only authorized users will be able to access devices, networks, and data. While this isn’t the strongest security measure, it can significantly help reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access, theft, or data loss.
6. Enforce Access Controls
In conjunction with identity management, access control is critical to prevent data loss. Access control is the process of granting or denying specific access from a program, process, or user. It also involves the process of allowing and revoking those privileges. At a high level, access controls help facilitate the selective restriction of access to data.
While enforcing access control strengthens the overall security of an organization, these systems are complex and can be challenging to manage in a dynamic environment. Focus on least privilege and maintaining permissions as fine grained as possible.
When a user or program is added to an access control system, the administrators should use an automated provisioning system to set up permissions and privileges based on access control frameworks, workflows, and job responsibilities.
In today’s dynamic IT environment, access control must be regarded as a powerful technology infrastructure that uses the most sophisticated tools and processes to prevent data loss and the inherent risks that come with it.
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7. Use Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) Tools
SIEM is a set of services and tools that offers insights and can help identify incidents by pulling together and analyzing logs and activities from a myriad of sources within an IT environment. It provides real-time visibility across a company’s information security systems.
Additionally, it also offers event log management and automatic security event notifications to keep concerned personnel updated. SIEM tools and software typically come with dashboards for security issues and methods for alerts.
By using SIEM tools for data loss prevention, you can monitor all of your sources of network security information like operating systems, servers, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and antivirus software and identify security flaws or vulnerabilities.
Once you have identified security incidents, you can quickly address them before they scale and become a bigger threat to your data. Keep this in mind while formulating your data loss prevention strategy.
8. Patch and Update your Software
Duh, patching should be a crucial element of any business’s data loss prevention strategy, regardless of whether you have a small business with a few devices and software, or a big organization with plenty of users and devices.
Attackers love security vulnerabilities. They can exploit these vulnerabilities to infect your computer or modify data in your database, leak sensitive data, and do much more damage to your organization’s integrity.
If you want to prevent data loss, you need to pay attention to it.
Software updates help protect your data from unauthorized users or attackers by fixing security vulnerabilities present in the software.
Updating your software proactively on a regular basis safeguards you from the threat and impact of data loss – in terms of severity, risk, and cost. Also, updates are not just limited to security patches, but they also come with new features and improvements that may strengthen your overall security.
9. Protect Your Hardware
Hardware security is one of the most underrated yet crucial methods of data loss prevention. It plays a key role in ensuring the authenticity and trust of electronic systems and integrated circuits (ICs).
It mainly consists of physical security which includes three important components: access control, surveillance, and testing. Hardening measures include locks, fencing, access control cards, fire suppression systems, and biometric access control systems.
Here are some quick ways to restrict access to your hardware and prevent data loss:
- Install servers and related equipment in a restricted, locked access room.
- Restrict access to USB consoles, which can provide access to important data or give more powerful access than SSH connections.
- Restrict access to hot-swap and hot-plug devices in particular as they can be easily removed.
- Store spare customer-replaceable units (CRUs) or fire-replaceable units (FRUs) in a locked room. Restrict access to the room to only authorized personnel.
10. Data backup
One of the biggest defenses in data loss prevention is data backups. This is especially true for ransomware. Create a data backup strategy that can protect your business by helping to recover or restore your data that has been corrupted or lost. Ensure you have good backups and offline backups as well.
Regular Data Backups
Data backups should be scheduled on a regular basis – whether it be hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly – having a routine schedule for data backups helps build continuity and guarantees better protection against data loss.
If you have any sensitive data, whether it is emails, spreadsheets, documents, software, databases, decryption keys, or any other stored data on your devices, make sure you back it up regularly but make sure that the standard data protection mechanisms are in place. Many attackers go to backups to find sensitive data that is not protected as it is in the primary source.
Test Your Backup Solution
Having a backup solution is one thing, but whether or not if it accurately works and recovers data at the time of an emergency is another.
Often data backups fail and result in data corruption or incomplete files. Businesses should proactively ensure that data backups contain the most up-to-date information.
Regular, frequency backup testing is necessary to identify issues with backup quality, storage, or performance. This lets you fix issues before any major disturbance occurs and impacts your data.
We also recommend performing restore tests after regular backups to verify if all the data has been copied and validated successfully.
Diversify Your Backups
Diversification in data backups is certainly a key aspect of data storage. Make sure that copies of data backup are sent to multiple locations. There is a wide variety of data backup and storage solutions available such as cloud backup systems, virtualization, and local drives.
By diversifying your backups, you can protect the interests of your business in times of data breach or catastrophe. Because, let’s face it, protecting data at all times is a non-negotiable requirement for all businesses to ensure uninterrupted operations.
To prevent data loss, you need to make sure that your organization diversifies your data backups.
11. Create MDM Policies
Mobile device management (MDM) policies help companies secure and protect their mobile devices to ensure that all personnel use them appropriately and that devices can be secured/wiped if they are lost.
These policies can go a long way in the prevention of data loss.
MDM policies typically include the process your company needs to approve mobile devices, assign employees responsibilities using mobile devices for corporate data, designing security practices, etc.
You should address security-related concerns such as access to company-owned resources, use of personal devices, passwords, data storage, data sharing, and use of device locks.
Loss of a single device can potentially have a grave impact on your business. Understand your exposure, seek to minimize it, and know whom to contact WHEN something is lost.
12. Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is the process of detecting and preventing data breaches, unwanted alteration, and exfiltration of sensitive data. It helps monitor data access and sharing by end users to identify anomalies or unusual behavior.
DLP tools are often used to classify and prioritize data security. On top of this, DLP policies are also used to meet data regulatory compliance such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS.
By implementing DLP in your organization, you can protect personally identifiable information (PII), protect Intellectual property (IP) consisting of sensitive information, achieve in-depth data visibility, and secure your mobile workforce in BYOD environments as well.
Overall, data loss prevention policies and tools play a big role in data protection – one that’s unavoidable by organizations and is highly crucial to secure data.
There are plenty of ways you can prevent data loss. However, it ultimately boils down to what your organizational needs are, the sensitivity of your data, and the impact it would have if it were to become compromised in any manner.
It’s all about how data loss can impact your business.
No organization wants to suffer a data breach that could have been avoided with a simple few steps in the right direction, and that’s where we step in.
We can help you prevent data loss and secure your business.
At Cypress Data Defense, we create tailor-made security strategies and processes that best suit organizations. Right from the encryption levels to instilling a security-first culture throughout your organization by conducting regular training sessions, our security experts integrate security as a core component of organizations.
If you already have a security team on board, we can help you create a more robust security roadmap that helps you address and eliminate your security vulnerabilities.
If you want to know more about data security and prevention of data loss, check out our blog for more information.
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