Assessing the Cybersecurity of Cloud Service Providers

Published September 11, 2023
by Jordan Hickam

As of a 2021 Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) survey, 63% of reporting organizations run 41% or more of their workloads in public clouds as compared to 2019, when just 25% of respondents were running that much of their operations in cloud environments. With greater dependency on cloud services, small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) are becoming more aware of the need to protect against cybersecurity threats. Navigating cloud services’ crowded and complex landscape and evaluating prospective cloud service providers (CSPs) on their cybersecurity posture is essential. This post explores several key factors SMEs should consider when assessing a CSP. 

  • Reputation: Begin with thorough research into the provider’s reputation by seeking reviews, ratings, or testimonials from other customers. While a track record of positive feedback from existing customers doesn’t necessarily mean a provider’s solutions are ironclad, they can indicate the company’s commitment to its customers. Next, look for news articles, press releases, or reports that mention any security incidents or breaches related to the provider. Use search engines and news aggregators to gather relevant information. Additionally, check databases that track and catalog security breaches across various industries, such as the Open Security Foundation’s DataLossDB and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s Chronology of Data Breaches.
  • Relevant Certifications & Standards Compliance: Assess whether the CSP holds any security certifications or has undergone independent audits of its security controls. Among the most common cybersecurity standards and cloud security certifications that companies should look for adherence to from CSPs include ISO-27001, the NIST frameworks (NIST RMF & NIST CSF), SOC 2, FedRAMP, and StateRAMP. Following such standards or maintaining relevant certifications demonstrates the provider’s commitment to widely recognized and respected cybersecurity practices and that they undergo regular audits to maintain compliance. Service providers often offer documentation outlining compliance with various corporate, government, or industry-specific guidelines and regulations, but third-party security reports from independent auditors and agencies may provide additional insight.
  • Capable Data Encryption: Encrypting data is a fundamental cybersecurity measure for protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access. Strong encryption ensures that even in the event a major breach occurs, the stolen data will remain unreadable and, therefore, unusable to cybercriminals. Ask about the CSP’s approach to encrypting data in transit and at rest (stored data). Ideally, they should use strong encryption algorithms such as AES-256 to protect data at rest. Furthermore, encryption should apply to all storage systems, including databases, file systems, and backups. For in-transit data (between your organization and the CSP’s infrastructure), look for strong protocols for encryption, such as transport layer security (TLS).
  • Access Controls & Identity Management: The growing use of cloud platforms has provided many companies’ employees with expanded opportunities to work remotely from anywhere. However, the benefits also introduce new challenges that can increase the likelihood of theft or other malicious intent from cyber criminals. Effective cloud security is only as strong as any cybersecurity infrastructure’s gatekeeping abilities. Robust access controls and identity management measures are crucial in preventing unauthorized access to sensitive systems and private data. CSPs may use mechanisms such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), mandatory strong password policies, just-in-time (JIT) access, privileged identity management (PIM), and role-based access controls (RBAC) to ensure that only authorized individuals access certain company data or perform specific internal actions. Ask about the CSP’s audit and logging capabilities. They should maintain logs of user access and activities, which can be helpful for monitoring and investigating potential security incidents. Ask whether the CSP provides access to these logs or if they offer log management solutions.
  • Physical Security: Secure cloud storage is critical, but cloud service providers must also prioritize their physical security measures. Those who physically store data overseas in countries with relaxed or minimal security standards potentially threaten your company’s data in the cloud and expose the business to significant privacy violations. Ask for information regarding the physical security safeguards in place to protect data centers and server locations—bare-minimum measures should include access controls, security personnel, video surveillance, redundant power supplies, and climate-control systems to minimize the risk of physical breaches or service disruptions. Check whether the CSP complies with industry standards and certifications related to physical security. For example, certifications such as ISO 27001 or SSAE 18 (SOC 1, SOC 2) indicate that the CSP has implemented appropriate physical security controls.
  • Incident Response & Recovery: Even when working with the most secure cloud services and providers, complex cyberattacks, data breaches, other outages, and cloud security emergencies can happen at any time. Providers’ and customers’ roles and responsibilities regarding data backup and recovery mechanisms should be clearly defined as part of initial service agreements. Comprehensive monitoring systems and rapid cybersecurity incident response capabilities should help businesses rest assured that their operations won’t grind to a halt for an extended outage in the event of a cyberattack. Ask about specific security monitoring practices, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), cloud security posture management (CSPM), and security incident and event management (SIEM) tools that should give providers the ability to identify and respond to cybersecurity threats in a timely, efficient manner.
  • Transparency: Transparency builds trust and helps companies confidently assess the cloud security of prospective or existing providers. A secure CSP should be transparent about its cybersecurity practices. They should be willing to provide information detailing their security controls, complete audit trails, response plans, and more. Seek out a CSP partner that proactively offers transparency reports, independent audits, incident overviews, and service agreements that clearly define their and your security commitments. 

Strengthen Your Cloud Cybersecurity with RAMPxchange

For small businesses and mid-size companies seeking to protect their data, it’s critical to remember that using outside providers’ cloud services doesn’t necessarily mean your data is secure. Companies of all sizes can confidently find a provider who is committed to cybersecurity in the RAMPxchange marketplace. Contact us today to learn more, join, and begin your journey.