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5 Top Tips for Cloud Security from Enterprise CISOs

Jun 24 2021

The Financial Times hosted an excellent event recently, at which I joined Naina Bhattacharya, CISO for Danone; Manish Chandela, Group CISO for Unipart and Florence Mottay, Global CISO for Ahold Delhaize, to discuss cloud security. The FT’s Dan Thomas moderated and the panellists all shared some excellent and candid insights into cloud threats and security strategies within their organisations. I highly recommend watching the whole discussion—which you can do here—but if you are short on time, I have taken the liberty of capturing five useful points that I took away.

1. Build in security by design

Naina Battacharya summarised the need to partner closely with IT and ensure that security is never a last-minute consideration for cloud. Naina identified three stages which essentially place security within the cloud implementation project team from start to finish, ending with a sanity check of the security of the organisations’ most important data assets:

“Firstly […] looking at security during the onboarding process. Then looking at security during the implementation to check, for example, that there isn’t any misconfiguration; so building security by design. Then finally, doing the check on what we call our ‘crown jewels’ – the most important assets we have.”

This point particularly resonated for me because it aligned with something else Naina had said about wanting to be a consumer/employee focused IT organisation and not wanting to spend time building infrastructure. Naina highlighted that securing the organisation using “boxes” doesn’t scale quickly enough and nor does it provide the necessary availability. To me, this is exactly the logical thread that ultimately leads to a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) strategy, placing security in the cloud, making it integral to IT architecture, and executing in-line controls.

2. Understand your data flows

The need to understand the organisation’s data flows was a point that Manish Chandela repeated a few times during the discussion, and I agree with Manish that it really cannot be said enough.  

“An organisation should know its data flows. …To know what controls to put in place I need to understand the threat profile of the application that we are trying to protect and that’s very much dictated by the category of data it processes.” 

Manish is a proponent of a data-centric view to security, which makes sense when you consider that regulation and risk calculations are commonly data-centric. Visibility and an understanding of your data flows is particularly critical when you are navigating areas such as the Shared Responsibility model, or assessing supply chain risk. Organisations must undertake continuous security assessments based around data flows.

3. Know your supply chain risk

Strongly linked to Manish’s point, Florence Mottay’s top piece of advice was very topical.  Florence advocates that organisations make sure to assess supply chain risk and partner assurances, and spoke about the risks that come from one of the many benefits of cloud, namely API integrations. 

“There has been a lot of ease to integrate with other systems in the cloud, and that’s great. It’s a real opportunity using APIs and so on, but it can also be the source of some vulnerabilities because it can be done insecurely and we have seen quite a few examples of these weaknesses.”

“A strong focus on the supply chain and on partner assurance is very important.’  

For me, there’s another specific point to be made about the APIs used by these convenient cloud integrations. Legacy security appliances don’t understand APIs. They tend to only understand the language of the web and traditional protocols and are unable to track or police cloud services. It’s yet another reason why you have to secure the cloud from the cloud. 

4. Make Zero Trust your default position

Manish Chandela urged security professionals to take a stance of constant vigilance. As a CISO it can sometimes feel like the organisation looks to us for confidence and reassurance, but actually, to do our job well there is a lot to be said for assuming the stance of high alert and mistrust. Zero Trust Network Access is exactly that—you do not give anyone, any device, or any cloud service access to anything without a specifically allocated series of security credentials. Data is too valuable to make assumptions of authenticity.

“Take an approach of ‘compromised by default’. Assume everything is compromised and protect it with that view instead of the other view where we trust things more than we should.”

5. Raise awareness, and activate the workforce

My final selection of the top tips was raised by both Naina and Florence at different times during the discussion, and relates to training. 

Florence: “I would focus on awareness at all levels of the organisation. I think it’s extremely important to have the right training, the right level of what I call “activation”,  which is more than awareness – it’s when people actually feel accountable and responsible for security.”

Naina: “You need user awareness, so people are aware that they need to come to the security teams.”

The point is that security is something that should be in every employee’s job description. But while we, the experts, have to work so hard to stay on top of cloud risks and threats, we cannot expect employees to successfully navigate the best efforts of malicious actors without education. It only takes one simple error or misconfiguration to expose sensitive or regulated data, and it is our responsibility to equip the workforce to keep data safe.

These takeaway points really are just the highlights of the event and I do recommend listening to the whole webinar if you have the time. Each panellist focused on their strategy and ideology and I particularly valued the insight into how security continues to interact with business goals for each organisation. You can hear the entire conversation here.

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Neil Thacker
Neil Thacker is a veteran information security professional and a data protection and privacy expert well-versed in the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR).

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