Cloud Storage Security: Common Issues, Best Practices and Software Solutions

Cloud storage has become mainstream. It is one of the fastest-growing segments of IT spending and an indispensable tool for many modern businesses. However, not enough is being done to secure data residing in the cloud.

According to Gartner, 90% of organizations that fail to control public cloud use will share information inadvertently or inappropriately through 2025. Almost all cloud security failures will be due to the cloud customer, not the service provider. Similar kinds of cloud security risks will continue to challenge enterprise users for the next several years.

Mistakes in the cloud will cost dearly — a company that is unaware of their cloud adoption errors will overspend by up to 50%.

This post explains the security risks, challenges and best practices that come with using cloud solutions. We also discuss common cloud storage security solutions to support your company’s cloud services and data security measures.

Cloud Storage Solutions for Business Use

Among the many cloud providers on the market, four stand out as some of the most popular and widely used services. We reviewed them in detail in another article but here is a brief recap:

  • Dropbox— Dropbox is designed for somewhat casual use. It’s suitable for smaller companies with less robust tech support. Users can easily share files with people who don’t use Dropbox, and the service provider offers user-friendly file and version recovery.
  • SharePoint Online — SharePoint Online can be purchased as a stand-alone cloud solution. The tool provides complex security and collaboration capabilities. It also comes with extensive content governance functionality with advanced access controls for admins and guests.
  • OneDrive for Business — Microsoft offers OneDrive for Business as part of Microsoft 365, so it is most useful for teams that use Microsoft Office. Primarily meant to enable sharing Microsoft 365 files, OneDrive for Business provides extensive permissions settings and security features to control the movement of data. It offers file-editing functionality, multiple identity model support and multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Box — Box focuses on meeting the needs of larger enterprises. Its advanced security and permissions settings are a good fit for companies with valuable intellectual property.

Cloud Storage Security Issues, Risks and Challenges

Cloud storage risks fall into two categories: security and operational. It’s important to develop a strategy to cover both.

Security Risks

The key security concern for businesses is unauthorized access to or sharing of restricted or sensitive information. Exposure of sensitive information erodes data privacy, leads to loss of control over your data, and makes your business vulnerable to a host of cybersecurity issues and associated legal and compliance penalties.

Because security risks are shared between the cloud storage user and the service provider, it’s difficult to measure the likelihood of security threats and attacks. For instance, hackers and malware infections may target your business directly or breach the provider storage system’s security. You can assess your own security state and measure potential risks, but you can never know for sure how strong the security of your cloud provider is. To mitigate the risks associated with your cloud provider, you will have to rely on the contracts and policies signed by both parties.

On the other hand, if your company lacks approved cloud services that provide convenient storage, access and sharing of data, users may end up relying on shadow IT, which adds even more cybersecurity risks:

  • Employees may inadvertently use services and platforms that don’t meet your company’s security standards, creating pathways for data exposure and hacking.
  • Users may access unsanctioned cloud platforms and applications from unapproved and unsecure devices over which you’ll have no control. These devices may even have no password protection, let alone encryption or any other advanced security measures.

Operational Risks

You could also suffer data loss from various operational causes, such as:

  • Accidental deletion
  • Loss of encryption keys

Operational risks are also present from the service provider’s side:

  • Service disruptions due to server or software failure could prevent cloud storage providers from granting access to information.
  • A service can lose viability or go out of business.

To minimize these risks, be sure to check that your service provider’s contract provisions and SLA include arrangements for protecting your data in the event that they end their services.

Cloud Storage Security Best Practices

Before investing in any provider or service, it’s best to familiarize yourself with some best practices using cloud storage solutions. These include:

  • Developing policies, strategies and internal best practices
  • Deciding which data can be stored in the cloud
  • Understanding the responsibility you share with the providers you choose
  • Investing in employee education and training
  • Supplementing native data protection with additional security measures

Implement a Cloud Storage Strategy

A cloud strategy gives your team a clear and shared idea of your business objectives, security requirements and best practices when working with information online. If different departments lead their own cloud initiatives, you will see misalignment and confusion, issues with scalability and slowdowns in productivity, as well as security gaps that could put the whole organization at risk. Instead, come up with a strategy that includes common guidelines and practices for your business — this should be a living document that changes with your business’s needs and the cloud services you use.

Involve the entire organization when developing and implementing your cloud strategy. Build a consensus with the various leadership teams for how your business will adopt a cloud storage service and comply with cybersecurity regulations.

When coming up with your cloud storage strategy, ask these four crucial questions:

  • When and how should the organization use cloud computing services?
  • How will the company access, secure, manage, integrate and govern cloud implementation and usage across the hybrid environment?
  • How will cloud computing factor into your application architecture and strategy?
  • How should your existing data centers, infrastructures and procedures change?

Answering these questions will help your company better understand the risks, rewards and objectives that come with cloud storage adoption.

Develop a Cloud Storage Policy

Decide which data should be placed into which cloud storage under which circumstances. Remember to balance the importance of backing up data with the risk of data loss or exposure.

When deciding what data to store in the cloud, keep five issues in mind:

  • Security — How can your business control data and protect confidentiality?
  • Compliance — Does the cloud storage meet relevant regulatory requirements?
  • Availability — What is the recovery process for service disruptions and data loss?
  • Agility — Can the cloud storage support unanticipated changes?
  • Reliability — What happens if the cloud storage provider changes its business model or becomes nonviable?

Your business policy should address each of these domains when developing selection criteria for cloud storage services and deciding what data to store in the cloud.

Establish and Enforce Configuration Standards

For the parts of the cloud infrastructure under your control, establish and enforce configuration standards, including internal and external access settings, shared settings and use of MFA.

Educate Employees about Security

At the end of the day, humans are the ones who work with the data. Educating your employees about cybersecurity best practices for working in the cloud will go a long way toward protecting your sensitive information and preventing cloud storage security issues.

Work to improve employee behavior by:

  • Training employees on what can be stored in the cloud and what should remain in your own data centers
  • Teaching employees about safe online sharing practices

Understand Your Shared Responsibilities with Cloud Vendors

Instead of asking, “Is the cloud secure?” you should ask, “Are we using the cloud securely?”

The cloud vendor is responsible for abiding by regulations when it comes to cybersecurity and best practices for handling data online. However, your business is responsible for how it uses cloud storage, so you should be sure to:

  • Define what types of data can be stored in the cloud and, most importantly, what data should remain in house.
  • Be mindful of what security and access permissions you grant to users. Follow the principle of least privilege: Users should have access to only the minimum amount of information they need to complete their tasks.
  • Ensure continuous change, access and activity monitoring so you can identify and remediate potential threats before they cause real damage.
  • Create standard best practices when working with data in cloud storage so expectations are clear across all departments.

Supplement the Provider’s Security Measures

Most cloud storage providers offer an array of features and configuration choices to keep your data safe. However, don’t rely solely on the cloud storage provider’s security measures. You will often need to supplement native security measures with some of your own to comply with legal and business requirements.

Cloud Storage Security Capabilities

To ensure security of your data in cloud storage, you will need to have solutions that cover several cybersecurity capabilities:

  • Data discovery and classification — Scan data repositories for important data and sort it into categories with clear labels, tags, or digital signatures.
  • Change auditing — Monitor changes made to configurations across the cloud environment.
  • Event logging and management — Create detailed logs with full user and workload audit trail reporting.
  • Data access monitoring and control — Promptly spot unauthorized access to your sensitive data.
  • Authentication — Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your applications, systems and data.
  • Data encryption — Guard your data by adding this critical additional barrier to unauthorized data access.
Product Evangelist at Netwrix Corporation, writer, and presenter. Ryan specializes in evangelizing cybersecurity and promoting the importance of visibility into IT changes and data access. As an author, Ryan focuses on IT security trends, surveys, and industry insights.