What Is Cloud Compliance?
Cloud compliance refers to the adherence of cloud hosted services and data to a set of guidelines, laws, standards, and regulations that govern the security and privacy of cloud computing. It’s about ensuring that the way data is stored, managed and protected in the cloud meets these regulatory requirements. The regulations could be industry-specific like HIPAA for healthcare or general data protection standards like GDPR.
Cloud compliance isn’t just about checking boxes on a list. It’s a continuous process that involves regular assessments, audits, and updates to ensure that the cloud services are always in line with the ever-changing regulations. The goal of cloud compliance is to protect sensitive data, maintain privacy, and ensure business continuity.
Robust cloud compliance practices can help your organization avoid fines and penalties for non-compliance. But beyond these risks, it is about building trust with your customers, protecting your brand reputation, and ensuring the long-term success of your business:
- Taking security seriously: Cloud compliance demonstrates that the business takes data security and privacy seriously. This can give you a competitive edge, especially in industries where data security is a paramount concern.
- Improving risk management: Cloud compliance also plays a critical role in risk management. By adhering to compliance standards, you can identify and mitigate potential security risks, protect against data breaches, and ensure business continuity.
In this article:
8 Key Compliance Standards and Regulations in the Cloud
There are several key compliance standards and regulations that businesses operating in the cloud need to be aware of. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important ones.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is a set of security standards designed to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. If your business handles cardholder data, you must comply with PCI-DSS regardless of your size or the number of transactions you process.
In the cloud context, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) requires that cardholder data stored or processed in the cloud is properly protected. This means that cloud service providers and businesses utilizing cloud-based systems should ensure they have implemented secure networks, maintained vulnerability management programs, established strong access control measures, and continuously monitored and tested their networks to stay compliant.
ISO 27001 is an international standard for information security management. It provides a framework for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continuously improving an information security management system. Compliance with ISO 27001 demonstrates that a company takes a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information and ensuring data security.
In relation to the cloud, ISO 27001 helps organizations establish a comprehensive Information Security Management System (ISMS). Cloud service providers who are ISO 27001 certified have proven that they have secure systems in place to protect data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. On the other hand, organizations utilizing cloud services should ensure their chosen providers meet these standards to help maintain overall data security.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) is a US law that sets requirements for all public companies to ensure the accuracy of their financial information. It includes rules on storing, managing, and accessing financial data in the cloud. SOX compliance is critical for businesses that deal with financial data and publicly traded companies.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) applies to cloud computing in the context of financial data storage and processing. The law requires businesses to have adequate controls, such as encryption and access control, in place to ensure the accuracy and security of financial data stored in the cloud. Furthermore, cloud service providers must offer necessary features and tools for customers to meet their SOX compliance obligations, such as audit trails and data backup.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides guidelines for federal agencies on information security. However, these standards have been widely adopted by many private sector organizations as well. NIST framework provides a comprehensive approach to manage cybersecurity risks.
The NIST framework applies to cloud computing by providing a set of guidelines that businesses and cloud service providers can use to manage cybersecurity risks associated with cloud data. These guidelines are beneficial for developing an effective risk management strategy, which includes identifying, assessing, mitigating, and monitoring cybersecurity risks in a cloud environment.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in the EU law on data protection and privacy. It’s one of the most stringent data protection laws in the world and has wide-reaching implications for businesses that handle personal data of EU citizens, regardless of where the business is based.
In terms of cloud compliance, the GDPR mandates that any cloud service providers or businesses using cloud services must ensure that they have strong data protection measures in place when storing or processing the personal data of EU citizens. This includes, among other requirements, the need for proper encryption, the ability to ensure data can be deleted upon request, and the notification of data breaches in a timely manner.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a state statute intended to enhance privacy rights and consumer protection for residents of California. Businesses that collect personal information of California residents and meet certain thresholds must comply with CCPA.
In relation to the cloud, businesses that collect personal information of California residents and store or process it in the cloud must ensure they adhere to the CCPA’s privacy requirements. This includes implementing appropriate security measures, providing clear privacy notices, and ensuring the capability to respond to consumer requests for access, deletion, and opt-out of data selling.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for sensitive patient data protection. Companies that deal with protected health information (PHI) must ensure that all the required physical, network, and process security measures are in place and followed.
In the context of the cloud, HIPAA compliance means that cloud service providers and businesses using cloud-based systems to store or process protected health information (PHI) must ensure they have robust physical, network, and process security measures in place. Additionally, there must be Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) in place between healthcare providers and cloud vendors to ensure the secure handling of PHI.
The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services used by federal agencies.
In relation to cloud computing, FedRAMP provides a standard for security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of cloud products and services used by federal agencies. Cloud service providers that comply with FedRAMP have undergone a rigorous assessment and demonstrated their ability to meet its stringent security requirements, which in turn makes it easier for federal agencies to adopt their cloud services.
Learn more in our detailed guide to cloud infrastructure security
7 Steps to Achieving Cloud Compliance
To ensure cloud compliance, organizations must follow a systematic approach, encompassing several crucial steps:
1. Implement a Shared Responsibility Model
The first step towards achieving cloud compliance is to implement a shared responsibility model. Both the cloud service provider and the customer hold some level of responsibility concerning security and compliance. However, the degree of responsibility varies depending on the cloud service model—Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS).
As a general rule, the cloud service provider is responsible for the security and compliance of the cloud infrastructure, including physical servers, networks, and databases. On the other hand, the customer is responsible for the security and compliance of the data stored in the cloud and the user access management. By implementing a shared responsibility model, both parties can clearly define and understand their compliance obligations, thereby reducing the risk of non-compliance.
2. Implement a Governance Framework
The next step is to implement a robust governance framework. Governance in the cloud compliance context refers to the mechanisms, processes, and policies that control and monitor the cloud environment. A governance framework provides a structured approach to managing cloud operations in line with regulatory requirements, industry standards, and organizational policies.
The key components of a cloud governance framework include risk management, policy management, and change management. Risk management involves identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks associated with cloud operations. Policy management encompasses the creation, implementation, and enforcement of policies to control and regulate cloud activities. Change management involves managing changes to the cloud environment to prevent disruptions and maintain compliance.
3. Develop a Compliance Strategy
Once you have a shared responsibility model and a governance framework in place, the next step is to develop a comprehensive compliance strategy. A cloud compliance strategy outlines the measures and actions required to ensure and maintain compliance in the cloud environment.
A well-designed compliance strategy should clearly define the compliance objectives, identify relevant compliance regulations and standards, assign compliance roles and responsibilities, and delineate the compliance processes and procedures. It should also include a plan to monitor and measure compliance performance and address non-compliance issues.
4. Deploy Compliance Tools and Controls
Achieving cloud compliance requires the deployment of various tools and controls. These technologies help automate compliance tasks, detect compliance violations, and facilitate compliance reporting.
Compliance tools typically include security information and event management (SIEM) systems, compliance management software, and data protection tools. These tools help track and manage compliance tasks, generate compliance reports, and flag potential compliance issues.
On the other hand, compliance controls are mechanisms put in place to control and regulate activities in the cloud environment. These controls may be technical, such as firewalls and encryption, or administrative, such as user access controls and audit trails.
5. Regular Auditing and Reporting
Regular auditing and reporting is another critical step towards achieving cloud compliance. Audits help verify that the cloud environment adheres to the defined compliance standards and regulations. They also help identify potential compliance issues and areas for improvement.
Reporting, on the other hand, involves documenting and communicating the audit findings to relevant stakeholders. Compliance reports provide insights into the compliance status and performance, thereby aiding decision-making and strategic planning.
6. Maintain Documentation
Documentation serves as evidence of compliance efforts and activities. It includes policy documents, procedure manuals, audit reports, incident reports, and compliance certificates.
Documentation not only helps demonstrate compliance to auditors and regulators but also aids in knowledge sharing and continuity. It ensures that all stakeholders, including employees, management, and auditors, have a clear understanding of the compliance requirements and practices.
7. Continually Monitor and Update Compliance Measures
Finally, achieving cloud compliance is not a one-time task. It requires continuous monitoring and updating of compliance measures. This ongoing process ensures that the cloud environment remains compliant amidst the ever-evolving regulatory landscape and technological advancements.
Monitoring involves regularly checking the compliance status and performance, while updating involves revising and improving the compliance measures based on monitoring results and changes in regulations, standards, and business needs.