What Are Cloud Security Standards? 

Cloud security standards are a set of guidelines and best practices designed to ensure the security of data and workloads in cloud computing environments. These guidelines encompass a range of considerations, from the physical security of data centers to the protocols for data transmission and storage. They are rules that companies need to follow to ensure that their cloud operations are protected against potential threats.

Understanding cloud security standards is important for any business that relies on cloud computing. They help to protect against potential security breaches, provide clear guidance on how to meet compliance obligations, and allow companies to demonstrate their commitment to security to customers and stakeholders.

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The Need for Cloud Security Standards 

As the use of cloud computing becomes more prevalent, the need for cloud security standards becomes increasingly important. In the past, companies could maintain control over data and workloads by running them within their own data centers. However, with the shift towards cloud computing, this data is now being stored on servers owned and operated by third-party providers. This means that businesses must rely on these providers to maintain the security of their data.

In addition to the shift towards third-party computing services, the volume of data being generated and stored has increased exponentially, and so has the complexity of workloads operated by organizations. Without proper security measures in place, these cloud-based resources can be compromised, leading to potentially disastrous consequences for businesses.

Cloud security standards outline best practices for cloud security, created by industry experts based on the collective experience of many organizations, and provide guidelines for the implementation of these practices. They provide a structured framework that allows organizations to ensure cloud resources are secured against relevant business risks and cyber threats.

10 Notable Cloud Computing Security Standards and Control Frameworks 

Here are some of the more prominent standards used by cloud providers and their customers to secure cloud workloads. Some of these standards are general-purpose standards that can also be applied to cloud environments, while others are specifically designed for the cloud.

ISO Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organization that develops and publishes standards. Among these are the ISO 27001 and ISO 27017, which are among the most widely recognized cloud security standards.

ISO 27001 is an information security management standard that provides a framework for establishing, implementing, operating, monitoring, reviewing, maintaining, and improving an Information Security Management System (ISMS). This standard is technology and vendor neutral and can be applied to all types of organizations.

ISO 27017 provides guidelines on the security aspects of cloud computing. It is an extension of ISO 27001 and focuses specifically on cloud services. It offers a set of controls and guidance for both cloud service providers and cloud service customers.

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The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to businesses that handle credit card transactions. Created by major credit card companies, this standard mandates a set of security controls to protect cardholder data. For cloud environments, PCI DSS compliance ensures that sensitive payment information is securely processed, stored, and transmitted in the cloud.

Implementing PCI DSS in cloud environments involves both the cloud service provider (CSP) and the customer. CSPs must offer an infrastructure that supports PCI DSS compliance, while customers must ensure their use of cloud services aligns with PCI DSS requirements. This includes maintaining a secure network, implementing robust access control measures, regularly monitoring and testing networks, and maintaining an information security policy.

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The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data in the United States. In the context of cloud security, HIPAA compliance is essential for healthcare providers and associated businesses that store or process health information in the cloud. HIPAA requires appropriate safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI).

For cloud-based healthcare services, HIPAA compliance involves ensuring that PHI is encrypted, access controls are stringent, and data is securely backed up. Both cloud service providers and healthcare entities are responsible for implementing necessary protections and ensuring ongoing compliance. This includes conducting risk assessments, implementing strong data security measures, and establishing clear policies and procedures for managing PHI in the cloud.

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The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation that applies to any businesses operating in or dealing with data from the European Union. GDPR mandates strict data protection and privacy for individuals within the EU and EEA. For cloud services, this means ensuring personal data is processed securely, lawfully, and transparently.

Cloud service providers and users must ensure GDPR compliance by implementing robust data protection measures, such as data encryption, access controls, and data minimization. They must also ensure data subjects’ rights are respected, including the right to access, rectify, delete, or transfer their data. This includes providing transparent information about data processing activities and obtaining explicit consent when necessary.

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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a global authority when it comes to setting standards for cloud security. This US federal agency has a comprehensive set of guidelines that addresses all aspects of cloud security, ranging from data privacy to risk management and compliance.

The NIST guidelines are widely respected and followed because they are comprehensive, clear, and pragmatic. They offer a detailed understanding of the various security risks that come with cloud computing and offer well-defined steps to mitigate them. Two specific NIST standards governing cloud computing are SP 800-210 (General Access Control Guidance for Cloud Systems) and SP 500-332 (NIST Cloud Federation Reference Architecture).

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Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls

Next on our list is the Center for Internet Security (CIS), an organization that provides a set of globally recognized best practices to ensure security in the cloud. The CIS framework is a resource for organizations seeking to safeguard their cloud environments. It offers a set of 20 critical security controls that can significantly reduce the risk of cyber threats.

The CIS controls are prioritized and categorized into basic, foundational, and organizational controls, making it easy for organizations to implement them based on their needs and capabilities. By implementing these controls, businesses can not only enhance their security posture but also meet various regulatory compliance requirements.

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The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is relevant for U.S. federal agencies and organizations working with the federal government. FISMA establishes a comprehensive framework to protect government information, operations, and assets against natural or man-made threats. For cloud services used by federal agencies, compliance with FISMA is mandatory.

FISMA compliance in the cloud involves implementing a robust security program, conducting regular risk assessments, and ensuring effective system controls are in place. Cloud service providers catering to government agencies must adhere to these standards, ensuring strong security measures like encryption, access control, and continuous monitoring are implemented to protect sensitive government data.

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The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Security, Trust, Assurance, and Risk (STAR) program is a robust framework that encompasses key principles of transparency, rigorous auditing, and harmonization of standards in cloud security.

CSA STAR’s approach to cloud security combines the principles of self-assessment, third-party audits, and continuous monitoring. This comprehensive approach allows organizations to showcase their security posture to stakeholders and customers, which can significantly boost trust and confidence.

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The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a government-wide program that standardizes the security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring of products and services used by U.S. federal agencies. FedRAMP ensures that cloud services meet consistent security requirements, reducing duplicative efforts among agencies.

Cloud service providers looking to work with federal agencies must comply with FedRAMP requirements, which involves a rigorous assessment process. This includes implementing a standardized set of security controls, undergoing third-party assessments, and maintaining continuous monitoring of their security posture. For agencies, using FedRAMP-authorized cloud services means assurance that the cloud solutions meet high security and compliance standards.

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System and Organization Controls (SOC) Reporting

System and Organization Controls (SOC) reporting is a suite of reports provided by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) that provides assurance over financial reporting and operational controls. SOC for Service Organizations reports focus on internal controls at organizations that provide services to other entities.

SOC reports, particularly SOC 2, are highly relevant for cloud computing. SOC 2 reports evaluate an organization’s information systems relevant to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. These reports play a critical role in demonstrating that a cloud service provider has robust controls in place to maintain data security and privacy.

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Related content: Read our guide to cloud security solutions

Cloud Security with Aqua

With Aqua Security, you get a complete security platform, which secures cloud native applications from start to finish, at any scale. The Aqua platform protects your entire stack, on any cloud, across VMs, containers, and serverless.

Aqua can help you secure your cloud by:

  • Protecting the build with a “shift left” approach to cloud native security that stops threats and vulnerabilities in their tracks — empowering DevOps to detect issues early and fix them fast. Aqua uses a combination of static and dynamic scanning to find vulnerabilities, malware, secrets, and other risks during development and staging. It also allows you to set flexible, dynamic policies to control deployment in your runtime environments.
  • Securing infrastructure, automating compliance and the security posture of your public cloud services, Infrastructure-as-Code templates, and Kubernetes against best practices and standards. This ensures that the infrastructure you run your applications on are securely configured and in compliance.
  • Protect workloads, including VMs, containers, and serverless functions, using granular controls that provide instant visibility and real-time detection and response. Aqua leverages modern micro-services concepts to enforce immutability of your applications in runtime, establishing zero-trust networking, and detecting and stopping suspicious activities, including zero-day attacks.
  • Secure hybrid cloud infrastructure with cloud native security over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud deployments, with persistent controls that follow your workloads wherever they run.
The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.