What is Cloud Security?

Cloud Security definition

Cloud security consists of the processes, strategies, and tools used to protect, secure, and reduce risks from an organization’s use of cloud computing. Because most organizations today rely on cloud-based services — including but not limited to software and infrastructure products — cloud security is a top priority.

When organizations use the cloud, they’re opting to store data via the use of the internet. While this is helpful for performance and collaboration, it introduces security risks that must be addressed.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a means of sharing and storing data via the internet. Instead of saving information and data on a hard drive or local servers, cloud computing uses networks and services to manage data online, making it accessible from anywhere using an internet connection.

Individuals used to store their personal camera photos, documents, or music on an external hard drive or USB thumb drive. Now, that same data is stored and saved using cloud storage. Similarly, companies have seen the same shift with their organizational data — from on-premise servers to cloud storage. Consumer use of cloud technology is widespread.

Businesses and organizations are adopting cloud computing and storage, with many migrating to the cloud for all their data needs. The technology has opened up a host of opportunities for application development. It’s more cost-effective, empowers remote work, and offers flexibility for product deployments.

Like any kind of data storage, cloud computing has its own set of security risks. Organizations utilizing a cloud environment will typically work with third-party cloud providers. That means trusting an outside company with sensitive data.

Storing data in the cloud requires an organization to take a hard look at security measures. There are different forms of cloud computing — each bearing its risks and responsibilities for the user and cloud providers. The best cloud security practices will integrate well with your existing procedures, policies, and technology.

What are cloud services?

There are three primary forms of cloud computing. Every service has unique capabilities that meet the needs of specific business cases. Regardless of how you use them, it’s important to note that no cloud provider offers an entirely hands-off solution. You’re still responsible for data security, access, and protecting customer information.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is a popular cloud service model that many businesses utilize daily. SaaS is created when third-party cloud providers build and license a product for an end user.

Tools like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 are examples of SaaS cloud services. Instead of developing in-house productivity software, Microsoft and Google do it for you and deliver it via their cloud platform.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows organizations to manage their data infrastructure in the cloud instead of locally. So, an organization that works with a third-party IaaS provider can control and manipulate its data within the cloud environment. Utilization depends on the user’s needs.

A significant advantage of using IaaS is you don’t need to purchase and maintain a server. The cloud provider is doing that for you and you’ll pay them a fee for access. Examples of popular IaaS providers are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Companies that develop and build applications often use a cloud service called Platform as a Service (PaaS). This cloud technology gives organizations the tools to create, store, and deploy applications in a cloud environment.

The cloud provider is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure while the client builds the application.

What are the various types of cloud deployment?

Cloud environments feature several deployment types. For businesses, this is how you’ll access the cloud and use your data within it. Each has different features and it’s up to you and your cloud provider to determine which is best for your organization.

Public cloud

Public cloud models are built on the internet and offered for a fee. The cloud provider handles every aspect of delivery. Public cloud services can be accessed by just about anyone. Think of tools like Google Workspace (or Google Photos on the consumer side). Thousands of users utilize public clouds for a variety of purposes.

Private cloud

A private cloud is built specifically for one business and its data. Private clouds may be created and managed onsite by an organization or third-party cloud providers. Using a private cloud gives a company more control over data and the flexibility to make changes while allowing only those within the organization access to the service.

Hybrid cloud

A hybrid cloud deployment utilizes on-site data centers and cloud environments to manage information. It’s an excellent option for companies needing additional capacity beyond what their on-premise servers offer. It also helps diversify the organization’s hosting of data.


A multi-cloud deployment uses two or more cloud services and can combine public and private cloud environments. It offers more flexibility for organizations to build and launch applications.


Many businesses have large fluctuations in their business operations (a significant increase in an e-commerce site’s web traffic during a holiday, for example) and require fast, immense scaling abilities. Through multi-tenant platforms, hyperscale cloud providers offer businesses the ability to scale up and down to meet their data access needs.

Why is cloud security important?

Gartner predicts1 that through 2025, 99% of cloud failures will be the customer’s fault. Having the right strategy and resources will be the difference for organizations that protect sensitive data in the cloud.

According to Elastic Security Labs' Global Threat Report, leading causes of cloud-based threats across the big three cloud providers — Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure — include stealing application access tokens, brute force attacks, and account manipulation.

With cloud storage becoming a primary way of doing business, cloud security is a topic that must be front of mind for users. It can be a major shift in how companies manage data, especially if they’re accustomed to primarily using their own servers and networks.

Research shows many companies are moving towards using the cloud as their primary information management resource. In fact, 85% of organizations are adopting a cloud-first model.

As these transitions happen, companies need to assess the vulnerabilities and threats associated with cloud storage. And along with those risks comes shared responsibility between cloud providers and their clients.

One of the bigger challenges associated with an effective cloud security function is the lack of visibility that can be captured and analyzed into a cloud-based app, service, etc. Security teams cannot be expected to protect properties they cannot see.

Knowing data security measures and which steps are in place to manage risks is critical for all businesses as they deploy applications and decide how they utilize cloud computing. A breach, or any disruption to cloud service, can interfere with customer experiences and, in the worst cases, expose company or customer information.

Many industries are subject to regulatory requirements for customer data storage, so factoring in those guidelines is necessary when implementing cloud security measures.

How does cloud security work?

Cloud security is an ongoing effort to ensure data is protected. If an organization is implementing sophisticated cloud networks, security can be challenging due to fragmentation.

Securing cloud environments starts with access control. Knowing who has credentials to what information on which devices can mitigate unauthorized entry.

With workload monitoring and threat protection technology, businesses can create rules that trigger alerts when there’s a potential threat. Device and user insights can assist an organization in identifying a problem with access and knowing what event led to a possible breach.

Cloud posture management tools are a vital component of cloud security. Using cloud posture management, companies can scan for issues caused by misconfigurations.

The cloud service provider and client jointly share cloud security responsibility. Each must know their role in managing and protecting data.

What are cloud security risks?

All data storage comes with risks, but utilizing a third-party service has a unique set of challenges. There’s a risk of breach or attack, which can compromise an organization’s data. And if the cloud provider’s service goes down, that likely means interruption to internal and possibly customer-facing applications — potentially leading to loss of business or increased vulnerability to cyber threats.

Many of the risks with cloud security are similar to traditional storage models. Employees may release data accidentally or fall victim to phishing or malware scams. Other issues can also arise, including lost data, insufficient data deletion, stolen credentials, and an overall lack of visibility that prevents teams from effective protection. Cloud storage can be complicated to track and monitor, especially for distributed workforces. Compliance and regulatory requirements may propose additional hurdles, especially for financial firms.

A company using a third-party cloud provider doesn’t absolve itself from bearing the burden of protecting customer and internal data. Each cloud service type has a different level of risk. In nearly every case, a company still has ultimate accountability for the data it owns, no matter what kind of cloud service they use.

With SaaS tools, users are responsible for the information they use and their devices. When using SaaS, you’re in charge of data security for the sources you create in the platform. And you’re relying on the service provider’s security plans to keep your information safe once you deploy it in the cloud.

Companies utilizing PaaS must protect their user access, data, and tools used by the end users. A cloud provider is responsible for multiple platform elements like building, middleware, runtime, and core computing services. With PaaS, you use the cloud service to run your applications. If it goes down, so do your apps.

With IaaS, customers are responsible for ensuring the security of everything on top of the operating system, while the cloud provider manages the infrastructure network.

How to secure the cloud

  1. Gatekeeping strategies

    All companies should implement gatekeeping strategies and tools to support their cloud environment. Workload monitoring and threat protection technology can integrate with your cloud network to assess threats, alert you to possible vulnerabilities, and investigate issues when they happen.

  2. Encryption technology

    Using encryption technologies and managing user access are pillars of data security. Sensitive info is often leaked due to human error. Knowing who has access to your data makes it easier to identify threats and breaches. Companies should consider using multi-factor logins to make access more difficult for unwelcome users.

  3. Continuous monitoring

    Using resources that allow monitoring of your cloud platform can help you identify weaknesses in your infrastructure and take necessary steps to stop threats. When working with cloud providers, discussing how they’ll protect your sensitive data is essential. Ask about their encryption tools, data backup plans, and protocols if a breach happens.

  4. Posture monitoring

    Recent data indicates that nearly half (49%) of organizations adopting cloud-native technologies anticipate misconfigurations will cause breaches in the next two years. Cloud posture tools can give companies insight into their cloud risks.

    Some companies may want to build an internal cloud security team. Cloud computing professionals don’t necessarily need a coding skillset for all cloud services. An organization looking to develop applications on a PaaS will likely need an advanced team with a coding background.

The benefits of comprehensive cloud security

  1. Increased data protection

    An organization's data is often more secure in the cloud — cloud providers have the tools and resources to monitor threats at all times where organization's SOCs may not. The inherently strong access controls and encryption that comes with cloud providers further bolsters an organization's security posture from unwanted access.

  2. Flexibility & affordability

    You don't need to be a large enterprise to take advantage of the security features that come with cloud providers. Affordability of cloud environments is one of the hallmarks of the service. Companies of any size can find a provider that meets their security needs and offers a product to store and manage their information through a pay-as-you-grow licensing model.

  3. Visibility & oversight

    While companies may give up some data control, they gain visibility into what's happening across their network. Robust monitoring tools and applications give businesses insight into what's happening with their data and where potential issues may be coming from.

  4. Leveraging internal capabilities

    Organizations increasing their cloud security workforce capacity will find many courses and certification opportunities for their teams. The best cloud security certifications will help employees in the field build their knowledge base, especially in specific cloud services.

    Major cloud service providers offer their own courses, like the Google Professional Cloud Security Engineer certification or AWS Certified Security. Membership-based organizations also offer training and certification, including the Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) and Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK).

  5. Uptime

    Every minute of downtime costs an organization in opportunity cost of potential sales, customer loyalty, and reputational damage. A comprehensive cloud security solution can help ensure that organizations are not victim to DDos attacks, and that traffic surges are managed appropriately through a global network edge server infrastructure.

Secure your cloud deployment with Elastic

Elastic Security for Cloud allows users to manage cloud risk with posture management and cloud workload protection.

Along with these tools, Elastic Security delivers unique rules and machine learning that can identify unknown threats and provide overlooked insights. Firms looking for a cloud security product will find that Elastic offers a fully integrated security stack, minimizing disparate tooling and vendor sprawl.

Try Elastic Security free to discover how you can simplify your cloud security.