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Businesses failing to protect sensitive data in the cloud

By Ryan Morris-Reade, Fri 29 Oct 2021

New research has found 40% of organisations have experienced a cloud-based data breach in the past 12 months. 

The 2021 Thales Global Cloud Security Study, commissioned by Thales and conducted by 451 Research, found that despite increasing cyber-attacks targeting data in the cloud, the vast majority (83%) of businesses are still failing to encrypt half of the sensitive data they store in the cloud, raising even greater concerns as to the impact cyber criminals can have.

The pandemic has accelerated cloud transformation

Cloud adoption is on the rise, and businesses are continuing to diversify how they use cloud solutions. Globally, 57% of respondents reported they use two or more cloud infrastructure providers, whilst almost a quarter (24%) of organisations flagged that the majority of their workloads and data now reside in the cloud. 

According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, companies globally have accelerated their cloud adoption by three years compared to pre-pandemic adoption rates. Thales says this marks a significant shift in the use of cloud-based solutions, from being purely data storage solutions to environments in which data is used transactionally and supports day-to-day business operations.

Security in the cloud is mixed

According to the study, one fifth (21%) of businesses host most of their sensitive data in the cloud, while 40% reported a breach in the last year. 

There are some common trends as to where companies turn when considering how to secure their cloud infrastructure, with 33% reporting multifactor authentication as a central part of their cybersecurity strategy. 

However, only 17% of those surveyed have encrypted more than half of the data they store in the cloud. This figure drops to 15%, where organisations have adopted a multi-cloud approach.

Even where businesses protect their data with encryption, 34% of organisations leave the control of keys to service providers rather than retaining control themselves, the study found. 

Where large numbers of organisations fail to protect their data sufficiently with encryption, limiting potential access points becomes even more critical. 

However, nearly half (48%) of business leaders globally admitted their organisation does not have a Zero Trust strategy, and a quarter (25%) are not even considering one.

Complexity as a concern

Businesses share common concerns about the increasing complexity of cloud services. Almost half (46%) of global respondents claimed managing privacy and data protection in the cloud is more complex than on-premises solutions.

Hybrid models are common, with many organisations not moving entirely to the cloud. Some 55% of businesses have indicated a preference for a lift & shift approach to cloud adoption over re-architecting, as the cloud becomes a more integrated part of the business infrastructure.

"Organisations across the world are struggling to navigate the increased complexity that comes with greater adoption of cloud-based solutions," says Thales senior VP for Cloud Protection and Licensing Activities, Sebastien Cano.

"A robust security strategy is essential to ensuring data and business operations remain secure. With nearly every business reliant on the cloud to some extent, it's vital that security teams can discover, protect, and maintain control of their data."

According to Fernando Montenegro, principal research analyst, Information Security at 451 Research, protecting customer data is always the priority. He says organisations should strongly consider reviewing their strategies and approaches to protect data in the cloud proactively. 

"This includes understanding the role of specific technologies including encryption and key management, as well as the shared responsibilities between providers and their customers," he says.

"As data privacy and sovereignty regulations grow, it will be paramount that organisations have a clear understanding of how they remain responsible for data security and make clear decisions about who is in control and who can access their sensitive data."

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