May 8, 2024

Strengthen Your Security in the Cloud: Privacy and Data Security

Security & Compliance

Managing security in the cloud and throughout hybrid environments is a challenge with high stakes — customer data, sensitive information, access privileges, and other cloud-based assets are all at risk when an organization uses the cloud. Let’s explore some common cloud-based security concerns and learn how to keep your cloud environment secure. 

Table of Contents: 

What is Security in the Cloud? 

Unlock the full potential of the cloud without the worry — security in the cloud empowers your business with robust data protection, streamlined access control, and peace of mind. 

There are some aspects of security in the cloud that the cloud service provider is responsible for — things like patches, the physical host and network where computing and storage takes place, and the overall security of the infrastructure. 

Of course, this depends on the cloud service model(s) being used, such as IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), or SaaS (Software as a Service). Documents like the NIST SP 800-145 Cloud Computing Definition looking directly at one of AWS’s or Google’s Cloud Security model publications can help you understand where the specific line lays between CSP and users. 

The bulk of security falls to organizations using the cloud — they are responsible for preventing unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data and the overall security strategy for their specific needs. For example, what happens when there is an outage? How are cloud-based data assets encrypted? What is the alert and response procedure if something does go wrong? 

No organization will have the same cloud security policies as another — there will always be different compliance requirements and different infrastructure needs. But most companies will share the same frustrations and challenges as their IT teams work to keep user data, and data assets, safe within the cloud. 

Common Challenges for Security in the Cloud 

Where does a security in the cloud strategy fail? When do cracks appear in even the best-intentioned policy and implementation?




An incorrect setup of cloud resources can create vulnerabilities. This can happen during initial setup or through ongoing management. 

Lack of Visibility

Cloud environments can be complex and difficult to monitor when something goes wrong. 

Insider Threats

People with authorized access and malicious intent can pose significant risk to cloud security. 

Unsecured APIs

Third-party software and APIs can introduce vulnerabilities if not properly secured. 

Evolving Attack Surface

New threats and attack vectors are constantly evolving which requires ongoing vigilance. 

Data Governance

Managing and protecting sensitive data in the cloud is a time-consuming, delicate (and critical!) task. 

Multi-Cloud Complexity

Have multiple clouds? Security needs may differ across multiple cloud providers, adding complexity.  

Security Skills Shortage

Finding qualified pros to manage cloud security is a challenge across all industries. 


Meeting regulatory requirements for data security can be complex. 

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these specific threats (compliance, external threats, and access management) to better understand the risks that the cloud faces, and how you can start to mitigate those risks. 


Cloud service providers (CSP) have their own regulatory requirements to keep up — but their customers are responsible for keeping the data and information that is stored within the cloud up to date with the latest regulations and requirements. With the cloud, this becomes an issue when audit time rolls around — it can be difficult to have visibility into everything that the cloud contains. 

It doesn’t matter if the cloud customer is using IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), or SaaS (Software as a Service). Ultimately, the cloud provider has the greatest visibility over their own service and this can delay and disrupt audits unless you have a strong continuous compliance plan or alerts that can let you know when there is compliance drift. 

External Threats 

The strength of using the cloud — it can be accessed from anywhere at any time — is also its greatest vulnerability to hackers who would love to infiltrate your systems and compromise or steal your data. A larger attack surface means that the cloud is vulnerable to malware and account takeovers through poorly secured ports. When cloud assets change and scale, traditional security tactics also need to change and scale along with it. 

Security tactics have changed to meet modern security threats, which is why layered security practices are necessary. Since everything in the cloud is Software Defined Networking (SDN) where efficient network configuration directly improves monitoring and performance, tactics such as micro-segmentation become easier to implement. 

In that same way, host-based firewalls can be easily set up and maintained using configuration management tools — securely managed by an agent-based solution that creates an outbound connection versus an agentless solution that requires an inbound connection. 

Access Management 

User privileges in the cloud can turn a small problem into a much larger one as companies scale and grow. This is where the ease of accessing a cloud environment becomes a weakness — adopting a “Zero Trust” policy requires that organizations look at all users and components of a cloud environment as a potential threat. The more users who have permission add, remove, delete, or even access data, the more risk is involved. Stealing critical data like corporate secrets, PII, or credit card data as an example, can be just as disruptive as adding or deleting data. 

There are external forces that are always going to work against the cloud – outages to disparate parts of the organization, hackers who are trying to use cloud computing power to mine digital currency, audits that require visibility that the cloud does not have, and the internal threat of users who have too much access to cloud assets. 

But — there are also some strong ways to make progress with your security in the cloud strategy. It doesn’t always have to be a losing game. We’ll start with a look at how an agent-based approach can assist with your cloud strategy. 

How to Build Privacy and Data Security in the Cloud 

Security is more than just compliance — the goal is to protect sensitive data and keep your employees and customers safe. Restricted data and company information needs to stay private from the start, and your data should be secure from external and internal threats 24/7. As you approach your privacy and data security program: where do you begin? 

Choose Transparent Cloud Provider(s) 

Lay the right foundation with a cloud provider that covers your security needs and is clear about it. You’ll want a provider with a proven track record in security, with certifications like ISO 27001, HIPAA, and PCI DSS to ensure their commitment to data protection. This information should be transparent from the start: the provider should offer clear documentation on their security practices and data residency. And finally, you'll want to make sure that the contractual safeguards have you covered. Your contract with the cloud provider needs to clearly outline data ownership, security responsibilities, and breach notification procedures. 

Strategize Your Data Governance 

Once you’ve chosen your cloud provider(s), you will need to classify and better understand the sensitivity of the data you’re trying to protect, which will help you prioritize security measures for the most critical information. From there, you can employ Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to monitor data movement and prevent unauthorized access. Lastly, you’ll need to understand where your data is physically stored to comply with regulations and ensure it meets your privacy requirements. 

Enforce Zero Trust 

The first use of the term “Zero Trust” specific to cybersecurity started in 2010 by analyst Jogn Kindervag of Forrester Research — in his words, “never trust, always verify.” This philosophy is simple and powerful. In a cloud environment, you should assume that every access is a potential threat and that there is or will be a breach in progress. For some organizations, such as government organizations, Zero Trust isn’t just a “nice to have,” it’s mandatory. 

Automate Whenever Possible 

From keeping your software up to date with the latest patches to staying continuously compliant by enforcing rules that are in line with requirements — why do all the manual heavy lifting when you can automate? 

Every single user interaction is a risk within the cloud, whether malicious or unintentional because of human error. Automation reduces that risk profile by leveraging known tools that can be explicitly tested in a safe or sandbox environment to eliminate logic and human error. 

Strengthen Your Identity and Access Management (IAM) 

From multi-factor authentication to JIT (just-in-time) access that prevents users from accessing data outside a specific period when they need it, strong IAM practices can help prevent future damage. 

It’s also important to only give users or processes exactly the privilege that they need, and no more than that — which is where the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) comes in for access management. This principle includes the practice of limiting access for users, accounts, and processes necessary to perform the task they are assigned to do. (PoLP) is applicable for any industry — not just highly regulated organizations. 

Similarly, Role Based Access Controls (RBAC), segmenting resources, and even segmenting data allow for finer access control. This popular access control model is easy to understand — users are given roles with a set of permissions (“employee” or “administrator” for example), and then when they log into the system, the system checks their role and grants them the appropriate permissions. 

Real-Life Security in the Cloud Examples 

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — let’s dive further into how other companies across industries approach privacy and data security in the cloud. 

Start here with our recorded webinar, “Manage Cloud with Confidence: How WTW and AB InBev Use Puppet to Scale, Secure + Improve Efficiency,” which covers some of the challenges we mentioned earlier like handling multi-cloud infrastructures, compliance, and data governance: 

But not all cloud stories end well — cloud storage company Dropbox recently had a hacker breach via access to their production environment that led to the exposure of private customer data. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s estimated that more than 60% of the world’s corporate data is stored in the cloud — and in 2023, over 80% of data breaches involved data that was stored in the cloud. Many of these data breaches involve cloud misconfigurations like permissive cloud access and unrestricted ports. 

You can learn from companies like WTW and ABInBev to decide on the best security approach for you — look at other organizations within your industry, in a comparable size, or with similar needs to learn how they are tackling cloud security. 

Using Puppet for Security in the Cloud 

With so many pieces of cloud security that Puppet can help support — you don’t have to handle everything manually or on your own. 

In today’s market, there are many tools and services that support cloud configurations but don’t work in the cloud environment. Puppet works within server operating systems in the cloud (and across hybrid environments) to make sure that you are secure and compliant. 

Let’s start with patching as an example, one of the strongest ways to stay on top of business-critical security updates. Puppet can help automate patching and take one less worry off your IT team’s plate. Puppet can also assist with the Principle of Least Privilege and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) by orchestrating and automating tasks without providing direct access to the cloud systems. 

What about staying continuously compliant? Puppet can ensure consistency across a cloud or hybrid infrastructure environment, no matter how much your company scales or changes. You can try out with Puppet Enterprise as a starting place for free, and see just how easy it is to automate within your cloud environment to protect your most important assets: