Fail-Safe Security: Protecting Data From Cloud and Third-Party Risks With Encryption

Fail-safe is not just a term that evokes the Cold War era — it is a basic principle of safety and security engineering. Things will inevitably go wrong, and when they do, these safeguards all the difference in how they go wrong and with what consequences. While passengers would be inconvenienced if a railroad signal system malfunctioned and trains came to a halt, there is no real, lasting harm done as long as there are no train wrecks.

This is a classic example of fail-safe behavior, but the principle applies just as strongly to cloud and third-party risks. Unfortunately, many organizations are failing to take protective measures to keep their data safe in the cloud and in the hands of third parties.

Minimizing Cloud and Third-Party Risks

According to Infosec Island, the need for fail-safe protective measures exists even in the absence of deliberate attacks. In one recent instance, a telecommunications company shared customer data with an analytics firm, and a cloud service “bucket configuration” error caused the unprotected customer data to go live on the open internet.

This was a case of innocent error, but that doesn’t change the potential damage done. In real life, organizations must contend not only with human mistakes, but also with malicious acts ranging from sophisticated malware attacks to phishing emails and other social engineering attacks targeting employees.

Preventing Data Security Train Wrecks With Encryption

The good news is that fail-safe protections are available to minimize cloud and third-party risks — they just need to be used. Broadly speaking, valuable or sensitive data can be either destroyed or stolen. The basic protection against data loss is secure off-site backup.

But the greater current threat seems to be data theft, for which the basic fail-safe protection is encryption. Encrypted data can still be stolen, but it is useless to the thieves. The theft is also harmless to the victim organization, since encrypted data cannot be exposed or compromised. Even the likelihood of theft is diminished, because once data thieves run into encryption, they lose interest and go looking for more vulnerable victims. As media headlines show, they don’t have to look very far.

A Fail-Safe Layer of Security

The bad news is that too many organizations fail to use encryption to protect their data. There are the usual excuses about complexity, overhead and the problems of key management. There is also a widespread perception that encryption is suitable only for data at rest, not for application data. But encryption technology has made great strides, allowing data to be protected at the application level with granularity extending to the columnar level.

The cloud and complex third-party relationships are here to stay, and organizations are still responsible for securing their data. Encryption can provide a powerful fail-safe layer of security to ensure that your data is protected even when it is out of your hands.

Read the white paper: Guard your organization’s data with intelligent IBM encryption

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Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in the interplay of tech-driven factors and business considerations - think of the relationship between virtualization and cloud computing. Rick also blogs at Rocketpunk Manifesto on outer space, possible futures, speculative technology, and speculative literature. He has also had print articles published on aviation and military history.