October 2, 2023 by Jeanine Baisi

Transitioning to the Cloud: Benefits Outweigh Challenges

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Industries: 9-1-1 & Law Enforcement Fire & EMS

Topics: Cybersecurity

With Cybersecurity Awareness Month in full swing, Motorola Solutions is here to provide you with best practices and expert insights to help you fortify your defenses against online threats. In this blog, we tackle the topic of migration to the cloud, potential threats and how to reduce their risk, and why the benefits outweigh the challenges for public safety.

Cloud Usage Soars 

In recent years, one trend has stood out in cybersecurity: the surging use of cloud-based applications and services by individuals and organizations. Just when we thought cloud computing couldn’t get any more popular, the global pandemic of 2020 came along and catapulted its adoption to new heights. As the world became more decentralized and remote work became the new norm, cloud-based collaboration and data-sharing platforms experienced an unprecedented surge in usage.  

Despite this popularity, though, it can feel daunting for public safety agencies responsible for mission-critical systems to rely on “the cloud” — whether that’s the public cloud, a private cloud or hybrid cloud. Concerns about trust and losing connectivity are top of mind. But what if agencies could find solutions to these concerns?

What if first responders could benefit by using cloud platforms? What if the standards and frameworks used ensured a resilient, consistent and secure solution without losing any reliability or performance? If this was possible, could it lessen the worries many public safety agencies have about transitioning to the cloud?

The good news is that there are solutions, standards and frameworks that can ensure trust and reliability when transitioning your system to the cloud. Let’s take a look at how a well-thought-out cloud migration strategy can give you peace of mind and help answer these questions and more.

How Can Moving to the Cloud Help First Responders?

First, let’s discuss what the cloud actually is. The cloud refers to a remote-hosted data center of servers operated by your organization or a third party that allows for data to be accessed and stored without the need for investing in onsite hardware. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Cloud hosting platforms often provide additional security measures beyond those typically found in on-prem solutions, along with 24/7 availability and redundancy. This helps minimize downtime and decrease response times for first responders, who can continuously stay connected to mission-critical systems and get instant updates. This allows them to react faster to real-time field information and documentation to identify trouble spots. 

What Are Some Threats to the Cloud?

While the cloud has many benefits, there are still threats to protect against, including:

Cloud Misconfigurations: Employees can unwittingly open doors to threat actors by setting up cloud accounts incorrectly. This might include using default passwords, creating weak access restrictions, incorrectly managing permissions, not encrypting data, creating ad-hoc changes and generally lacking awareness of security best practices. 

Data Leaks and Breaches: It’s not just malicious hackers you need to consider. Authorized users with access to cloud accounts and platforms can sell or ransom sensitive data for financial reasons or to harm an organization’s reputation. They can also unintentionally cause leaks and breaches if they’re careless, untrained or lack security awareness.

Unauthorized Access Management: People with access to cloud accounts are often assigned very broad permissions. This can allow them to get to systems or parts of systems that they shouldn’t be able to access.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks: Threat actors often use this relatively unsophisticated but popular tactic to block access to legitimate users by flooding virtual servers with malicious connection requests and saturating the bandwidth.

Application Interface (API): While APIs that allow you to connect to a myriad of other platforms to simplify data exchange are one of the most useful aspects of the cloud, they can allow threat actors to exploit private information and trigger data breaches if they’re not secured properly.

Protecting from Potential Cloud Threats

Protecting data in the cloud is a shared responsibility between users and platform providers. The most effective way to protect against cloud-related threats is for system administrators and users to implement and use built-in and add-on security protections and best practices. Cloud users can follow the standards and frameworks defined by the following industry organizations:

Along with the frameworks and best practices outlined by these organizations, you can also use the recommended guidance for cloud security. This has been designed to protect and secure a cloud environment and consists of the following: 

Identify and Access Management: One of the most important steps security practitioners can take is to control who has access to different cloud applications and infrastructure accounts and what they can do once they have access. The cybersecurity team should manage identities, roles and permissions while also ensuring that strong authentication is in place and least privilege is enforced. Managed security services can also help in this regard by providing continuous monitoring and alerts for any unauthorized or suspicious access. 

Data Security: In addition to implementing security personnel, implementing strong access controls, ensuring data at rest and data in transit encryption and implementing data classification policies.

Network Security: Another critical aspect that can’t be overlooked is network security to protect any systems that connect to the cloud solution. By implementing robust firewall configurations, intrusion detection and prevention systems, network segmentation, VPNs, and continuous monitoring of logging activities and system traffic, you can reduce the risk much more effectively.

Application Security and Governance: You should also introduce and enforce secure coding practices through the Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SSDLC), including:

  • Auditing the system for vulnerabilities through pen-testing and scanning 
  • Implementing web application firewalls (WAFs)
  • Staying on top of patching and updates
  • Continuously monitoring logs and activities

Compliance: Ensure that your organization is compliant with and adheres to all regulations, standards, governance and frameworks, policies, procedures and controls put in place by the government and other regulatory bodies.

The Advantages Outweigh the Challenges

Cloud services and platforms have many advantages for agencies and organizations, including: 

  • Reliability by automatic redundant resources being transparent during a system fault
  • Compliance is addressed by following policies and standards, which can minimize security risks
  • The system and its tools are available to users at any time
  • Flexibility of the infrastructure provides support for peak load levels while maintaining the ability to be scaled down
  • Data loss can be prevented more easily in the cloud with regular backups, encryption, access controls and disaster recovery plans

Summary

Security risks remain one of the biggest concerns when considering a move to the cloud. However, the benefits generally outweigh them. A pragmatic and security-focused approach that includes implementing the solutions presented in this blog can help to mitigate these risks. Along with the best practices outlined by many industry organizations, you can use frameworks designed to protect and secure a cloud environment. We also recommend creating a cyber incident response plan that includes details on how your organization will handle any cloud security incidents. You can test your cyber plan through cybersecurity exercises.

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