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Tips and tricks for securing data when migrating to the cloud

Cloud computing security.
Image: estherpoon/Adobe Stock

More and more organizations are moving mission-critical systems and data to the cloud. While migration to and between all types of cloud services poses security challenges, migration to and between public cloud services presents the greatest security challenge, with potentially dire consequences.

SEE: Data migration testing checklist: Through pre- and post-migration (TechRepublic Premium)

In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most common security threats companies face during cloud migration as well as best practices you can follow to combat these threats.

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Is data in cloud migration secure?

According to the Flexera State of the Cloud Report 2022, public cloud adoption continues to accelerate, with half of all study respondents’ workloads and data residing in a public cloud. As a consequence of this growth, there are also growing concerns about data security during cloud migration.

Some of these security concerns include the following.

API vulnerabilities

The application programming interfaces used to connect cloud applications, data and infrastructure can be a major source of vulnerability for cloud data security. APIs may have weak authentication and authorization controls, a lack of sandbox protection, and excessive privileges. Organizations should carefully assess these vulnerabilities when migrating data to the cloud.

Security blind spots

Cloud data can also be at risk because of security blind spots in the cloud infrastructure. Issues such as using software-as-a-service applications for sensitive data and creating shadow IT networks are common in some cloud environments. Organizations should be aware of these potential vulnerabilities when migrating to the cloud and take steps to mitigate them.

Compliance requirements

Many organizations must comply with regulatory requirements when migrating data to the cloud. Security compliance requirements can be a significant challenge for organizations, especially if the cloud provider does not meet these requirements.

Data loss

Finally, migrating data to the cloud can increase the risk of data loss. This is especially true if the cloud provider does not have robust controls in place to protect and recover data in the event of a security incident.

Tips for securing data in cloud migrations

While there are many potential security problems that can arise during a cloud migration, there are also several steps your team can take to better protect your applications and data. We recommend the following seven tips to protect your organization’s data during cloud migrations.

Understand your data

Companies preparing for a cloud migration need to make sure they have an accurate understanding of their data and its requirements. That means migration teams must be aware of their data’s present and future usage as well as storage and retention policies established by the company’s data governance framework.

Various cloud management tools are available to assist with some of these data understanding and optimization tasks, including data deduplication software. Securing cloud data starts with understanding what it contains and how it will eventually be used and/or disposed of.

Understand your data compliance requirements

In addition to understanding the data itself, organizations need to be aware of any compliance requirements that apply to their datasets during cloud migrations.

SEE: GDPR security pack: Policies to protect data and achieve compliance (TechRepublic Premium)

For example, many enterprises are subject to regulatory frameworks such as GDPR, PCI-DSS and HIPAA, which include strict requirements for the stripping of personally identifiable information before data migration.

Organizations must ensure cloud infrastructure providers meet compliance requirements or implement additional controls where needed.

Secure your APIs

When migrating data to the cloud, securing the various APIs that control access to and between cloud applications and infrastructure is essential. For enhanced API security, you can start by using strong authentication and authorization controls, protecting APIs from malicious or automated attacks, and eliminating excessive user access privileges.

Encrypt your data during transit

Transmitting data in cloud migrations can create additional security vulnerabilities. One effective way to protect sensitive information is using end-to-end encryption.

This process is usually done using an encryption protocol like Transport Layer Security, which adds an additional layer of security by encrypting all data before it leaves the source system and decrypting it after it arrives in the destination system. Various encryption algorithms are available to choose from depending on the amount of protection you need, but most use modern industry standards like AES or RSA.

SEE: Hiring kit: Cryptographer (TechRepublic Premium)

Companies should also be sure to securely store any encryption keys and credentials necessary for access and make regular backups in case of data loss. Utilizing a cloud provider that offers built-in encryption services can simplify this process. However, companies should still conduct their due diligence to ensure they have the proper tools and security measures before initiating the migration.

Restrict data access during cloud migration

Restricting access to data during cloud migration is a crucial step for businesses seeking to transfer their information securely. You should take multiple steps to ensure only intended users can access the data as necessary. These steps include:

  • Implementing and enforcing user-level authentication and authorization rules
  • Setting up robust two-factor authentication processes
  • Using built-in security policies from the cloud provider
  • Enabling encryption of all data before the transfer
  • Auditing who has access regularly over the migration period
  • Completing periodic vulnerability scans on systems with sensitive information during the migration
  • Deleting any credentials or access keys associated with terminated employees

Consider a phased migration strategy

It’s never a good idea to migrate data in one go, especially when dealing with large volumes of sensitive information. A phased migration strategy can help avoid data loss or other security issues and allows organizations to establish processes that prevent unauthorized access while data is in transit.

Additionally, it’s typically easier to implement security measures at a small scale and then expand them as needed over time, which allows companies to proactively identify and address potential risks before they become a bigger problem.

Implement decommissioning and sanitization activities

Decommissioning refers to examining all of your devices, drives and servers that remain in your data center. Have a checklist that documents all of that hardware, so you can be sure to remove everything from your current cloud or on-premises storage servers.

SEE: Checklist: Building and decommissioning data centers (TechRepublic Premium)

You should also ensure any data stored in off-site locations is securely deleted. Additionally, it can be helpful to conduct a security audit of your cloud infrastructure provider to make sure they have robust security measures in place to protect and monitor their systems.

How can you prevent data loss during cloud migration?

There are several measures businesses can take to help prevent data loss during cloud migrations, including:

  • Utilizing robust encryption and authentication tools for data in transit
  • Restricting access to sensitive data during migration and auditing who has access regularly
  • Backing up critical data in a system that is not central to your migration plan
  • Utilizing a phased migration approach that allows for gradual and controlled transitions
  • Implementing security measures like decommissioning, which involves removing and sanitizing all devices, drives and servers from the source system
  • Working with a cloud provider with built-in security measures and protocols to ensure data is protected throughout the migration process

By taking proactive steps to secure data during cloud migrations and carefully planning the migration process to adhere to regulatory requirements, businesses can ensure their most critical assets are not lost or compromised during the process.

Read next: Top cloud and application migration tools (TechRepublic)



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