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Detecting and Preventing Data Migrations to the Cloud

By Rich

One of the most common modern problems facing organizations is managing data migrating to the cloud. The very self-service nature that makes cloud computing so appealing also makes unapproved data transfers and leakage possible. Any employee with a credit card can subscribe to a cloud service and launch instances, deliver or consume applications, and store data on the public Internet. Many organizations report that individuals or business units have moved (often sensitive) data to cloud services without approval from, or even notification to, IT or security.

Aside from traditional data security controls such as access controls and encryption, there are two other steps to help manage unapproved data moving to cloud services:

  1. Monitor for large internal data migrations with Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) and File Activity Monitoring (FAM).
  2. Monitor for data moving to the cloud with URL filters and Data Loss Prevention.

Internal Data Migrations

Before data can move to the cloud it needs to be pulled from its existing repository. Database Activity Monitoring can detect when an administrator or other user pulls a large data set or replicates a database.

File Activity Monitoring provides similar protection for file repositories such as file shares.

These tools can provide early warning of large data movements. Even if the data never leaves your internal environment, this is the kind of activity that shouldn’t occur without approval.

These tools can also be deployed within the cloud (public and/or private, depending on architecture), and so can also help with inter-cloud migrations.

Movement to the Cloud

While DAM and FAM indicate internal movement of data, a combination of URL filtering (web content security gateways) and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) can detect data moving from the enterprise into the cloud.

URL filtering allows you to monitor (and prevent) users connecting to cloud services. The administrative interfaces for these services typically use different addresses than the consumer side, so you can distinguish between someone accessing an admin console to spin up a new cloud-based application and a user accessing an application already hosted with the provider.

Look for a tool that offers a list of cloud services and keeps it up to date, as opposed to one where you need to create a custom category and manage the destination addresses yourself. Also look for a tool that distinguishes between different users and groups so you can allow access for different employee populations.

For more granularity, use Data Loss Prevention. DLP tools look at the actual data/content being transmitted, not just the destination. They can generate alerts (or block) based on the classification of the data. For example, you might allow corporate private data to go to an approved cloud service, but block the same content from migrating to an unapproved service. Similar to URL filtering, you should look for a tool that is aware of the destination address and comes with pre-built categories. Since all DLP tools are aware of users and groups, that should come by default.

This combination isn’t perfect, and there are plenty of scenarios where they might miss activity, but that is a whole lot better than completely ignoring the problem. Unless someone is deliberately trying to circumvent security, these steps should capture most unapproved data migrations.

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