Who is responsible for data protection in the cloud?

Encryption in the Cloud is a Ponemon Institute report sponsored by Thales.

The study considers how encryption is used to ensure sensitive or confidential data is kept safe and secure when transferred to external-based cloud service providers. 4,140 business and IT managers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, Japan and Brazil were surveyed.

Following is a summary of key findings relating to data protection, encryption and key management activities in the cloud.

  1. Currently, about half of all respondents say their organizations transfer sensitive or confidential data to the cloud environment. Within the next two years, another one-third of respondents say their organizations are very likely to transfer sensitive or confidential to the cloud. At 56%, German companies appear to have the highest rate of sensitive or confidential data transferred to the cloud.
  2. 39% of respondents believe cloud adoption has decreased their companies’ security posture. However, 44% of respondents believe the adoption of cloud services has not increased or decreased their organization’s security posture. Only 10% of respondents believe the move to the cloud has increased their organization’s security posture. With respect to country differences, results suggest that French organizations are most likely to view cloud deployment as diminishing the effectiveness of data protection efforts.
  3. 44% of respondents believe the cloud provider has primary responsibility for protecting sensitive or confidential data in the cloud environment and 30% believe it is the cloud consumer. There are also differences among countries as to who is most responsible. 67% of French companies appear to be the most likely to hold the cloud provider responsible for data protection activities. In contrast, 48% of Japanese companies hold the cloud consumer primarily responsible for data protection.
  4. Companies that currently transfer sensitive or confidential data to the cloud are much more likely to hold the cloud provider primarily responsible for data protection. In contrast, companies that do not transfer sensitive or confidential information to the cloud are more likely to hold the cloud consumer with primary responsibility for data protection.
  5. 63% of respondents say they do not know what cloud providers are doing to protect the sensitive or confidential data entrusted to them. Once again, French respondents (76%) are least likely to say they know what their cloud providers do to safeguard their organization’s information assets.
  6. In general, respondents who select the cloud provider as the most responsible party for protecting data are more confident in their cloud provider’s actual ability to do so (51%) compared to only 32% of respondents who report confidence in their own abilities to protect data even though they consider their own organization to be primarily responsible for protecting data.
  7. Where is data encryption applied? According to 38% of respondents, their organizations rely on encryption of data as it is transferred over the network (typically the internet) between the organization and the cloud. Another 35% say the organization applies persistent encryption data before it is transferred to the cloud provider. Only 27% say they rely on encryption that is applied within the cloud environment.
  8. Among the companies that encrypt data inside the cloud, nearly 74% believe the cloud provider is most responsible for protecting that data. However, only 34% of organizations that encrypt data inside their organization prior to sending it to the cloud hold the cloud provider primarily responsible for data protection.
  9. Who manages the encryption keys when sensitive or confidential data is transferred to the cloud? 36% of respondents say their organization is most responsible for managing the keys. 22% say the cloud provider is most responsible for encryption key management. Another 22% says a third party (i.e. another independent service provider) is most responsible for managing the keys. Even in cases where encryption is performed outside the cloud, more than half of respondents hand over control of the keys. With respect to country differences, German organizations appear to be the least likely to relinquish control of encryption keys to the cloud provider. Companies in Australia and Brazil appear to be the most likely to transfer control of encryption keys to the cloud provider.
  10. Companies with the characteristics that indicate a strong overall security posture appear to be more likely to transfer sensitive or confidential information to the cloud environment than companies that appear to have a weaker overall security posture. In other words, companies that understand security appear to be willing and able to take advantage of the cloud. This finding appears to be at odds with the common suggestion that more security aware organizations are the more skeptical of cloud security and that it is the less security aware organizations are willing to overlook a perceived lack of security. Here, we use the Security Effectiveness Score (SES) as an objective measure of each organization’s security posture.

Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder, Ponemon Institute, says:

“It’s a rather sobering thought that nearly half of respondents say that their organization already transfers sensitive or confidential data to the cloud even though thirty-nine percent admit that their security posture has been reduced as a result. This clearly demonstrates that for many organizations the economic benefits of using the cloud outweigh the security concerns. However, it is particularly interesting to note that it is those organizations that have a strong overall security posture that appear to be more likely to transfer this class of information to the cloud environment – possibly because they most understand how and where to use tools such as encryption to protect their data and retain control . What is perhaps most surprising is that nearly two thirds of those that move sensitive data to the cloud regard their service providers as being primarily responsible for protecting that data, even though a similar number have little or no knowledge about what measures their providers have put in place to protect data. This represents an enormous opportunity for cloud providers to articulate what they are doing to secure data in the cloud and differentiate themselves from the competition.”

Richard Moulds, vice president, strategy, Thales e-Security, says:

“Staying in control of sensitive or confidential data is paramount for most companies today. For any organization that is still weighing the advantages of using cloud computing with the potential security risks of doing so, it is important to know that encryption is one of the most valuable tools for protecting data. However, just as with any type of encryption, it only delivers meaningful value if deployed correctly and with encryption keys that are managed appropriately. Effective key management is emblematic of control and the need for centralized and automated key management integrated with existing IT business processes is a necessity. Even if you allow your data to be encrypted in the cloud, it’s important to know you can still keep control of your keys. If you control the keys, you control the data.”

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