Cloud Security 101

With Microsoft, Amazon and Google currently enticing businesses and consumers into cloud services with promises of resiliency, scalability and simplified administration, many companies are quite rightly moving services and data into the cloud in some way or other.

Before making such a leap however, questions must be asked about data security and compliance. Cloud services must be scrutinised in order to ensure that data geo location and security practices meet compliance requirements for the customer and their clients. After all, you are trusting these providers with your essential business data, and in some cases your intellectual property.

Edward Snowdens leaks regarding NSA/GHCQ snooping, along with the leakage of personally identifiable information from services at Sony, eBay and the like has left many people suspicious and wary of who exactly can get to your information. This blog post is here to show you a sample of the security features used to protect your data in Office 365 and Azure, and some of the ways your data is protected in transit.

Office 365 Security

The Office 365 service provides many layers of security. Microsoft want to be seen as a safe pair of hands to help drive adoption and for this reason they have the interests of security and privacy at the very top of their lists of priorities.

The data in all Office 365 services is encrypted at rest using BitLocker and in addition to this, as of November 2014, all Office 365 data is encrypted again on a per file basis. This means that each individual file is encrypted using different keys, which are stored in an alternate location to the master key.

All Administrative actions taken on Office 365, either by the tenant administrators or the service administrators, are audited and fully transparent. As an Office 365 customer, you can view and export a list of Powershell commands run by Microsoft Support or your own administrators. Microsoft support technicians are given administrative access when required based on the least privilege model, and this access is time limited by default.

Data theft from inside or outside of the service is a serious concern to Microsoft and the Office 365 team work on the assumption that a compromise has already been made. A Red team exists whose sole job is to attempt to compromise the systems protecting customer data. They do this by attempting to gain access to test data, and a Blue team works in parallel to identify the Red team and counteract this threat. This is the equivalent of having your IT systems constantly penetration tested, which is more than most companies can say for their own IT systems!

Compliance in Office 365 is a hot topic and is critical to getting governmental departments, and health and financial companies on board. Office 365 are compliant with many of the standards required in these sectors, such as ISO 27001, FISMA, and HIPAA.

All of these security features help to make Office 365 a platform which is likely to be far more secure and compliant than your own On Premise environment. Microsofts transparency on security and privacy are also far superior to any of their rivals, giving you the peace of mind needed to begin your move to the cloud.

Much more information can be found at the Office 365 Trust Center – http://trust.office365.com.

Azure & Microsoft Datacentre Security

The Microsoft Azure IaaS environment should be considered by customers as an extension of their Datacentre. Microsoft are staunch supporters of the concept that the data you place in cloud services is your data, not theirs. Encryption is in place across all servers, and nobody with physical access in the Datacentre has knowledge of which customer’s data is in which rack or server.

Direct access to the Azure Hypervisors is unavailable to customers and network isolation is used to separate traffic between tenants. There are also various methods customers can use to increase the privacy of their Azure traffic, such as using Azure Private Virtual Networks and Azure ExpressRoute, which creates a direct connection to Azure, keeping your inter-site traffic off the Internet.

The physical environment is highly secured and access is extremely limited by using separation of duties and roles to make sure that no one person has too much knowledge of the systems. Failure to abide by the Microsoft Datacentre security policies means instant dismissal for the employee. In addition to this, personally identifiable information is stored separately to non-personally identifiable information.

All access to customer data is blocked by default, using a zero privileges policy. If this is allowed, it is time limited and fully audited. In addition to this, staff members who receive this access to customer data will not have physical datacentre access. These same physical and data based access controls are also in place for the Office 365 and all other Microsoft Online services.

From a compliance point of view, you can rest assured that Azure complies with the majority of major standards across the world. These compliance standards are not easy to achieve by any standards, but Microsoft remain committed to keeping their compliance up to date and as broad as possible. Some of the specific compliance standards which are verified for the Azure Service are:

  • ISO/IEC 27001
  • SOC 1 and SOC 2 SSAE 16/ISAE 3402
  • UK G-Cloud
  • HIPAA BAA
  • EU Model Clauses
  • Singapore MCTS
  • FedRAMP
  • PCI DSS
  • Australia IRAP

Much more information can be found at the Azure Trust Center – http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/support/trust-center/.

Convincing your boss, management boards and other business trustees that a move to the cloud is a secure one is a tough job, but Microsofts commitment to privacy, security and transparency makes it much easier to put together a viable business case which can help you reap the rewards of scalability, resiliency and compliance.

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