Cloud Security Auditing: Challenges & Requirements

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With the rise of multiple small, medium, and large scale cloud storage service providers, cloud security has become a concern among the customers of these organizations. Of course, whenever a user hands over data to these companies, they want it to be in safe hands. The popularity of cloud storage services boomed in 2005-2006, when several cloud services popped up. Initially, the services were used with the assumption that they kept the data safe. But, with several breaches reported by the media, this put a very valid concern into the minds of the people utilizing these services, especially among some of the strongest clients that these service providers have. This lead to a need for proper auditing of the operations of these vendors.


With new clients adopt cloud storage services in the operations of their business, there are new challenges that should be addressed by IT auditors.  Below are a few examples.

Banking Sector Clients need a perfect security strategy, as any sort of data theft can lead to detrimental results for a bank’s own clients and reputation. Thus, auditing of any cloud service provider that has a bank as its client needs to look into multiple aspects of cloud security from any kind of onsite data, from theft by the employees of the service provider to cyber-attacks which intend to gather bank information such as card details, personal information, etc.

Government Institutions have a lot of personal data such as addresses, tax and income details, contact details and other information. If this data is not adequately protected it may lead to all kinds of problems for both the people and the government of a particular region.

Medical Institutions also possess data that is of private nature. Medical records and insurance details of regular and emergency patients require good security measures on the part of the service providers. There is a need for new approaches to protect customer data, especially because the security measures employed by cloud service providers are shrouded in mystery.

The Auditing Requirements

The first condition for proper auditing of cloud storage services is the independence of the audit firm. External audits are a better representation of transparency to a company’s clients compared to internal audits. Furthermore, the audit firm should specialize in dealing with cases of cloud security and should be well acquainted with the basic and complex data security measures that any cloud storage vendor has to take in order to adequately protect consumer data. The measures must meet the legal requirements of the client-vendor relationship and those measures can ensure success against any sort of threats to data.

However, there is one thing that should be kept in mind. With new innovations in the world of cloud computing, IT security firms have to adopt the emerging approaches in their audit strategy in order to ensure that sensitive corporate and personal data does not get into the hands of hackers, rogue employees or anyone else not authorized to view the data. Making sure the audit meets all current requirements is crucial if vendors want to retain or attract clients, especially corporate clients who prove to be very profitable for cloud hosting companies.

Approaches for Auditing Cloud Storage Services

Now that we know the importance of auditing cloud storage vendors, a question arises about the responsibility of who should conduct the audit. It is probable that any audit by the vendor or the client would result in a biased dishonest result. Therefore, the desirable option is a third party storage audit service which has experience, capabilities, and expertise to do the job efficiently. The following aspects and approaches to cloud security must be considered.

Transparency. This requires agreements between the cloud service provider and client such that the agreement highlights the service provider’s policy on data security. Service providers should also make audit results available to clients.

Encryption. Traditionally, the data owner has control over encryption, but there are chances that the service providers might have the ability to decrypt user data. A possible solution to this is to use a homomorphic and third-party encryption service.

Colocation. Although rare, this challenge can be addressed by standardizing and increasing oversight.

Size and Complexity. This problem arises because of the sheer number of virtual and physical hosts that need to be audited. Until and unless there is a proper oversight mechanism, the process of auditing may become rough, lengthy and time-consuming.

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