Overcoming multi-cloud security challenges

Here are five best practices for keeping things safe when you have applications and data spread across multiple clouds

Over the past decade, technology that supports e-learning environments in higher education settings has evolved rapidly. This has enabled a number of benefits for education, such as more efficient teaching and sharing of information, personalized lessons to let students progress at their own pace, and great cost savings. To bring cloud-based technologies into higher education, students are accessing these tools from their laptops or mobile devices.

Meanwhile, administrative offices have seen rapid growth of cloud-based support technologies such as enrollment, recruiting, and financial-management systems. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps are being used primarily for collaboration, content delivery, communication, and accessing learning materials. The economic advantages, speed, agility, flexibility and elasticity are the main reasons higher education is increasingly adopting SaaS.

Colleges and universities are turning to public clouds for flexibility and cost savings. Higher-ed IT managers need to store—and share—vast quantities of data. As analytics and big data technologies facilitate ever-more-complex analyses, the volume of student information and research data in higher ed continues to skyrocket. IT managers are increasingly choosing to augment on-premises data centers with highly scalable public cloud storage. These solutions offer faster deployment and are more efficient and cost-effective.

Security challenges of multi-cloud environments
We’ve discussed the advantages of using SaaS and IaaS technologies, but security remains a significant challenge. Adding cloud applications and environments to your network expands the attack surface and introduces gaps in security. With the median number of SaaS apps in education at 59 and IaaS apps at 40, there are quite a lot of attack vectors to keep track of.

The top security challenges facing educational institutions running multiple clouds include:

  • Poor visibility: Each cloud vendor approaches security in a different way, making consistent policy and meaningful visibility very difficult.
  • No integration or coordination: Security measures are often piecemeal and isolated.
  • Reactive security: In this era of zero-day threats and shrinking intrusion-to-breach windows, schools can’t afford to be reactive in their security approach.

IT teams that lack integration of security products are going to have difficulty understanding whether they’re adequately protecting students and data. In addition, compiling information from different systems to create an overall compliance report is very time-consuming.

How to keep your college safe
With applications and data spread across multiple clouds, how can you keep your school safe? Here are five best practices.

1. Control network access. Due to the high volume of users entering and exiting a school’s network, it is crucial to identify who have access and to which resources. For effective cybersecurity, use solutions that can easily identify users and then dynamically assign access to network segments accordingly.

2. Centralize your control. You likely have many point solutions to address multiple attack vectors. However, because each of these point solutions provides different intelligence and varying degrees of data visibility, relying on information from each of these siloed tools can be burdensome on resources.

Your IT teams would benefit from a centralized single-pane-of-glass visibility into data movement across the network to effectively manage network security controls. This would also offer a simplified view of security alerts across disparate security devices. This is integral, as IT teams do not usually have the staff needed to cross-correlate this data and monitor each solution themselves.

3. Consolidate your endpoints. With more applications, technologies, and IoT devices being added to the network, each independent endpoint becomes a potential entryway into the network. When you consolidate these potential entryways by tying them together through a single, integrated network security framework, you drastically reduce your potential attack surface and simplify your cybersecurity efforts while more efficiently coordinating them across the network.

4. Get threat intelligence. Cyber attacks can be disseminated through a multitude of attack vectors such as emails, web applications, or malicious links and attachments. Ransomware is a big threat in the education space, but universities are also regularly targeted with phishing attacks and DDoS attacks using botnets to achieve their means. Schools are also targeted by zero-day vulnerabilities, or flaws in their hardware and software, that are difficult to detect until it is too late and a breach has occurred. To mitigate each of these types of attacks, deploy both global and local threat intelligence to update your security infrastructure.

5. Choose automation. The right technology is critical, but so are the people who oversee it. In addition to IT infrastructure and security solutions, hire IT teams that can deploy each piece of technology and ensure it runs effectively. Building out this infrastructure and team on a limited budget is a challenge, especially given the cybersecurity skills gap employers are facing. As a result, IT teams with limited resources often put an emphasis on functionality while neglecting security. In today’s threat landscape, security cannot be an afterthought.

Because IT resources are limited, deploy integrated and automated security infrastructure that allows rapid response to each incident, without having to wait for data to be collated and addressed by a busy team member. Additionally, these capabilities result in decreased cybersecurity costs, as integrated solutions are more cost-effective than disparate point solutions or employing a large enough IT team to manage the network manually.

When architected properly, network security enables digital transformation and e-learning, letting your institution reap the benefits of exciting new technologies.

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