Organizations using cloud technology to support operations must follow good security practices. Establishing cloud security policies is key to achieving this.
In short, a cloud security policy is a formal guideline companies adhere to that helps ensure safe and secure operations in the cloud. It's important to note that cloud technology can be used in multiple arrangements. These include private clouds, used only by the company; public clouds, available to any organization; and hybrid clouds, a combination of private and public cloud resources. Each of these scenarios must be accounted for when considering security policies.
This article provides a useful starting point for preparing a cloud security policy. Also included is a ready-to-use template to help you prepare a cloud security policy for your organization.
Why is cloud security policy important?
Most IT department policies and procedures complement each other. They define what is to be provided -- e.g., a cloud security policy -- and how policy compliance is achieved -- e.g., cloud security procedures.
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Without policies, companies may be at risk of security breaches, financial losses and other security consequences. Absence of relevant policies can be cited during IT audit activities and, in some cases, may result in noncompliance fines or other penalties.
In addition, customers may want assurances that their data will be protected from malware and other cyber attacks. Making the cloud security policy -- or an abbreviated version highlighting key elements of it -- available for customer review can often alleviate fears of data damage or theft and improve brand reputation.
Cloud security policies are often written around topics such as the following:
- acceptable employee cloud use
- data allowed in the cloud
- incident response procedures
- cloud access control
- cloud regulatory compliance
Steps to create a cloud security policy
To begin, there are five cost-effective options for creating a cloud security policy:
- Adapt existing information security policies for cloud. These can use the existing policy structure and incorporate relevant components that address infosec.
- Add cloud elements into an existing infosec policy.
- Research the internet for examples of policies, and adapt them to your organization's needs.
- Evaluate and select software from a variety of vendors that can help you produce policies quickly.
- Use the cloud security policy template included in this article.
When preparing a cloud security policy, ensure the following steps are adhered to, as a minimum:
- Identify the business purpose for having cloud security and, therefore, a cloud security policy and associated procedures.
- Secure senior management approval to develop the policy.
- Establish a project plan to develop and approve the policy.
- Convene a team to develop the draft policy.
- Schedule management briefings during the writing cycle to ensure relevant issues are addressed.
- Invite legal and HR teams to review and comment.
- Invite internal and/or IT audit review and comments.
- Invite risk management department review and comments.
- Distribute the draft for final review and comments prior to submitting it for management approval.
- Secure management approval, and disseminate the policy to employees.
- Establish a review and change process for the policy using change management procedures.
- Schedule and prepare for annual audits of the policy.
Cloud security policy templateThis cloud security policy template provides suggested wording for the policy and identifies areas to be completed by the policy author(s). The template can be modified in any way your policy development team sees fit.
Components of a cloud security policy
Policies for cloud security can be simple. A few paragraphs may suffice to describe relevant cloud activities without going into a lot of specifics. More details can and should be included as needed, but most IT departments will want to keep policies concise while addressing the important issues.
The following is an outline of the necessary components of a cloud security policy:
- Introduction. State the fundamental reasons for having a cloud security policy.
- Purpose and scope. Provide details on the cloud policy's purpose and scope.
- Statement of policy. State the cloud security policy in clear terms.
- Policy leadership. State who is responsible for approving and implementing the policy, as well as levying penalties for noncompliance.
- Verification of policy compliance. State what is needed, such as assessments, exercises or penetration tests, to verify cloud security activities comply with policies.
- Penalties for noncompliance. State penalties -- for example, verbal reprimand and note in personnel file for internal incidents or fines and legal action for external activities -- for failure to comply with policies and service-level agreements (SLAs) if they are part of the policy.
- Appendixes (as needed). Provide additional reference information, such as lists of contacts, SLAs or additional details on specific cloud security policy statements.