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Risks and Best Practices for Secure Cloud Migration

Moving to the Cloud: Risks and Best Practices for Secure Migration Cloud computing adoption continues to grow rapidly, with many organizations migrating data and applications […]

Moving to the Cloud: Risks and Best Practices for Secure Migration

Cloud computing adoption continues to grow rapidly, with many organizations migrating data and applications to the cloud. However, this cloud migration also comes with risks that must be addressed. This article explores the key risks of moving to the cloud and provides best practices for secure migration.

Risks and Best Practices for Secure Cloud Migration

Risks and Best Practices for Secure Cloud Migration

Understanding Cloud Computing Models

Before examining risks, it helps to review the main cloud computing models identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Customers use the provider's cloud-based applications. The provider manages infrastructure and platforms. SaaS delivers software applications over the internet, providing access from various client devices using a thin client interface such as a web browser. With SaaS, customers do not manage underlying cloud infrastructure and platforms, which simplifies maintenance and support. Examples of SaaS include Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspace productivity apps, Salesforce CRM, and Dropbox file hosting.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Customers deploy applications on the provider's platform. The provider manages the underlying infrastructure. PaaS provides an environment for building, testing, and deploying applications using programming languages, tools, and services supplied by the provider. Customers have control over deployed applications, but not the supporting infrastructure. Examples of PaaS include AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine, and Heroku.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Customers control operating systems, storage, and apps while the provider manages physical infrastructure. With IaaS, customers rent IT infrastructure components such as servers, networking, and storage over the internet. Customers have flexibility in configuring these resources while not managing data center infrastructure. Examples include Amazon EC2 virtual servers, Azure Virtual Machines, Google Compute Engine, and Rackspace.

NIST also identifies four main cloud deployment models:

Deployment Model Description
Private cloud Cloud infrastructure provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization. Private clouds offer the flexibility and scalability benefits of the cloud within an organization's own data center and network. They provide tighter control over resources and data while still leveraging cloud architecture. Private clouds require dedicated investment in virtualized infrastructure.
Community cloud Infrastructure shared by several organizations with common concerns like security, compliance, jurisdiction, etc. Community clouds enable organizations with shared requirements to realize the benefits of cloud computing through a pooled community infrastructure. Maintenance and evolution of the infrastructure are shared.
Public cloud Services offered over a public network, open for public use. Public cloud providers deliver shared computing resources and services to customers over the open internet. Customers use infrastructure that is not dedicated solely to them. Public clouds offer maximum efficiency and flexibility.
Hybrid cloud Composition of two or more cloud infrastructures. Hybrid clouds combine private and public cloud infrastructures. Organizations may run sensitive applications and data in a private cloud while using a public cloud for secondary operations. This provides greater flexibility and enables data and app portability.

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Key Risks of Migrating to the Cloud

While the cloud provides many potential benefits like flexibility, scalability, and efficiency, organizations must also carefully evaluate risks before cloud migration:

  • Reduced visibility and control: In the cloud, organizations lose full visibility and control over their assets. Physical infrastructure, networks, and data centers are managed and monitored by the cloud provider. Security and compliance shifts from internal IT teams to vendors.
  • Unauthorized use and provisioning: The self-service, on-demand nature of the cloud enables unauthorized shadow IT and cloud adoption without IT knowledge or approval. Employees may provision unauthorized cloud servers, services, apps, and storage, creating security gaps.
  • Vulnerable interfaces and APIs: Public cloud APIs used for provisioning, managing, orchestrating, and accessing cloud services can be attacked to breach applications and data. Cloud account hijacking is a key threat.
  • Shared technology risks: Multi-tenant cloud environments introduce risks of failures in tenant isolation, as well as exploits by tenants targeting one another. Customers share underlying hardware, networks, storage systems, and software.
  • Incomplete data deletion: When offboarding the cloud, organizations may be unable to verify the complete and irreversible deletion of sensitive data fully. Data may continue to reside in the cloud after termination of services.
  • Insufficient identity, credential, and access management: Cloud providers must enforce robust access controls through proper user provisioning, the least privilege permissions, and authentication. Lax controls result in insider threats, unauthorized access, and account compromise.
  • Vendor lock-in: High cloud migration costs due to proprietary APIs, incompatible platforms, and complex integrations may result in vendor lock-in. Lack of standards hampers portability across cloud providers.
  • Supply chain risks: Cloud providers rely on large networks of service providers, hardware vendors, carriers, and other third parties which may not meet expected security requirements, posing risks.

The shared responsibility model also presents risks. In the cloud, providers secure the underlying infrastructure while customers must secure their data, apps, identities, and cloud configurations. Misunderstanding shared responsibility leads to security gaps.

Furthermore, migrating legacy applications not designed for cloud environments brings risks. These apps often struggle to harness cloud scalability and availability. They may contain hard-coded dependencies, making cloud migration challenging.

Best Practices for Secure Cloud Migration

Organizations can take proactive steps to mitigate risks and securely migrate to the cloud:

  1. Perform thorough due diligence on providers' security architecture, procedures, certifications, and contractual terms. Assess transparency and capabilities.
  2. Implement strong access controls through multifactor authentication, single sign-on, and role-based access permissions. Enforce the least privilege and separation of duties.
  3. Encrypt sensitive data before uploading to the cloud using robust algorithms. Carefully manage encryption keys.
  4. Validate that providers have proper data deletion procedures for secure destruction upon contract termination.
  5. Deploy cloud security tools like cloud access security brokers (CASBs), cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs), and cloud security posture management (CSPM).
  6. Maintain redundant backups of critical data outside the cloud across different regions/availability zones. Test backup recovery.
  7. Architect apps and infrastructure for interoperability and portability across providers using standards and containerization.
  8. Implement strong identity and access controls through single sign-on (SSO) and multifactor authentication (MFA).
  9. Provide comprehensive cloud security training for employees to prevent errors and risks.
  10. Plan for proper cloud governance, risk management, compliance processes, and business continuity.


Migrating to the cloud comes with substantial risks around visibility, control, data security, vulnerabilities, access, and lock-in. Organizations must evaluate and address these risks through security best practices around encryption, backups, identity management, training, governance, and interoperability. 

This allows organizations to harness the benefits of efficiency, agility, and innovation that the cloud provides while proactively protecting critical assets. A well-planned cloud migration and cloud management strategy is key to realizing the promise of cloud computing while minimizing its risks.


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