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Navigating the evolving landscape: Key dimensions of cloud compliance and regulations in 2024

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By Sandeep Agrawal, Director and Co-founder, Teamlease Regtech

The rapid adoption of cloud computing and cloud infrastructure has opened up a host of new opportunities and advantages for businesses. However, it has also reinforced the need for robust cybersecurity measures to combat the escalating threats of data breaches and cybercrimes. Today, data is the new oil, and the significance of protecting sensitive information cannot be understated. Armed with increasingly sophisticated techniques, threat actors are actively targeting the vast data pools stored in the cloud.

The sheer volume of data stored in the cloud makes it an ideal target. Companies significantly rely on cloud providers to secure their critical data as well as applications. Hence, the data stored in the cloud is more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Data breaches have become sophisticated attacks that can severely compromise the integrity of the internal systems of business organisations. From financial records and proprietary information to personally identifiable information (PII), there is a huge amount of data that can be pilfered.

Ransomware, phishing attacks, and advanced persistent threats (APTs) have changed the cybersecurity landscape forever. The interconnected nature of cloud ecosystems further adds to the complexity of creating a robust cybersecurity program. While cloud regulations provide a compliance framework to guide organisational behavior, more often than not, the ecosystem can only work ‘reactively’ as cybercriminals adapt and innovate. As such, it is up to corporations to be proactive in implementing cutting-edge security technologies, undertake regular audits, and conduct employee training programs to build resilience and awareness.

Cloud compliance is the practice of complying with the regulatory standards of cloud usage as per the industry guidelines and national, international, and local laws. Non-compliance with industry standards can lead to severe legal consequences, fines, and penalties.

Some cloud compliance regulations and standards across the world are as follows:
1. General data protection regulation, 2018 – European law
2. Digital personal data protection act, 2023 (DPDP Act) – India
3. Federal information security modernisation act, 2014 – USA
4. Health Insurance portability and accountability act, 1996 (HIPAA)
5. International organisation for standardisation (ISO)
6. PCI DSS or payment card industry data security standard

Among these, GDPR is the most comprehensive data protection regulation enacted across the world. Under GDPR, corporations are required to adhere to the seven principles of data protection as envisaged by the EU. This requires the data controller to ensure that the data being processed is done so in a lawful, fair, and transparent manner. It further limits the degree to which personal data can be processed and the amount of data that can be collected. Once the purpose for processing has been fulfilled, the regulations limit the storage of such data.

These regulations hold these ‘data controllers’ accountable for the data they handle, and these corporations must take steps to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the data they process. In the event of a breach, companies must immediately notify the authorities as well as individuals whose data has been compromised. Furthermore, even if an EU citizen's data is being stored outside of the European Economic Area, the company must ensure compliance with GDPR standards. For instance, Article 30 requires data processors to create and maintain records of data processing. Article 32 of the regulations provides that personal data should be encrypted. IT and Security teams are obliged to take measures to encrypt data ‘at rest’ and ‘in transit’.

The DPDP Act has also been drafted based on these 7 principles. As such, we can be certain that the expectant regulations will revolve around similar compliance requirements. While corporations need to adhere to these industry standards and regulatory obligations, certain best practices need to be followed to improve immunity against cyber threats. These include:
● Firstly, organisations must identify and adhere to relevant regulations and industry standards. This involves a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory ecosystem and compliance requirements specific to their industry. They must ensure that data management practices align with established guidelines. Corporations must also acknowledge and embrace the responsibility for data stored in the cloud and place a secure configuration of the services being used. An organisation’s Internal processes are pivotal in determining the security parameters of its cloud environment, encompassing elements such as access controls, encryption, and data classification.
● There has to be a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the cloud environment’s service and deployment models. They must identify and categorise whether a service is Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), or Platform as a Service (PaaS). Consequently, by understanding deployment models like hybrid, public, and private organisations can tailor their compliance strategies accordingly.
● Secure and proper access control is the linchpin in cloud compliance. By establishing robust policies for limiting and authenticating access to the cloud environment, corporations can ensure that only authorised personnel can interact with sensitive data. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised access and potential breaches.
● Data classification is another integral part of effective data management within a cloud
infrastructure. Categorising data into different levels of sensitivity enables businesses to
efficiently manage, secure, and store their information based on its importance and regulatory requirements.
● Data encryption is a powerful safeguard for sensitive data in the cloud. Implementing encryption measures ensures that even if unauthorised access occurs, the data remains unintelligible and protected, enhancing overall security.
● Regular internal audits can evaluate the effectiveness of cloud compliance measures.
Conducting systematic reviews and assessments helps identify vulnerabilities, rectify
shortcomings, mitigate damages, and ensure ongoing adherence to compliance standards.
● Organisations must clearly understand the service level agreements (SLAs) with their cloud service provider. Clarity around expectations and ground rules in SLAs ensures that the cloud service is aligned with compliance requirements, allowing any potential discrepancies to be addressed proactively.

Incorporating these best practices can aid organisations in significantly fortifying their cloud infrastructure against potential threats, navigating the complexities of compliance, and cultivating a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness among clients and investors. It is imperative that corporations conduct comprehensive risk assessments, implement multi-layered security protocols, and engage in continuous monitoring to detect and mitigate potential threats in real-time.

In addition to the complexity of compliance around cloud computing, corporations must ensure that they keep up with their pending, upcoming, and ongoing obligations. Digital technologies have rendered manual, ad-hoc processes dependent on people rather than technology obsolete. By utilising modern compliance platforms, organisations today can keep complete control and visibility over their compliance functions. This enables the company to transform its compliance program into a transparent, accountable, and timely system. Leveraging technology allows corporations to stay on the right side of the law and navigate through the complexities of the regulatory landscape.

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