How to Evaluate the Security of a Cloud Provider: 8 Criteria

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Migrating to a public cloud provider poses numerous benefits for your business; however, in order to realize these benefits, mitigate risks, and maximize the return on your cloud investment, it’s important to select the right cloud provider for your needs.

Learn what factors your business should consider when selecting a secure provider that will protect your data and meet your security and compliance requirements.

Things to know about cloud service provider security:

  1. What is a Cloud Service Provider?
  2. Main Cloud Providers
  3. Benefits of Using a Cloud Service Provider
  4. Considerations for Evaluating Cloud Provider Security

What is a Cloud Service Provider?

A cloud provider, or cloud service provider, is a third-party company offering an on-demand, cloud-based platform, application, infrastructure, or storage services. They provide their customers with storage and computing power and resources.

Main Cloud Providers

The leading cloud infrastructure service providers are AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS): AWS (34% of the worldwide market share) offers a wide range of services including computing, storage, databases, security, and more. It is one of the most popular cloud platforms and it is used by many e-commerce companies due to its reliability and scalability.
  • Microsoft Azure: Azure (21% market share) offers a variety of services including computing, storage, databases, security, and more. It also provides integration with other Microsoft products, making it a popular choice for businesses already using Microsoft products.
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP): GCP (11% market share) offers a range of services including computing, storage, databases, security, and more. It is known for its powerful machine-learning capabilities, making it a popular choice for businesses looking to use artificial intelligence and data analytics.

Although these three cloud providers dominate the cloud market, other providers like Linode, Cloudflare, and DigitalOcean are increasing in popularity due to their fully serverless and containerized compute opportunities at a lower cost.

Benefits of Using a Cloud Service Provider

Choosing to manage your cloud through a provider instead of on-premises can offer several benefits, including:

  • Cost savings: A managed cloud service provider can save you money over time, as you are no longer responsible for hiring an internal IT staff to maintain your cloud network infrastructure and also are no longer responsible for capital or operational expenses related to maintaining your cloud infrastructure.
  • Disaster recovery: Cloud service providers can support your disaster recovery so that in the event of an unanticipated disaster or emergency, there is minimal downtime and a plan in place to safeguard and retrieve your data.
  • Centralized control: Using a cloud service provider ensures your controls are all in one location, simplifying administration and support and making it easier to implement necessary changes.
  • Scalability: If your business demands increase or decrease, you can easily scale your cloud infrastructure and investment accordingly.
  • Security: Cloud service providers have data, encryption, and security measures in place to ensure you are compliant with any regulations and to protect your systems, information, and applications from outsiders.

8 Considerations for Evaluating Cloud Provider Security

When vetting and selecting a cloud service provider, organizations should consider the following criteria:

  1. Adherence to standards and frameworks
  2. Service level agreements (SLA)
  3. Backup and disaster recovery processes
  4. Data storage locations
  5. Migration services and support
  6. Historical uptime and performance
  7. History of breaches
  8. Exit planning and vendor lock-in

Adherence to standards and frameworks

It’s important to verify that your cloud service provider adheres to common security standards, including ISO 27001:2013, ISO-27002, and ISO-27017. This will indicate that the provider follows industry best practices in security and is actively committed to reducing risks.

Another standard to check adherence to is ISO-27018, which establishes security controls for protecting personally identifiable information in the cloud.

Your organization should also consider the provider’s adherence to relevant government and regulatory protocols, such as:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
  • National Institution of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800 Series
  • Federal Risk and Management Program (FedRAMP)
  • California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if you have customers in the EU

Service level agreement (SLA)

Your SLA governs the quality and level of services you receive from your cloud provider. It sets expectations, ensures that a minimum level of service is maintained, and also defines security considerations, including governance, maintenance and support, and shared responsibilities.

An SLA needs to establish a clear understanding of the boundaries of responsibility. For example, the cloud provider may be completely secure and prevents Company A from interacting with Company B, but will likely not have responsibility if your application running on the cloud service exposes your data.

Before committing to a cloud service provider, involve your security and legal teams in thoroughly reviewing scanning your SLA. This reduces the risk of miscommunications that can result in data breaches, privacy violations, and additional costs.

Backup and disaster recovery processes

Disaster recovery processes are critically important for business continuity because when enterprise resources go offline, assets can be left unprotected, revenue can be impacted, and business reputation can suffer immensely.

When evaluating a cloud service provider, investigate their disaster recovery processes to confirm they have the necessary capabilities to preserve, process and restore your data in the event of a disaster.

Your SLA should also explicitly identify the roles, responsibilities, and processes involved in a disaster recovery plan. This is necessary, as your organization’s teams will likely be at least partly responsible for implementing some of these processes.

Data storage locations

A key element of cloud migration preparation is determining the level of security, confidentiality, resiliency, and recovery your organization’s data needs.

This classification of data enables you to properly assess your cloud provider’s storage environment to determine if it meets your needs and will protect your data from threats.

Data sovereignty plays an important role with regulations like GDPR. The location of your data impacts risk level (for example, a local vs. a regional disaster impact) and recovery point/recovery time objectives (RPO/RTO), as distance can impact how much data is lost if a cloud region goes down.

Migration services and support

Migrating your organization’s data from on-premises to the cloud is no easy feat. Businesses often lack the internal expertise to successfully execute a migration and can run into significant costs, challenges, and security issues as a result.

It is helpful to select a provider that offers some level of migration services, instead of solely relying on in-house talent. Organizations may also benefit from the support of a cloud migration consulting firm to ensure success in their cloud strategy, architecture, migration, and optimization.

Historical uptime and performance

Cloud providers are not immune to outages and downtime, which can significantly impact their customers’ operations, performance, and revenue.

When evaluating a cloud services provider, it is wise to look into their uptime and performance data to determine how frequently the provider experiences outages and how long it typically takes to resolve the issue.

Organizations can also gain insights by examining the cloud provider’s history of data breaches and losses. When examining this information, keep in mind the context – a provider may have more incidents based on their size, or perhaps the responsible party for breaches is often their customers.

History of breaches

When examining a cloud provider’s performance history, organizations can also gain valuable insights by looking into the cloud provider’s history of data breaches and losses.

When examining this information, keep in mind the context – a provider may have more incidents based on their size, or perhaps the party responsible for breaches is often their customers.

Exit planning and vendor lock-in

Seeking support from cloud strategy experts can help ensure your cloud solution meets your needs and enables you to realize the benefits of performance, scalability, and reduced costs.

However, it is always wise to ensure there is a way out if your cloud provider is not the right match for your business needs. Vendor lock-in occurs when a customer is forced to continue using a product or service because the provider has made it too challenging or too expensive to sever ties and switch to a competitor.

Your organization can ease any stresses by ensuring you have an exit strategy in place if the need arises due to performance, costs, security, or a shift in strategy.

How Can AIM Consulting Take Your Cloud to the Next Level?

AIM Consulting provides cloud consulting services to help you develop a roadmap to understand the greatest benefits of the cloud for your organization.

Our experts can help you navigate the investments you should be making in cloud technologies, migrate to cloud platforms, plan for business continuity and disaster recovery, and leverage cloud-based automation tools like AWS Pipeline for CI/CD.

Our flexible engagement model allows us to deliver from strategy to implementation to maintenance in ways that make the most sense for you and your business.

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