Deciphering Compliance on Cloud

By January 27, 2021 Powerlearnings

Compiled by Kiran Kumar, Business analyst at Powerup Cloud Technologies

Contributor Agnel Bankien, Head – Marketing at Powerup Cloud Technologies

Blog Flow

  1. What is cloud compliance?
  2. Why is it important to be compliant?
  3. Types of cloud compliance 
    1. ISO
    2. HIPAA
    3. PCI DSS
    4. GLBA
    5. GDPR
    6. FedRAMP
    7. SOX
    8. FISMA
    9. FERPA
  4. Challenges in cloud compliance
  5. How can organizations ascertain security and compliance standards are met with while moving to cloud?
  6. Conclusion


As time progresses, businesses are getting more data-driven and cloud-centric imposing the need for stringent security and compliance measures. With the alarming rise in the number of cyber-attacks and data breaches lately, it is crucial that organizations understand, implement and monitor data and infrastructure protection on the cloud. 

It is important yet challenging for large distributed organizations with complex virtual and physical architectures across multiple locations, to define compliance policies and establish security standards that will help them accelerate change and innovation while enhancing data storage and privacy.

There are various compliance standards like HIPAA, ISO, GDPR, SOX, FISMA, and more that ensure appropriate guidelines and compliance updates are met to augment cloud security and compliance. Prioritizing cloud security, determining accurate cloud platforms, implementing change management, investing in automated compliance tools, and administering cloud governance are some of the measures that will surely warrant cloud compliance across all domains.

What is cloud compliance?

Most of the businesses today are largely data-driven. The 2020 Global State of Enterprise Analytics Report states that 94% of businesses feel data and analytics are drivers of growth and digital transformation today, out of which, 56% of organizations leveraging analytics are experiencing significant financial benefits along with more scope for innovation and effective decision-making capacities.

To accelerate further, organizations are steering rapidly towards the cloud for its obvious versatile offerings like guaranteed business continuity, reduced IT costs, scalability and flexibility. 

With cloud, strengthening security and compliance policies has become a necessity. Cloud compliance is about consenting with the industry rules, laws and regulatory policies while delivering through the cloud. The law compels the cloud users to verify if the effective security provisions of their vendors are in line with their compliance needs.

Consequently, the cloud-delivered systems are better placed to be compliant with the various industry standards and internal policies while also being able to efficiently track and report status. 

The shift to cloud enables businesses to not just transit from capital to operational expenses but also from internal to external operational security. Issues related to security and compliance can pose as barriers especially with regards to cloud storage and back up services.

Therefore, it is imperative to understand in which part of the world will our data be stored and processed, the kind of authorities and laws that will be applicable to this data and its impact on business. Every country has varied information security laws, data protection laws, access to information laws, information retention and sovereignty laws that need to be taken into consideration in order to build appropriate security measures that adhere to these set standards. 

Why is it important to be compliant?

Gartner research Vice President Sid Nag says, “At this point, cloud adoption is mainstream.” 

Recent data from Risk Based Security revealed that the number of records exposed has increased to a staggering 36 billion in 2020 with Q3 alone depicting an additional 8.3 billion records to what was already the “worst year so far.”

“There were a number of notable data breaches but the compromise of the Twitter accounts held by several high profile celebrities probably garnered the most headlines”, says Chris Hallenbeck, Chief Information Security Officer for the Americas at Tanium.

With enterprises moving their data and applications substantially on cloud, security threats and breaches across all operations emerge as their biggest concern. 

Therefore it is crucial for organizations to attain full visibility and foresight on security, governance and compliance on cloud.

Data storage and its privacy is the topmost concern and not being compliant with industry rules and regulations would augment data violation and confidentiality breach. A structured compliance management system also enables organizations to steer clear of heavy non-compliance penalties.

An effective corporate compliance management guarantees a positive business image and fabricates the customer’s trust and loyalty. It constructs customer reliability and commitment that helps build a strong and lasting customer base. 

Administering compliance solutions reduce unforced errors and helps keep a check on genuine risks and errors arising out of internal business performances.

Compliance is considered a valuable asset for driving innovation and change.

Types of cloud compliance 

Until recently, most service providers focused on providing data and cloud storage services without much concern towards data security or industry standards. As the cloud scales up, the need for compliance with regards to data storage also increases requiring service providers to draft new guidelines and compliance updates while measuring up to the ever changing national and industry regulations. 

Some of the most seasoned regulations governing cloud compliance today are:

1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

ISO is one of the most eminent administrative bodies in charge of cloud guidelines and has developed numerous laws that govern the applications of cloud computing.

ISO/IEC 27001:2013 is one of the most widely used of all ISO cloud requirements. Right from formation to maintenance of information security management systems, ISO specifies how organizations must address their security risks, how to establish reliable security measures for cloud vendors and users and helps set firm IT governance standards.

2. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA, applicable only within the United States, provisions for security and management of protected health information (PHI). It helps institutions like the hospitals; doctors’ clinics and health insurance organizations to follow strict guidelines on how confidential patient information can be used, managed and stored along with reporting security breaches, if any. Title II, the most significant section of HIPAA ensures that the healthcare industry adopts secure encryption processes to secure data and operate electronic transactions with significant safety measures.

3. PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) 

PCI DSS is a standard pertaining to organizations that process or handle payment card information like credit cards, where it is mandatory that each of the stated 12 requirements in the act are met with to achieve compliance. Major credit card companies like American Express, MasterCard, Discover and Visa came together to establish PCI DSS to provide better security for cardholder’s data and payment transactions. PCI DSS has further implemented new controls for multifactor user authentication and data encryption requirements of late. 

4. GLBA (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) 

GLBA applies to financial institutions that need to understand and define how a customer’s confidential data should be protected. The law enforces organizations to create transparency by sharing with customers how their data is being stored and secured.

5. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR regulations facilitate organizations that work with European Union residents to govern and control their data in order to create a better international standard for business.

The GDPR levies heavy fines, as much as 4% of the annual global turnover or €20 million, whichever is greater, if not complied with. Identity and access management frameworks can enable organizations to comply with GDPR requirements like managing consent from individuals to have their data recorded and tracked, responding to individuals’ right to have their data erased and notifying people in the event of a personal data breach. 

6. Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)

FedRAMP provides enhanced security within the cloud as per the numerous security controls set through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-53. It helps in the evaluation of management and analysis of different cloud solutions and products while also ensuring that the cloud service vendors remain in compliance with the stated security controls as well.

7. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX)

SOX regulations were introduced after prominent financial scandals in the early 2000. It ensures all public companies in the US take steps to mitigate fraudulent accounting and financial activities. SOX safeguards the American public from corporate wrongdoing and it is mandatory for organizations that constitute under SOX, to work only with those cloud providers that employ SSAE 16 or SAS 70 auditing guidelines.

8. Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

FISMA is responsible for governing the US Federal Government ensuring that federal agencies safeguard their assets and information by creating and implementing an internal security plan. FISMA sets a one-year timeline for review of this plan to enhance the effectiveness of the program and the ongoing mitigation of risks.

FISMA also controls the technology security of third-party cloud vendors.

9. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)

FERPA caters to governing student records maintained by educational institutions and agencies and also applies to all federally funded elementary, secondary, and post secondary institutions. It plans for these institutes to identify and authenticate the identity of parents, students, school officials and other parties before permitting access to personally identifiable information (PII). FERPA enforces relevant policies to reduce authentication misuse in order to efficiently manage user identity life cycle with periodic account recertification.

Challenges in cloud compliance

With an on-premise data center set up, enterprises are responsible for the entire network, security controls and hardware, physically present in the premises whereas security controls in the cloud are virtual and are usually provided by third-party cloud vendors. 

Keeping track of data and assuring its security, especially if it involves large, distributed organizations with complex architectures spread across multiple locations and systems, both physical and virtual, is extremely challenging.

The pressure builds up even more on enterprises when industry regulators are imposed to tighten data protection techniques, violating which leads to heavy fines. Regular audits and security policy checks have to be embraced by organizations to manifest compliance.

The challenges with cloud compliance are:

  • Multi-location regulations: Large organizations serving clients globally need to adhere to regional, national and international regulations with regards to data possession and transfer. However while migrating to cloud, the preferred cloud vendor may not always be able to offer the exact stated requirements. Adopting technology that supports major public cloud vendors, promoting hybrid cloud strategies, determining which data can be safely moved to cloud while retaining sensitive data on-premises are some measures that will help establish security and compliance on cloud.
  • Data Visibility: Data storage is a huge challenge in terms of where and how data can be stored resulting in poor data visibility. Moving to cloud facilitates using distributed cloud storage services for different types of data, entitling organizations to act in accordance with security directives while data storage and back ups.
  • Data Breach: Security compliance regulations on cloud need to be set in place to evade data security vulnerabilities and risks in real time. Adopting microservices on cloud, which is breaking down the applications into smaller components, each of which are categorized to its own dedicated resource is a must. This process improves data security among other features, as it generates additional layers of isolation with the breakdown approach, making it tougher for invaders to hack the infrastructure. 
  • Data Protection Authority: Moving to the cloud enables enterprises to offload their responsibility of securing their physical infrastructure on to the cloud service provider. However, it is still compelling for organizations to oblige to privacy and security of data that is under their control and verify appropriate data protection measures internally.
  •  Network Visibility: Managing firewall policies where traffic flows are typically complex are a challenge. Visibility of the network becomes tricky. Many organizations are using the multi-cloud approach to support their infrastructure in order to curb network issues.
  • Network management: Automation is the key to management of network firewalls that have countless security policies across multiple devices, which is otherwise difficult to manage as well as time-consuming. Also, appropriate network security configurations are a prerequisite but with compliance management mostly left to cloud providers, the regulations and implementation process often end up haywire. 
  • Data Privacy and Storage: Keeping track of personal data by mapping the flow of data on cloud is a must. The right to access, modify and delete data can be strengthened via implementation of privacy laws. The cloud can further simplify matters by offering low-cost storage solutions for backup and archiving.
  • Data Inventory Management: Data is stored in unstructured formats on both on-premises and cloud, mainly to be used for business forecasting, social media analytics and fraud prevention. This would require data inventory management solutions to ensure speedy and efficient responses to requests that need to be compliant with regulatory laws.

How can organizations ascertain security and compliance standards are met with while moving to cloud?

According to a recent Sophos report of The State of Cloud Security 2020, 70% of companies that host data or workloads in the cloud have experienced a breach of their public cloud environment and the most common attack types were malware (34%), followed by exposed data (29%), ransomware (28%), account compromises (25%), and cryptojacking (17%).

The biggest areas of concern are data loss, detection and response and multi-cloud management. Organizations that use two or more public cloud providers experienced the most security incidents. India was the worst affected country with 93% of organizations experiencing a cloud security breach. 

It is of utmost importance for cloud service providers (CSP) to ensure that security and compliance standards are met with while moving data on to cloud and to do so, some of the following measures can be administered:

  • Determine appropriate cloud platforms: Organizations must evaluate initial cloud risks to determine suitable cloud platforms. It is also essential to realize which set of data and applications can be moved to cloud. For example: Sensitive data or critical applications may still remain on premise or use the private cloud whereas non-critical applications may be hosted on public or hybrid models. Relevant security control frameworks, irrespective of whether data and applications are hosted on private, public, multi-cloud or hybrid platforms need to be established. Continuous compliance monitoring via these security measures, prioritization and remediation of compliance risks, if any and generation of periodic compliance reports help in developing a consolidated picture of all cloud accounts. 
  • Undertake a security-first approach: Leveraging real-time tracking tools and automated security policies, processes and controls holistically across internal and external environments from the very beginning, help in keeping complete and continuous visibility on cloud compliance. 

Monitoring and managing security breach and threats via compliance checklists for all the services that include infrastructure, networks, applications, servers, data, storage, OS and virtualization establishes pertinent data protection measures, reduces costs and simplifies cloud operations.

  • Implementing change management: AI and tailored workflows facilitate identifying, remediating and integrating security policy changes that can be processed in no time. 

Automation streamlines and helps tighten the entire security policy change management through auditing. 

  • Building resources: It is important to collaborate IT Security and DevOps, commonly known as SecOps, to effectively mitigate risks across the software development life cycle. Through SecOps, business teams can prioritize and amend critical vulnerabilities as well as address compliance violations via an integrated approach across all work segments. It enables a faster and risk-free deployment into production. 
  • Invest in tools: Advanced automated tools comprise of built-in templates that certify and maintain security management standards. Compliance tools based on AI technology, acts as a framework towards protecting privacy of all stakeholders, meets data security needs, provides frequent reports on stored cloud data and detects possible violations beforehand. Thus, investing in tools enhances visibility, data encryption and control over cloud deployments. 
  • Ensuring efficient incident response: Due to seamless integration with the leading cloud solutions, compliance tools are able to map security incidents to actual business processes that can potentially be impacted. Organizations can instantly evaluate the scale of the risk and prioritize remediation efforts consequently leading to efficient incident response management. For instance, in case of a cyber attack, the compliance tool enables isolation of those servers that have been compromised ensuring business continuity.
  • Administer cloud governance: Cloud security governance is an effective regulatory model designed to define and address security standards, policies and processes. The governance tool provides consolidated synopsis of all security issues, which are monitored, tracked and compiled in the form of dashboards. They also facilitate configuration of customized audits and policies, generation of periodic summarization of compliance checks and one-click remediation capabilities with a fully traceable remediation history of all the fixed issues. It also generates pre-populated, audit-ready reports that provides information before an audit is actually conducted. 

LTI Powerup’s CloudEnsure is a prominent instance of an autonomous multi-cloud governance platform that has been successfully offering audit, compliance, remediation and governance services in order to construct and maintain a well architected and healthy cloud environment for their customers.

  • Conducting audits: It is recommended to have compliance checks both manual and automated, against all the major industry regulations like PCI DSS, HIPAA and SOX, including customized corporate policies in order to keep a constant check on all security policy changes and compliance violations. A cloud health score reveals how compliant all the operations are.

Audits furnish reports on cloud security and cloud compliance summary, security compliance by policy that tracks real-time risks and vulnerabilities against set policies, detailed automated metrics on the health of your multi-cloud infrastructure which displays critical risks along with an overall security compliance summary to name a few.

  • Drive digital transformation: Security tools that can accelerate application delivery; prioritize security policy change management while enhancing and extending security across all data, applications, platforms and processes regardless of location must be embraced to accelerate digitization of business processes.


Compliance is a shared responsibility between cloud service providers and organizations availing their services. 

Today, a majority of cloud service providers have begun to recognize the importance of giving precedence to security and compliance services with the aim to continually improve their offerings. 

Therefore, organizations are endlessly striving to reassess and redeploy their security strategies by trying to revive and control their cloud undertakings especially post pandemic. 

No matter what type of cloud is chosen, the migrated data must meet all of the compliance regulations and guidelines. 

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