Technology is Moving to the Cloud: What Does That Mean for Your Business?
Joshua Skeens, CTO, December 16, 2019
The cloud has been a popular choice among businesses for years, and its popularity continues to rapidly increase as companies of all sizes migrate infrastructure, applications, and data to the cloud.
Why is the Cloud So Popular?
More Workers Are Remote
Every year, more companies turn to remote working solutions. The cloud makes this work arrangement easier and more flexible for both employees and employers. Before the cloud, employees needed to be on-site to access the tools and infrastructure they needed to do their jobs effectively because these programs were hosted on internal company servers.
When applications and other programs are moved to the cloud, it allows employees to access the tools they need wherever they are, whether they’re working from home or traveling on business.
Turns CapEx into OpEx
CapEx (Capital Expenditure) and OpEx (Operational Expenditure) both refer to assets acquired by a company that it needs to run. Capital expenditures are more long term, while operational expenses cover the costs associated with day to day operations.
The cloud allows even the smallest businesses to easily update their technology, applications, and other digital tools (traditionally a sizeable financial expenditure) easily because these costs are no longer required upfront. Instead of buying expensive programs upfront, the cloud allows businesses to buy monthly subscriptions, which can be scaled up or down depending on the monthly needs of the company. This means that as long as the business has the operating capital to cover their monthly expenses, they can access the technology they need without needing to budget for a large, up-front purchase.
Make Disaster Recovery More Affordable
No matter how large or small your business is, it’s vital that you have a disaster recovery plan in place. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have robust backups in place, because traditionally the cost of duplicating technology at data centers or offices, even on a limited scale, was prohibitively expensive.
Moving at least some infrastructure to the cloud creates the necessary redundancies without the need for expensive duplicates, making it easier and more affordable to have a robust recovery plan in place.
For businesses that don’t use the cloud, scaling up can be expensive as new servers, increased data storage, and other infrastructure needs to be purchased upfront. Depending on the size of the expansion, and the company’s current budget, these upfront costs may be prohibitive, and those costs will only rise as employees are pulled away from their regular tasks to configure and implement changes. If a company needs to scale back, funds spent on costly equipment is lost and can’t be recovered.
When you’re on the cloud, scaling up or down is as easy as flipping a switch. The infrastructure you need is already there, owned by the company providing the cloud-based services; you just need to let them know if you need more data storage space or computing power, so new equipment doesn’t need to be purchased. Depending on the cost of your upgrades, your monthly subscription fees may increase modestly, but you won’t need to purchase, install, or maintain expensive physical equipment.
Facilitates Effective Collaboration
Every company I speak to seems to have that one critical document, nested five folders deep, that everyone needs to access but is continually getting locked by that one guy in Sales. Or that critical spreadsheet that is constantly being emailed to the entire team every time one person updates it.
The cloud makes document control much easier, increasing the effectiveness of your company’s collaboration efforts exponentially. Cloud-based services (such as O365 or GSuite) can be used to house documents in one location, where it can be accessed by relevant employees and updated instantly. That means that if Jen from Accounting updates a spreadsheet Brad from Sales can see those updates immediately without the need to email the same document back and forth.
A recent survey shows that collaborative work has increased by 50%, and now accounts for 80% of the average employee’s time. With so much time being spent on collaborative work, increasing your employees’ ability to collaborate more effectively can have a significant impact on workplace productivity.
What Are Some Dangers Associated With the Cloud?
The cloud is a wonderful tool, but like any tool, it isn’t perfect, and it has some unique cybersecurity dangers that need to be taken into account.
One of the biggest cybersecurity threats on the cloud is account hijacking. If one of your employees reuses a password from somewhere else (and let’s be honest, most do), and the personal account that uses that password is compromised, then that password is now in circulation. If a cybercriminal can guess your employee’s email address and pairs it with the reused password, they can access, alter, and even delete critical documents stored on the cloud. These actions could have devastating financial or reputational consequences.
Just because something is stored in the cloud doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be backing up critical documents. The cloud allows data to be duplicated and stored in multiple locations, creating a safety net of redundancy, but that doesn’t mean that it’s being backed up.
Say a careless employee accidentally deletes 15 user mailboxes from your company’s O365 account or accidentally erases several client accounts in SalesForce. Storing that data on the cloud means that those updates, however devastating and unintentional, are communicated across the entire network. Without an external backup, that valuable data could be lost for good.
If your company decides to store most, if not all, of your data and applications on the cloud, there is a good chance your employees are accessing it from smartphones, computers, and tablets that aren’t owned by your organization, making endpoint security difficult. Unless your employees are particularly studious, and always make sure they download the latest software updates and security patches right away, there’s a chance that cybercriminals can exploit unpatched bugs and other issues to gain access to your company’s digital assets.
Even worse, if an employee’s device becomes infected with malware without the employee’s knowledge, they may use that infected device to log onto the company network, exposing other devices and allowing the malware to spread. If an employee forgets to log out, and their device is stolen, criminals may also be able to use the employee’s device to access critical systems and sensitive information.
As more businesses turn to the cloud, we’ve noticed a marked increase in social engineering and phishing attacks. Cybercriminals know that employees are only human and can be manipulated into granting access or revealing sensitive information. If a criminal can use social engineering to obtain user credentials, then they can access whatever portions of the system your employee was granted access to.
How Can I Safeguard My Business Against These Dangers?
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits and potential dangers of the cloud, what can your organization do to protect itself?
Provide Security Awareness Training
We know that employees are the weakest component of any cybersecurity strategy. Security awareness training teaches employees how to recognize potential red flags, what they should and shouldn’t do if they encounter something suspicious, and who they should report their suspicions to. Employees need to understand that not only are they the number one target of cybercriminals but that they are also your company’s first line of defense.
Though many organizations do offer yearly training, this isn’t enough. The cybercriminal landscape is continually evolving and shifting. To keep up, quarterly training and monthly reminder sessions are preferable.
Use Multifactor Authentication
Moving to the cloud makes it easier for employees to access systems and data. Unfortunately, it can also make it easier for cybercriminals to do the same. To help better safeguard your digital assets in the cloud, we suggest using two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) for every login that allows it. MFA and 2FA work by having employees and other authorized users verify their identity from a separate device every time they log in.
MFA and 2FA aren’t foolproof, but they do make it more difficult for cybercriminals. They can act as a deterrent as well as a safety measure, and make your systems more secure than a simple username and password approach does.
Conduct Vulnerability Assessments
Just because you’ve moved to the cloud doesn’t mean your systems are invulnerable. When it comes to the cloud, you are likely only renting infrastructure for data storage, infrastructure, websites, and other items to run on. This infrastructure can, and likely will, still contain vulnerabilities that need to be addressed or patched. To help ensure your digital assets are secure, we suggest running quarterly vulnerability assessments.
Is Moving to the Cloud a Good Idea for My Business?
Technology changes so fast that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the ins and outs. To help you better safeguard your digital assets on the cloud, you should consult an expert. An expert can help you ensure that your cloud infrastructure and applications are configured correctly and maximize your digital security.
The cloud isn’t going away, and overall it has been a boon for both consumers and businesses. The cloud offers many advantages, but it also comes with unique pitfalls and vulnerabilities that need to be addressed and guarded against. Moving infrastructure and data to the cloud isn’t the best move for everyone, so make sure you do your research, consider all possibilities, and seek out expert advice before making a decision.