Cloud is now a way of life for every business, regardless of sector. But for some firms, this way of deploying essential business services requires closer attention than others.

For companies that operate in highly regulated sectors with strict compliance rules, or those that deal with large amounts of highly sensitive or personally-identifiable data, keeping operations safe from threats is even more vital, as the consequences of failure can be high.

But as more applications move away from traditional on-premises servers and into public cloud tools, what should these companies be doing to ensure they don’t fall victim to data breaches?

Cloud apps face more threats than ever

The first step is to ensure that everyone understands the scale of the threat. This is often a particular issue for smaller companies, who may believe the amount of data they possess isn’t worth the effort of hackers. But this is incorrect. In fact, businesses of all sizes are increasingly seeing their applications come under attack.

According to research from the SANS Institute, four out of five application vulnerabilities (80 per cent) are web-based. It’s therefore no surprise that three-quarters of cyber attacks (75 per cent) target web applications.

Common tactics that can be used to exploit these vulnerabilities include SQL injection attacks and cross-site scripting efforts that seek to take advantage of poorly-configured or badly-coded applications.

But avoiding cloud-based applications altogether simply isn’t an option. For many businesses, cloud tools are the best, or even the only way to ensure the productivity and ease of use they need to operate effectively, whether with customer-facing or internal applications.

The challenges faced by highly-sensitive industries

A few sectors in particular will need to be especially careful in their use of cloud-based applications due to the demanding regulations they face or the highly-sensitive nature of the data they handle.

Financial services firms, for instance, are subject to particularly tough rules from the likes of the Financial Conduct Authority, which has detailed guidance for firms using cloud-based services. This covers everything from access management requirements to ensuring a comprehensive exit plan should a company wish to terminate its relationship with a cloud provider.

Elsewhere, the healthcare sector also has strong rules in place, reflecting the fact it will handle people’s most private and sensitive personally-identifiable information. This sector has a strong need to share information quickly across departments and organisations to ensure patients can receive the best care, but this can often put sensitive data at risk if it is not secured properly. Indeed, research by Clearswift found that in 2019, two-thirds of UK healthcare firms experienced some form of cyber security incident.

Other sectors that are increasingly reliant on the cloud for mission-critical applications include manufacturing, where firms are often looking to integrate legacy machinery with more up-to-date technology solutions such as Internet of Things sensors.

The trade secrets and research and development data these companies often hold also make them a tempting target for hackers, which means they need strong protections when adopting cloud tools.

The technologies you need to protect yourself

While all the major public cloud providers have a wide range of built-in security tools to keep your data and applications safe from threats, some businesses will find that turning to specialised tools to safeguard their critical operations will be a must in order to ensure compliance.

IT Security Solutions such as web application firewalls (WAFs), for example, will be essential in protecting these vital assets from threats. An effective solution can ensure this covers all types of application, including web, mobile and API apps, to provide strong protection regardless of how or where data is accessed.

These tools can offer a proactive approach to defending key assets, with tools such as geoblocking. Firms should be able to protect multiple applications within a single WAF cluster, while also taking advantage of tools such as single sign-on, to prevent vulnerabilities caused by needing to have multiple authentications for different sessions.

An intelligent platform can also be configured to look for custom patterns in order to prevent the exfiltration of key information. For example, financial services companies can use this to target sensitive data such as credit card numbers.

Such tools may be vital in ensuring companies in highly-sensitive sectors are able to meet stringent regulatory requirements, as well as guarding against hugely damaging financial and reputational damage that may be caused by any data breaches.

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