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Governance and Security in Cloud Infrastructures: Principles and Frameworks

Businesses are moving their work to the cloud for easier scaling, lower costs, and increased agility. But despite the numerous benefits, concerns about governance and security in cloud infrastructures remain

Updated: May 13, 2024 9 mins read Published: January 04, 2024

Statista reports that 30% of organizations list legal and regulatory compliance as their biggest barrier to cloud adoption. Another 29% cited data security, loss, and leakage risks as the top obstacle.

A well-defined cloud governance model can overcome these concerns. In this article, we’ll dig into the why and how of cloud governance and security. We’ll share principles to help you set up a governance framework and three critical steps to implementation.

What is cloud governance?

Cloud governance is a set of rules that guide how an organization accesses, uses, and manages its cloud computing services. These rules ensure cloud alignment with business goals, compliance with legal regulations, and secure and efficient usage.

This framework facilitates oversight of cloud operations. It aims to manage risks, control costs, enforce data security protocols, and maintain service quality. The goal is to maximize the cloud’s benefits while mitigating potential issues that could arise from its use.

Why is cloud governance critical?

Security governance in cloud computing helps organizations fully benefit from cloud computing while reducing risks.

To use a limited analogy, it’s like having traffic rules and signals for your infrastructure highway. Without them, there would be security crashes, data pile-ups, and runaway costs. Just as traffic rules keep cars moving smoothly and safely, cloud governance keeps data flowing securely and cost-effectively. That’s not all there is to it, though.

Organizations need robust cloud governance solutions for many reasons.

Mitigates security and compliance risks

With data breaches and cyber-attacks on the rise, protecting sensitive data is essential. Cloud governance establishes security protocols, manages user access, and ensures compliance with various regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and so on. Cloud-native tools like AWS Security Hub, Azure Security Center, or Google Security Command Center provide compliance scores and recommendations for improving your cloud security.

Boosts operational efficiency

An efficient governance framework emphasizes rapid incident response and monitoring. It employs event management tools, alerting systems, and automated anomaly detection to ensure continuous, uninterrupted business operations. You’ll have strategies for rapid resolution if there are service interruptions or security incidents.

Promotes efficient and effective use of cloud resources (cost management)

Your cloud governance framework evaluates business goals and can help allocate cloud resources to ensure effective management. By breaking your cloud system into smaller units and observing resource consumption, you can increase resource usage visibility. They can reduce cloud wastage and cut unnecessary costs.

Improves productivity

Cloudcompliance and governance employs a collection of tools to automate various processes of your cloud infrastructure, which should improve productivity. For example, because your governance framework already lists your infrastructure’s security requirements and configuration policies, engineers spend less time on configurations and reduce the possibility of misconfigurations.

Reduces the chance of security breaches and leaks

Cloud governance and compliance policies employ numerous identity and access management (IAM) controls and multi-factor authentication to protect your cloud environment. One fundamental principle of cloud governance is enforcing the principle of least privilege for cloud users, which ensures that individuals can only access what they need at a time and no more, thus reducing internal and external risk exposure to breaches and leaks.

Standardizes processes

Your cloud data governance framework lays the ground rules for creating and using cloud services across the organization. From setting cloud security baselines for your cloud workloads to configuring and designing cloud infrastructure, it reduces the risk of misconfigurations and security incidents.

Eases change management

Change management is integral to cloud governance, ensuring that as technology evolves and business demands shift, there’s a systematic process in place to handle these changes. By implementing cloud governance, organizations can enable new technologies, update services, and adjust resources while minimizing disruption. This structured approach includes policies and procedures for version control, service updates, and the rollout of new features, enabling a smooth transition and continuous service improvement. It helps balance innovation with stability, ensuring that changes are deliberate, beneficial, and in line with the strategic direction of the business.

Cloud governance framework

A cloud governance framework helps enforce cloud governance and security for your cloud environments. It examines business needs and requirements and creates a set of rules and policies to guide the design and deployment of your cloud services.

Notable frameworks today include the AWS well-architected framework, Azure Cloud Adoption Framework, Google Cloud Security Foundations Guide, and NIST Cloud Computing Security Reference Architecture. These examples all have the same goal: effective cloud cost management, operational efficiency, and security and regulatory compliance.

Let’s review some of the principles of a cloud governance framework and how to set up one for your business.

Principles of a cloud governance framework

There is no one standard governance model to follow for your business. While there are numerous factors to consider when designing your framework, the following are sound principles to guide and build on:

Alignment with business objectives

The framework should enable the business to meet its goals and objectives through efficient and secure use of cloud services. This principle ensures that cloud adoption supports business outcomes and delivers tangible value.

Cost optimization

While the cloud promises significant cost savings, it’s easy to accumulate cloud spending over time, especially with insufficient financial management. Optimizing costs requires visibility into cloud resources and employing tracking alerts and budgets to cut unnecessary costs without disrupting business operations. Your cloud governance frameworks should provide controls and processes to optimize cloud spending and minimize waste.

Security

Cloud security governance emphasizes establishing robust security practices and controls to protect data and applications in the cloud. The cloud computing governance framework should mandate things like access controls, encryption of sensitive data, network security, vulnerability testing, incident response plans, and compliance with security standards and regulations.

A multi-layered defense strategy is key, recognizing the shared responsibility between cloud provider and customer. The framework must ensure that cloud usage is secure and that risk is managed appropriately.

Standardization

Policies and controls should standardize cloud deployments and configurations across the organization. It’s also vital that cloud usage is consistent with open standards prevalent in the industry.

Flexibility

While standardization for consistency is good, flexibility is also required so governance in cloud computing does not impede progress. Your framework should be agile enough to support innovation and changing business needs. As new technologies, services, and workloads migrate to the cloud, the framework must accommodate them seamlessly.

It should provide guidelines but also allow discretion based on individual circumstances. Regularly evaluate and update your framework to ensure it enables the business to move fast without compromising compliance or control.

Transparency

There should be visibility into cloud usage, costs, security, and compliance through reporting and audits. Your framework should require visibility into how people are using cloud services, what data is stored, costs broken down by service/team, compliance with regulations, and any security incidents.

Conduct regular audits to verify policy compliance. Stakeholders should have access to the information they need to make decisions through dashboards and communication protocols. Transparency ensures proper oversight, accountability, and optimization of the cloud environment.

Automation

This principle focuses on using automation to increase the efficiency of cloud governance processes like policy enforcement, compliance auditing, resource provisioning, and configuration management. The cloud governance automation framework should make use of automated tools and technologies to continuously monitor compliance, fix policy violations, optimize resource usage, and speed up deployments while reducing human error.

Automation frees up IT teams from mundane tasks and improves agility. Policy as code, automated assessments, auto-scaling, and infrastructure as code are examples of automated governance. However, human oversight is still required for aspects requiring discretion and judgment. The goal is to use automation judiciously to improve governance without over-reliance on technology.

Data governance

The framework should provide guidelines for properly managing data assets in the cloud throughout their lifecycle. It should classify data by sensitivity levels and mandate appropriate security controls and encryption standards based on those classifications to ensure confidentiality and privacy.

Your framework also needs a cloud governance policy for data retention, deletion, access controls, and geographic restrictions. Overall, the framework must enable secure and compliant data management as information is increasingly generated and processed in the cloud.

Setting up your cloud governance framework

Cloud Governance Framework, critical process

Setting up your framework is a critical process involving a series of strategic steps to ensure that cloud services are managed effectively and securely and are aligned with business goals. Below are the three steps to establishing a robust cloud governance framework:

1. Defining controls

Begin by assessing your business objectives, operational necessities, security risks, and the structure of your organization. This assessment will guide you in establishing regulatory, operational, and financial controls tailored to your specific needs.

For industries like healthcare and finance that handle sensitive data, adherence to regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA is mandatory. This might necessitate stringent access controls and data masking techniques to prevent data breaches. It is also vital to define clear roles and responsibilities to ensure accountability within the governance framework, all the while aligning with industry standards and best practices.

2. Implementing controls

Once the controls are defined, the next step is their implementation. This requires skilled personnel and the right technology and automated tools to enforce and manage these controls efficiently.

Implementation should seamlessly integrate with the organization’s existing workflows and tools, ensuring consistent application of the defined standards. Automated solutions can help enforce policies, streamline management, and minimize the risk of human error.

3. Auditing controls

Policies and controls must be quantifiable to measure the effectiveness of your governance framework. For instance, rather than having an ambiguous goal such as ‘incident response should happen ASAP,’ specify ‘Incident response teams must react within 10 minutes of receiving alerts from monitoring systems.’ Regular audits should be conducted to evaluate compliance with these policies and their efficacy in achieving the organization’s objectives. The auditing process should not only check adherence but also generate actionable insights for ongoing improvements.

It is important to remember that the cloud environment and business landscapes are continually evolving. Therefore, the governance framework must be dynamic and adaptable, requiring regular reviews and updates to make sure it fosters innovation and keeps pace with changes without compromising on control or compliance.

Cloud governance implementation

A successful cloud governance implementation requires a blend of people, policies, and technology to help your business succeed in the cloud.

The people represent your dedicated cloud governance team whose primary goal and responsibility is to assess business objectives and define controls and policies. It may involve a collection of key stakeholders from your skilled IT and business team with the experience to evaluate business goals and requirements to design and perform the governance processes and functions. Organizations also often bring in outside expertise for the extra perspective and hands it can bring.

Your governance framework revolves around numerous processes governed by ‌set guidelines. These processes employ technology and tools from multiple vendors to automate various aspects of governance in the cloud, from financial management to operations, compliance, and security.

Implementing cloud governance with the intellias approach

cloud governance and security strategy that promotes operational efficiency

Intellias, a leading technology partner, employs a three-phase process for helping organizations assess, build, and implement a cloud governance and security strategy that promotes operational efficiency while adhering to industry regulations and standards:

  • Assessment and planning: Using its DevSecOps assessment, Intellias thoroughly evaluates critical factors like your current infrastructure, business goals, security governance, access controls, DevOps processes, and other factors to create a SecDevOps report for the next phase.
  • Implementation: Intellias takes action in this step and implements various governance functions like compliance regulations, access controls, monitoring and alerting systems, incident response, and application security tools. It also implements continuous monitoring to evaluate the system’s security.
  • Operations: This last step maintains the controls and policies implemented in step two, audits them periodically, and makes changes if needed.

Intellias has gone through this process many times. We worked with EveryMatrix, a London-based payment solution provider, to build a highly customizable and robust payment solution with real-time transaction monitoring and rules simulator. As a payment services vendor, EveryMatrix was subject to validation requirements and PCI DSS compliance.

Intellias ensured the platform was PCI Level 1 and compliant by involving an experienced team of InfoSec professionals throughout the development and production stages of the SDLC.

Intellias again demonstrated its cloud governance expertise by conducting a thorough cloud security assessment for a digital asset marketplace. By obtaining a comprehensive, objective view of the cloud security posture of this digital marketplace through interviews with stakeholders and a review of its manual and automated tools, Intellias identified and prioritized potential security risks and proffered solutions to mitigate these risks.

Conclusion

The cloud is undoubtedly an asset for organizations today, granting them agility, cost savings, and quicker time to deployment. However, governance and security in cloud infrastructure must always be a top priority.

Cloud governance guides the usage of cloud services by setting and implementing policies to ensure cloud costs remain within the organizational budget while maintaining operational efficiency and compliance with regulations. Before cloud migrations, businesses must employ proper governance strategies to ensure they do not quickly accumulate costs, violate regulations, or encounter security risks or data losses.

A cloud governance framework represents all the controls and policies set by your dedicated cloud governance team to ensure the optimum performance of your applications running in the cloud.

Experienced technology partners like Intellias help businesses evaluate their cloud governance and security environments and offer recommendations for building and implementing an effective cloud governance framework that lets companies take full advantage of the cloud.

Talk to one of our governance and security experts today.

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