Ensure your business is prepared for cloud system crashes or outages with this helpful guide from Reciprocity

Most organizations today rely on the cloud to store or manage at least some of their data and applications. If your business is considering (or already using) a cloud environment, it’s important that you know what to do if your cloud system crashes or experiences an outage.

In this guide, we cover the basics of cloud computing and then outline some steps you can take in the event of a cloud crash or outage.

Choosing a Cloud System

Cloud computing is the delivery of services through the Internet. It can include data storage, servers, databases, networking, and software. Cloud-based storage makes it possible to save files to a remote database and retrieve them on demand.

The cloud is not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a widespread transition from on-premise operations to cloud-based services to meet the changing demands of the hybrid work environment. According to research from market intelligence firm Synergy Research Group (SRG), enterprise spending on cloud services increased by $1.5 billion in the third quarter of 2020, likely in response to the global pandemic.

Pandemic aside, most businesses have been migrating to the cloud anyway. Market research firm IDC reports that 81 percent of more than 550 organizations polled already use cloud infrastructure or have applications in the cloud.

For organizations collecting more and more data every year, it just makes sense to forego traditional IT systems and migrate to a cloud environment.

Cloud systems maximize scalability and cost saving opportunities, and for data security, cloud technologies make data management much easier than traditional IT setups.

Traditional IT management involves purchasing, installing, and maintaining your own IT devices on-site. While this might give your organization greater control over its data environment and strengthen its cybersecurity posture, it also eventually limits your ability to scale.

Cloud service providers (CSPs) are companies that offer some combination of cloud computing components. They usually host your applications and their servers and make them available over the Internet.

Cloud computing has three main types of cloud deployment models:

  • Public Cloud. You’re probably already familiar with some of the biggest public cloud companies: Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud. In a public cloud model, these companies own the infrastructure and physical network; your organization owns its own operating systems, applications, virtual network, access to its tenant environment, and its data.

    Due to the massive amounts of information they store, public cloud environments are often targeted by malicious actors and can be subject to malware.

    While public cloud providers assume the responsibility for deploying cloud security controls for the cloud infrastructure, your organization is responsible for implementing security controls for the operating systems, applications, supporting infrastructure, and other assets running in the cloud.

  • Private Cloud. A private cloud consists of computing resources that are used exclusively by your business or organization. They’re usually either physically located at your organization’s on-site data center, or hosted by a third-party service provider.

    As the name suggests, a private cloud means that the services and infrastructure are maintained on a private network and the hardware and software are dedicated solely to your organization.

    While using a private cloud can help mitigate many of the data security issues associated with public clouds, they are much more expensive to implement or maintain. The costs of a private cloud can often rapidly outpace many businesses’ financial capabilities; between running your own data center and hiring the appropriate IT staff, a private cloud can cost upwards of $1.5 million.

  • Hybrid Cloud. A hybrid cloud is a combination of public and private cloud deployment models. Usually it means that you’re using both the public cloud as well as an on-premise or third-party hosted private cloud. A hybrid model of cloud computing is often the best opportunity for many organizations looking to scale.

    In this model, you would typically only store your most sensitive data on the private cloud, so you can keep your costs lower for storing other data by using a public cloud provider. Keeping your data across multiple platforms will allow you to better tailor security levels to your business needs. It also assures that all of your data isn’t put at risk in the event of a data breach.

Whichever model you choose, certain universal cloud security challenges will undoubtedly affect your business. These security issues can not only jeopardize the safety, privacy, and integrity of your data and intellectual property; they can also endanger your ability to comply with regulatory requirements.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your CSP will take on the duty of ensuring security in the cloud. Many organizations that do so end up realizing too late that the responsibility is shared.

Different CSPs have different security controls and requirements, but in general, your CSP will secure the cloud environment against cyberattacks, but leave your data security up to you. Any data loss you might suffer in a security breach is your responsibility.

To protect your organization from data breaches or losses, your organization needs to implement cloud security controls, or a set of security controls that encompasses all of the best practices, procedures, and guidelines to secure your cloud environment.

Is Data Safe in the Cloud?

The plain truth is that the data you store with CSPs is probably safer than the data you store on your computer’s hard drive. Hackers can use malware and phishing techniques to gain access to sensitive information stored on your devices in the blink of an eye.

The security measures that larger companies providing cloud services undertake are likely more robust and powerful than what your organization uses to protect its own computers and devices.

Cloud storage servers are usually located in warehouses that most employees don’t have access to. The files stored on cloud servers are often encrypted. CSPs regularly update their security measures, and some of them are even turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help protect their customers’ data.

Cloud providers also have firewalls in place to help keep your data safe. Firewalls apply rules designed to filter out suspicious traffic coming into a network, and make it more difficult for cybercriminals to slip malware or viruses past your CSP’s security measures.

These days, however, the safety of your data is about more than just cyberattacks. When evaluating your organization’s cyber risk, it’s important that you consider other risk factors as well.

If your business depends on cloud computing systems, you need to have a plan to keep your data safe in case your cloud crashes or if you experience an outage.

Cloud Crashes and Outages

Most of the time, users rarely know when a crash or outage occurs. Still, cloud crashes and outages are becoming increasingly common. And as more businesses rely more heavily on cloud computing, the cost of cloud crashes and outages to those businesses will continue to increase as well.

Even the biggest cloud providers aren’t immune to cloud crashes and outages.

In August 2020, thousands of global users suddenly lost access to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Meet and Google voice, when Google cloud servers worldwide went down for six hours.

About a month later, a global outage took down Azure Active Directory (AD), Microsoft’s cloud-based enterprise identity and access management solution and the backbone of its cloud-based Office 365 system. Customers could not access Teams or Microsoft 365, among other of the company’s online services.

Nor is it just the public cloud that’s vulnerable to crashes and outages. In June 2020, the IBM Cloud suffered a worldwide outage, and in July, a router on the global backbone of web infrastructure and website security provider Cloudflare’s domain name system (DNS) service misrouted Internet traffic for about half an hour, disrupting a large part of the Internet.

For enterprises that depend solely on a data center’s ability to deliver IT and networking services to customers (e-commerce sites, for example), this type of downtime can cost up to $11,000 per minute.

The cost to businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals who use cloud subscription services in their work has yet to be calculated.

So, what can cause the cloud to crash?

Unfortunately, the answer is complicated. Cloud systems are complex and almost always under attack, and a number of factors can be behind a cloud crash or outage.

Some of the most common reasons cloud systems crash include human error, application bugs, cloud provider downtime, quality of service, extreme spikes in customer demand, security breaches, third-party service failures, storage failures, and lack of cloud disaster recovery (CDR) procedures.

To keep your data accessible to you during hardware failures or power outages, most of the biggest cloud providers practice redundancy, which means that they copy your data several times and store it in many different data centers. This way, if one server goes down, you can still access your files from a back-up server.

When the cloud crashes or an outage occurs, your organization may have to work with pen and paper for a short time. Usually, any data that was saved to the cloud before the outage will be safe and waiting for you after a failure. And in most cases, outages are quickly resolved — usually within the same day.

You should not, however, rely solely on your CSP for cloud security. It’s ultimately up to your organization to determine the steps to take in the event of a cloud crash or outage.

Steps to Take Before a Cloud Crash or Outage

You can do a few things beforehand to assure that you’re prepared for a cloud crash or outage:

  • Find out from your cloud provider what monitoring systems and redundancy precautions it has in case of an outage. This way, you’ll know for certain if you will have access to your data and applications if the cloud crashes.
  • Avoid relying on a single cloud provider for all of your storage needs. Centralizing all the tools you use under one platform means that when it goes down, your organization can be massively disrupted.
  • Take stock of the apps you use the most, and come up with alternative methods as a failsafe.
  • Backup your most important files. You should always download your most important data to a secondary location so that you can still access it should you lose access to your cloud environment.

Even if you take all of these precautions, it’s likely that your organization will still experience a cloud crash or outage sooner or later. Next, we’ll examine some of the steps you can take during a cloud crash or outage to make the experience less disruptive.

Steps to take During a Cloud Crash or Outage

It can be hard not to panic when you can’t access your data. Here are some things you can do during a cloud crash or outage to alleviate some of the stress that’s sure to come along with it:

  • Make sure it’s not just you. If you’re able to access the internet and other websites from your location, then you know it’s not just a problem with your Internet service and your cloud service may actually be down. If you aren’t able to access the Internet and other websites, the cloud service may be running fine and it’s only your location that’s down. You should also determine whether the cloud service is actually down, or just running slowly.
  • Contact your cloud service provider. If faced with an outage, you should let your CSP know right away. Ask the CSP to estimate a time for return to normal service, and try not to panic if your provider can’t give an immediate answer. Chances are, staffers are already aware of the outage and doing everything in their power to fix it. Overwhelming them with calls or emails is likely to exacerbate the situation and make it more stressful for you both.
  • Turn to your failsafe measures. Hopefully, your organization has somewhat prepared itself for this moment. Relying on alternative methods for the duration of the crash or outage can help your organization stay on track as opposed to coming to a stand-still when you lose access to critical applications or data.
  • Check that your backups are current. This is a great time to check to make sure that your backup measures are working correctly. If you’re unable to access your data in the cloud, it’s critical that you can access it another way. All of those regular backups you’ve been doing will finally pay off, and you will thank yourself in the end for being prepared.
  • Be patient. As stated before, most outages or crashes are resolved within a day. Although you probably feel like the downtime is lasting forever, it will likely be resolved as quickly as possible and you’ll be back to business as usual in no time.

Steps to Take After a Cloud Crash or Outage

  • Make sure your data is available. As stated before, any data stored on the cloud should be available again after the outage is resolved. If your data is gone after a cloud crash or outage, let your CSP know as soon as possible.
  • Contact your cloud provider again. Once service is back, you should ask your CSP for the reason for the outage. Usually, high-profile CSPs will release a public statement about the reasons behind any outages or crashes soon after they occur.
  • Review controls, policies, and procedures. Even if everything went according to plan during the crash or outage, you should still review your controls, policies, and procedures to make sure that they met your expectations, or so you can make changes accordingly.
  • Consider another provider. If outages persist over time, you might want to think about looking for another CSP. You can also check the Service Level Agreement (SLA) you signed with your cloud provider to see whether they may owe you a refund for the time down.
  • Look for automated solutions to help. You should also consider a good governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) solution to help you prepare your organization for any future cloud crashes or outages, and to help you implement the cloud security controls you need to keep your data safe.

Improve Your Cloud Security with ZenGRC

No matter which type of cloud model you use, ZenGRC from Reciprocity has the tools you need to keep your compliance and risk management streamlined and optimized.

ZenGRC’s platform provides users with an integrated experience that allows you to view all of your security controls and track risk in real-time, wherever your data is stored. It uses color-coded dashboards to show you exactly where your cloud security is compliant and where you fall short, and it tells you how to fill any gaps.

Zen also tracks your workflow so you always know the status of each compliance task, and it generates surveys and compiles the results for your vendors, so you can track their compliance, as well.

Unlimited, one-click self-audits from ZenGRC will help you assess your cloud security efforts. Our ZenConnect plugin integrates with all of your workplace applications to collect audit evidence, keeping it in a “single source of truth” repository for easy retrieval.

Worry-free cloud security is the Zen way. Contact us today for a free demo and get started on preparing your organization for the next cloud crash or outage you might experience.