Cloud integration can improve federal cybersecurity

As cloud integration continues to pick up steam among federal agencies, cybersecurity worries remain a concern for many department leaders. These decision-makers will typically acknowledge the performance and cost benefits associated with cloud computing, but remain skeptical that sensitive government information can remain protected within these environments. 

It is true that, when handled improperly, cloud solutions may put government agencies at risk. But this is true of any IT service. The fact of the matter is that cloud computing actually has the potential to significantly improve agencies' cybersecurity capabilities, as FCW recently highlighted.

Cloud security
Speaking to the news source, Tim Shinkle, an information governance consultant, explained that cloud services can deliver an upgrade to an organization's cybersecurity.

"There are security benefits to the cloud and its inherent economies of scale," Shinkle told FCW. "On-premise solutions require a large effort and cost to secure their environment."

A related benefit, Shinkle added, is that organizations, including government agencies, can outsource some aspects of security to cloud vendors, rather than dedicating the time and effort needed to keep these efforts in-house. These service providers have a powerful incentive to ensure that their clients' information and networks remain safe.

"Cloud vendors know that their success is dependent upon them ensuring information security, since the blame is squarely on them if security fails," he told the source. "Government standards that cloud vendors have to meet including FedRAMP are reducing risk for cloud adopters."

Risks remain
That being said, the news source acknowledged that there are risks associated with cloud implementation in the federal government. Some of these are fairly straightforward, such as the dangers posed by cybercriminals and state-sanctioned hackers. Obviously, such cyberthreats are a problem for on-premise solutions as well, but they still must be addressed in any cloud initiative.

Additionally, moving data management into a cloud environment can potentially make it difficult for agencies to ensure that the link between digital records and their corresponding metadata remains intact. This is likely only a problem when improper cloud applications are used, but that is a legitimate concern when adopting the cloud – after all, hundreds if not thousands of federal employees will have access to many of these records, and there is always the risk that some will utilize substandard applications.

Achieving security
The overall message here is that the cloud integration can potentially improve government agencies' cybersecurity capabilities, but only when handled properly. If departments cut corners or fail to follow best practices, the results can be devastating.

A sound approach to cloud integration requires several different components. First and foremost, agencies need to partner with the right organizations. Specifically, departments need to work closely with both service providers and consulting firms. While it is true that, as Shinkle noted, cloud vendors have a natural incentive to ensure the safety of their clients' data, some providers take this responsibility much more seriously than others. Choosing a vendor that makes cybersecurity a priority will go a long way toward protecting federal information.

A consulting firm specializing in public sector cloud integration can offer further guidance throughout the cloud planning, deployment and maintenance processes. If handled poorly or carelessly, these steps could lead to vulnerabilities, which in turn could lead to data breaches or other security incidents. A reliable consulting firm can guide the agency to ensure its cloud integration strategy is robust and effective.

Additionally, agencies need to take the time to train and educate federal workers. In many cases, the biggest threat to federal cybersecurity is an employee inadvertently engaging in risky behavior. Considering that many workers will have limited experience with the cloud, this preparation is essential.