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Are we heading for a major cloud security storm?

Wed 22 Jan 2020 | Anurag Kahol

Cloud security adoption rates are failing to keep pace with cloud infrastructure and application investment

Over the last five years, global cloud adoption has grown at an astonishing rate. To put this into context, a recent study by Bitglass into 2019 cloud adoption trends found that almost 90 percent of businesses have now deployed some sort of cloud-based infrastructure or tools to aid productivity and performance.

As more and more sensitive data enters the cloud, it’s critical that businesses invest in the necessary security tools in order to protect it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The same study found that only a third of the businesses who had adopted cloud solutions had implemented even the most basic cloud security tool; single sign-on (SSO).

To better understand global cloud adoption rates, the report analysed key information from 138,000 businesses and enterprises across a wide range of industry sectors. This uncovered a series of startling revelations about adoption rates for popular SaaS apps, AWS infrastructure, and single sign-on (SSO) solutions.

This article looks at some of the study’s key findings in more detail and assesses why the growing discrepancy between cloud infrastructure/applications adoption rates and cloud security adoption rates are setting many businesses on a dangerous path.

The rise of cloud applications shows no signs of slowing down

As expected, the exponential growth of cloud productivity suites continues apace. In this category, Microsoft Office 365 reigns supreme with 79 percent adoption in 2019. Conversely, despite an early lead, adoption of Google’s G Suite slowed over the past few years as more competitors entered the market. Its 33 percent adoption rate in 2019 is only a slight increase over 2018’s 25 percent.

The wider use of cloud applications has also continued to grow tremendously, with adoption rates for popular applications like Salesforce and Slack increasing by 55 percent and 44 percent respectively. When looking at specific industry sectors, Education is the biggest overall user of cloud apps, adopting Office 365 (81 percent) and G Suite (59 percent) for both student and staff use. Finance was another leading adopter of Office 365 (82 percent), with Healthcare close behind at 79 percent.

The reason behind these trends is obvious; cloud applications give organisations the ability to scale much more easily. As such, it’s no surprise that larger organisations have deployed cloud applications like Office365, G Suite, Salesforce and Slack the most often. However, small and medium-sized companies aren’t far behind, largely thanks to a growing range of solutions, offerings and tools tailored to this section of the market.

Cloud infrastructure has become commonplace

For organisations that adopt Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) the benefits can be numerous, including the reduction (or even elimination) of expensive on-premises infrastructure and the ability to scale IT resources at the touch of a button. Looking at the adoption rates of the market leader – Amazon Web Services (AWS) – offers some useful insight. In 2019, the percentage of organisations using AWS reached 20 percent, reflecting a positive increase on 2018’s 14 percent.

AWS adoption is widespread and hasn’t been confined to any specific sector or market niche. The platform is most popular in the technology sector at 32 percent, closely followed by media (28 percent), telecoms (27 percent), education (26 percent), and non-profit (20 percent).

Lagging SSO adoption rates causing major concern in security circles

We barely go a day without news of another major cloud security breach hitting the headlines, which already serves as a clear red flag that cloud security simply isn’t as much of a priority as it should be for many businesses.

To further illustrate this point, consider SSO, a security tool every organisation should deploy to authenticate users attempting to access sensitive data in the cloud.

Tools like SSO are critical when it comes to protecting data in the cloud. While the percentage of companies deploying cloud applications has grown to 86 percent, SSO adoption is stuck at a mere 34 percent.

As such, the difference between cloud adoption and single sign-on usage should be much smaller. As it stands, over 50 percent of businesses that are embracing cloud technology appear to be neglecting the security responsibilities that come with it, putting a huge amount of sensitive data at risk.

The exponential growth in cloud adoption – from 24 percent to 86 percent over the last five years – has enabled businesses from nearly every industry sector to enjoy more efficient and flexible working practices.

However, the need for data protection is more vital than ever and security strategies simply must be fit for purpose in a cloud-first environment. Fortunately, there’s a growing number of highly efficient, cost effective solutions now available. For instance, utilising the services of a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) allows companies to embrace the many benefits on offer without the risk of data leakage.

With the popularity of the cloud showing no signs of abating, it’s time to put cloud security at the top of the corporate agenda or risk a major storm in the near future.


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Anurag Kahol


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