Australian CISOs still in the dark on usage, security of cloud services within their companies

Australian businesses know less about their employees' use of cloud services than peers in many comparable countries, according to a recent global survey of CISOs that found they are both far less concerned about cloud security and less likely to vet the security of the cloud service providers they are using.

Conducted amongst 3476 IT security practitioners in nine countries, the Ponemon Institute's Gemalto 2016 Global Data Security Study found that Australian businesses were far less likely than their peers to believe that they know about all the cloud computing applications, platforms, or infrastructure services being used within their organisation.

Fully 59 percent of surveyed CISOs said they were not confident that they knew about all of the cloud applications their business was using – well behind counterparts in Germany (22 percent), France (32 percent), and Japan (35 percent) and the US (49 percent).

Lack of visibility into cloud infrastructure has long been cited as a major problem in applying business rigour to the cloud transition, particularly since cloud-security services must necessarily take a different architectural approach than conventional security.

The visibility issue remains big enough of a problem that only 43 percent of Australian respondents said their organisation was proactive in managing privacy and data-protection compliance in the cloud – well behind Germany (62 percent) but ahead of the US (36 percent).

As well as falling short when it comes to their own cloud compliance, Australian businesses were far less likely than those in other countries to evaluate their cloud providers' security capabilities before deploying cloud solutions in their organisations: just 53 percent of Australian respondents said their companies did this, compared with 73 percent in Germany, 67 percent in France, and 61 percent in the US.

The inability to control end users (named by 69 percent of CISOs now as compared with 61 percent in the previous survey, in 2014) was the most commonly-cited reason for this shortcoming, but a growing percentage (41 percent, up from 35 percent) also said that nobody was in charge. “Organizations have embraced the cloud with its benefits of cost and flexibility but they are still struggling with maintaining control of their data and compliance in virtual environments,” said Jason Hart, Gemalto's vice president and chief technology officer for data protection in a statement. Australian companies were also less likely than their peers to have mandated security policies for the use of cloud-computing applications, with just 34 percent of respondents indicating their business had such requirements.

This was well behind companies in Germany (60 percent), France (50 percent) and Japan (46 percent) but ahead of the US, where 33 percent of companies indicated their businesses had formal cloud security policies. Australian businesses were less concerned about managing security in cloud environments, with 70 percent of respondents agreeing that security was more complex for cloud systems than for on-premises systems; this compared with 87 percent of French, 86 percent of German, and 80 percent of US respondents. CISOs in Brazil (55 percent) were the least concerned about cloud security's relative complexity.

“It’s quite obvious security measures are not keeping pace because the cloud challenges traditional approaches of protecting data when it was just stored on the network,” said Hart. “It is an issue that can only be solved with a data-centric approach in which IT organizations can uniformly protect customer and corporate information across the dozens of cloud-based services their employees and internal departments rely every day.” Australian CISOs were at least aware of the importance of new security technologies in improving their access-control mechanisms, with 81 percent of Australian companies agreeing that strong authentication was important to control cloud access and 69 percent agreeing that federated identity standards like SAML were crucial to securing access to cloud resources.

Recognition of the use of SAML and other federation standards had increased markedly over the previous survey in 2014, with 65 percent of all respondents agreeing it was important compared with 56 percent two years ago. This echoed a surge in the percentage of respondents agreeing that it was important to control strong authentication prior to accessing data and applications in the cloud – which grew from 73 percent in 2014 to 78 percent now.

CISOs in Australia were more optimistic than others about managing user identities in the cloud, with just 62 percent of respondents saying it was harder to manage user identities in the cloud than in on-premises systems; this compared with 76 percent in France and 70 percent in the UK.