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Collaboration Key for Cloud Communications Security

It's no secret that companies continue to move their enterprise communications -- including phone and collaborative messaging applications -- to the cloud at a rapid clip. The speed of business is fast and only getting faster, and most businesses recognize that to keep pace they need to undergo digital transformations. Whether they are employees or customers, today's technology users are accustomed to -- and increasingly demand -- easy and instantaneous communications.

One of the most appealing aspects of moving a service like voice to the cloud is convergence. With a cloud-based VoIP system, voice and data networks converge into one security frontier to protect. However, we can't ignore that the Internet-facing accessibility of cloud services exposes them in a way that they wouldn't be if hosted internally.

Cloud VoIP services are no exception to this, and whether a service is cloud-based or hosted on prem, PBX systems, VoIP services, and physical VoIP phones are attractive targets for hackers and fraudsters. In fact, the Communications Fraud Control Association's most recent global fraud loss survey lists PBX hacking and IP PBX hacking as the top two communication fraud methods employed worldwide, resulting in nearly $7.5 billion in annual global losses.

Most CISOs recognize that securing a cloud-based business VoIP system requires a different strategy than protecting one that is on prem and within a corporate firewall. What they often overlook is the fact that because the former makes them partners with their cloud providers in securing the end-to-end communications, they need to work together to avoid leaving gaps in security. Why? Because a service provider simply won't be able to address all parts of an end-to-end security posture for a customer, and weak security from either service provider or customer can increase risk for the other. When it comes to the cloud, shared risk means shared responsibility.

As one example of a security issue that customers must handle in house, consider client-side attacks. These attacks target the end user, and work like this: An enterprise employee stores some data in cloud service #1, some in cloud service #2, and some on her laptop. It's all the company's data, but it's not all in one place. If an adversary wants the company's data, the employee with access to all three repositories is the easiest path to get to it, so she becomes the best target for phishing, targeting unpatched vulnerabilities on the endpoints, and so on.

In today's cyber landscape, oftentimes the target is the data and the organization that owns it. If you're not actively defending your endpoints against client-side attacks, a cloud provider can do little to help -- and your cloud service login (not necessarily the cloud provider's back end) becomes a second, third, or fourth stop as the adversary leverages its foothold on your user endpoint in attempts to gain entry to every system that user can access (and also every other host that endpoint can reach).

What your cloud provider should be doing is educating you about security best practices and engaging with you as a partner in maximizing protections. You deserve to know that your chosen provider is taking responsibility and doing a good job with the security measures that are in its span of control, and that it's in a position to help you understand what security measures are outside its reach.

The good news is that a collaborative approach yields a smarter security strategy than one designed in a silo. For those embarking on the switch to the cloud, here are four key guidelines for crafting a smart and collaborative security strategy for your communications.

  1. Understand the risks -- Businesses mapping out their cloud strategies need to understand how the cloud changes the risk profiles of their data and communications. Your UCaaS provider should be able to help you with this. It should be able to demonstrate due diligence and a certain degree of sophistication in how it handles security. Look for a provider that issues SOC 2 Type II audit reports and ready accessibility to its in-house security professionals.
  2. Establish transparency -- Make sure to put levers in place, in the form of contract terms, offering a transparent look at what you don't control. If you don't have the knowledge of your control and assurance points as you move your VoIP services to the cloud, you can find yourself with blind spots to the attack surface and unintended security gaps between what you control and what your cloud provider controls. You run the risk of weaknesses in your security posture that a hacker can exploit in a variety of ways, including through toll fraud, eavesdropping, caller ID spoofing, and access to your user extensions.
  3. Identify your real data security needs -- Consider what information truly has business value and/or poses a liability risk to your business. The value of all data to your organization is not equal, and trying to secure every last byte as a blanket rule tends to be less effective than having clear priorities and focusing your efforts on what matters most. Consider whether users will be discussing sensitive information, or if the data is low risk. Generally speaking, data that is easy to recreate or buy that doesn't generate business value and that wouldn't damage your business if it were compromised is lower value -- and lower risk. Higher-value data such as minutes from board meetings, product designs, and customer data that you are responsible for protecting generally merits, and requires, more rigorous security.
  4. Heed regulatory requirements -- Many companies are subject to specific regulatory obligations, such as HIPAA or PCI DSS requirements, that pass through to their cloud providers. Identify what these requirements are for your business before your move to the cloud, and make sure your vendor can comply with them.

    As a first step, understand if this particular cloud communication service has any applicability to your regulatory landscape. If your regulated data will not pass through your messaging platform, the imposing regulatory requirements on your UC may be unnecessary. If it does, you'll want to understand what security measures are required of you, or your cloud communications provider, to protect that data.

    SMBs that don't have extensive in-house security resources would be wise to go with major cloud players. Why? Because those vendors will already have had to negotiate agreements with large enterprises that have complex security terms and more negotiating power than a smaller company. Security enhancements that are the result of those negotiations often benefit companies of all sizes.

Collaboration is a hot topic these days, and partnering with your cloud provider for security needs to be part of an enterprise deployment. Working together, you and your cloud communications provider can create a strong, consistent, end-to-end security posture.