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Staying Compliant In The Cloud: A Review of Common Cloud Compliance Standards

Staying Compliant In The Cloud: A Review of Common Cloud Compliance Standards

Cloud compliance standards refer to a set of guidelines and regulations that cloud service providers must adhere to when handling sensitive or regulated data. These standards cover a range of topics such as data protection, access control, data retention, encryption, and incident response.

Common cloud compliance standards

Here is an overview of the five main cloud compliance standards currently in use.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal law in the United States that sets privacy and security standards for protected health information (PHI). The law applies to healthcare providers, health insurers, and other organizations that handle patient health data.

HIPAA establishes specific technical safeguards that covered entities and business associates must implement to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. These safeguards include the following measures.

Access controls: Covered entities must implement technical policies and procedures for controlling access to ePHI. This includes unique user identification, emergency access procedures, automatic logoff, and encryption and decryption.

Audit controls: Covered entities must implement hardware, software, and procedural mechanisms to record and examine activity in systems that contain ePHI. This includes activity logs, audit trails, and time stamps.

Integrity controls: Covered entities must implement mechanisms to ensure that ePHI has not been altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner. This includes hashing, digital signatures, and other methods of verifying data integrity.

Transmission security: To ensure the security of ePHI being transmitted over an electronic network, technical security measures such as encryption, message authentication, and other secure transmission methods should be implemented by covered entities.

Cloud service providers that handle ePHI must also implement physical and administrative safeguards to protect against unauthorized access, theft, or damage to their systems. These include data center security measures, data backup and recovery, disaster recovery planning, and employee training.

To be HIPAA compliant, cloud service providers must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with covered entities, which outlines their responsibilities for protecting ePHI. The BAA requires cloud service providers to comply with HIPAA rules, including the technical safeguards outlined above. Additionally, cloud service providers must undergo regular risk assessments and audits to ensure they are in compliance with HIPAA standards.

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is a set of technical and operational requirements designed to ensure the security of payment card transactions. It consists of six categories of controls. These are further divided into 12 requirements that organizations must meet to be compliant.

The PCI/DSS requirements are designed to guarantee the safety of cardholder data by setting standards for creating and upholding a secure network and system, safeguarding cardholder data, operating a vulnerability management program, enforcing robust access control measures, regularly monitoring and testing networks, and maintaining an information security policy.

This includes installing and maintaining a firewall, using encryption to protect stored and transmitted data, restricting access to cardholder data, regularly updating antivirus software, testing security systems and processes, and conducting regular security awareness training for employees.

Compliance with PCI DSS is mandatory for any organization that handles payment card transactions, including merchants, processors, and service providers.

FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program)

FedRAMP requires cloud service providers to undergo a rigorous security assessment and authorization process before they can be used by government agencies. This process includes a thorough review of the provider’s security controls, testing of those controls, and continuous monitoring of the provider’s security posture. Cloud service providers are categorized into three impact levels (low, moderate, and high) based on the potential impact their services could have on the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of government data.

Cloud service providers must implement a variety of technical, administrative, and physical security controls to attain FedRAMP compliance.

These controls encompass access control, data encryption, incident response, vulnerability scanning, and penetration testing, among other areas. Cloud service providers must also ensure that their security controls are constantly monitored and audited to maintain their FedRAMP compliance status.

StateRAMP (State Risk and Authorization Management Program)

StateRAMP is based on FedRAMP but the two cloud compliance standards are not quite identical.

At a technical level, StateRAMP covers a narrower scope of cloud services than FedRAMP, focusing on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that are specifically designed for state and local government agencies. FedRAMP covers a wider range of cloud services, including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS solutions used by federal government agencies.

StateRAMP has additional requirements specifically tailored to state and local government agencies, such as disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

The GDPR is only relevant to companies that serve EU residents. It is, however, important to note that EU residents may be citizens of non-EU countries. It is also important to note that the EU has global agreements that allow it to enforce GDPR almost anywhere in the world.

This means organizations have two options. Firstly, they can take active steps to ensure that they never store or process any data belonging to EU residents. Secondly, they can comply with GDPR.

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