Cloud adoption rates have skyrocketed in recent years, particularly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the fastest-growing industries within the technology landscape because it revolutionizes the way businesses store, manage, and process applications and data. It has thus become a necessity for companies that wish to outperform their competitors using cutting-edge technologies. But when you manage apps and data in the cloud, you have to be ready to deal with cybersecurity threats. This is where cloud security management comes into play.
This article explains cloud security management, its importance and benefits, its challenges and best practices, and its strategies and implementation.
What is Cloud Security Management?
Cloud security is not a single approach or concept. Instead, it is a set of practices, tools, and strategies that complement each other to help companies secure their workloads and data in complex public or shared cloud environments that are teeming with cybersecurity threats.
It is, therefore, a multipronged approach that includes but is not limited to the following:
- Data security involves using encryption to secure critical business information from theft or unauthorized access.
- Holistic user management in the cloud through authentication and authorization, which includes Identity and Access Management (IAM), ensures that only authorized personnel have access to business data and workloads.
- Appropriate cloud architectures that are tailored to the unique needs of each hosted workload. It is critical to ensure that security services are properly configured to create a secure cloud environment.
- In the cloud, each workload or app boasts a range of configurations Properly configuring and maintaining these options is crucial for optimizing performance and security.
- Comprehensive monitoring and reporting tools to detect and respond to any malicious activities, maintain data integrity, and provide real-time alerts and reporting for swift action in response to security threats.
What is the Importance of Cloud Security Management?
Many organizations place their trust in third-party cloud vendors to secure their cloud environments. However, this approach has some major risks that need to be discussed.
First and foremost, cloud providers do not always comprehend the intricacies of their client’s systems and data. Moreover, they also don’t have access to the client’s other digital components and their security, including their overall IT ecosystem. As a result, too much reliance on cloud computing vendors often lands businesses in trouble in the form of system breaches and cyber attacks.
Similarly, even if you outsource your cloud environment’s security to an outsider, the responsibility for data compliance and security still lies with you. You have to ensure that your data in the cloud is not only secure but also compliant with the relevant regulations.
The Cloud Security Alliance, a leading non-profit organization that aims to promote best practices for cloud security, has shared the following list of most common cloud computing cyber threats:
- The absence of a robust cloud security architecture and strategy
- Inefficient change controls
- Inadequate credentials, access, and key management
- Account hijacking
- Use of insecure APIs
- Limited cloud usage visibility
- Weak control plane
- Data breaches and application failures
- Abuse of cloud computing for nefarious purposes
The impact of a cloud attack is not limited; it has a multiplier effect because an attack on a single user’s credentials affects not just that user but often the entire organization and its other customers, too.
Given that each has its pros and cons, you need to make an informed decision when choosing the type of cloud environment for your business – public, private, or hybrid. Suppose you choose a public cloud environment for your organization. This approach will not burden your IT system; however, since your cloud vendor might not be as particular about cloud security as you’d like them to be, it will leave major security loopholes in your cloud setup.
Choosing a private cloud services approach will definitely give you more control over the cloud environment, but its downside is increased costs and complexity. You might think the hybrid cloud is the way to go then. Not really. It comes with its own set of challenges, including the challenge of how to implement policy across diverse cloud environments.
Let’s discuss the benefits of cloud security management.
Benefits of Cloud Security Management
Although managing your cloud security can be a daunting task, it comes with benefits that are too good to be ignored. Here are some of the significant advantages of properly protecting your cloud environment.
- Improved Visibility – A robust cloud security management gives you comprehensive insights into your cloud deployments. For instance, you can easily get a view of the data, workloads, services, and resources deployed in your cloud environment. You can also see who is accessing what data in the cloud, and how services are configured.
- Enhanced Compliance – When you are armed with improved visibility, it becomes a lot easier for you to ensure regulatory compliance. You can even perform forensic analysis of incidents to unearth what caused them and then take remedial measures to remove the impact of a given incident on your customers.
- Better Tools – Many cloud vendors offer incredible cloud security tools that are tailored to work within their cloud infrastructure. These tools can monitor, analyze, and report security threats with high accuracy. Such tools remove the need for you to install your own security tools in the cloud.
- Security Services – Cloud providers typically offer data encryption services aimed at securing your business data. Services like data loss prevention, disaster recovery, and data backups help to improve your cloud security.
- Cost Optimization – You can benefit from significant cost savings by using security tools provided by your cloud vendor. This is possible because security tools by cloud providers are more frequently updated and undergo rather more comprehensive testing than tools used in local data centers.
But cloud security management is not a bed of roses; it has its challenges as well. Let’s discuss these now.
Challenges of Cloud Security Management
Cloud computing faces an increasingly complicated set of challenges. Companies that have invested in the cloud and are using it or those who are considering its use should take time to consider the security challenges of operating in the cloud.
- Shared Responsibility Model – Many cloud service providers operate on a shared responsibility model. This means that while the cloud provider is responsible for the security of the cloud infrastructure, customers are responsible for securing their data and applications within that infrastructure. The division of responsibilities can lead to confusion and gaps in security if not properly understood and managed. AWS cloud security is an excellent example of the shared responsibility model.
- Limited Visibility – Visibility is crucial in the cloud. Cloud environments are often highly dynamic, with resources being created and destroyed on demand. This dynamic nature can make it challenging for you to maintain visibility into all cloud assets and configurations. Without proper monitoring and visibility tools, your security teams may struggle to detect vulnerabilities and threats effectively.
- Compliance Challenges – A business must be aware of its assets, their locations, and their purposes. However, costly breaches in compliance can take place if your cloud provider hides this critical information from you. Hence, it is vital to understand what services, tools, and the sort of visibility your cloud service provider offers so that you can understand how these can help you adhere to compliance regulations.
Moreover, different regions and industries have specific regulatory requirements and compliance standards. Meeting these requirements in a multi-cloud management or hybrid cloud environment can be complex and require a deep understanding of various regulations. Ensuring that cloud configurations and practices comply with these standards can be an uphill task.
- Limited Control – Another challenge of cloud computing is that you, as a client, don’t own the underlying cloud infrastructure, thus implying limited control. You do, however, have considerable control over things like user authorization and authentication. But this is not the same as having control over an on-premises data center. This can be unsettling for many, not to mention the associated challenges in implementing custom security measures and policies.
- Different Cloud Environments – Organizations often use multiple cloud service providers, each with its own set of tools, services, and security mechanisms. Managing security across these different environments can be complex, as security policies and tools may not be consistent, leading to potential gaps in protection.
- Elasticity and Scale – One of the benefits of the cloud is its ability to scale resources up and down rapidly. However, this elasticity can be a double-edged sword from a security perspective. Misconfigurations, unsecured resources, and compromised credentials can quickly lead to security incidents as you scale the environment.
- Identity and Access Management – Managing user identities, access controls, and permissions in the cloud can be challenging. Cloud environments typically have a complex set of access control mechanisms, and ensuring that users have the right level of access without overprovisioning or underprovisioning privileges requires careful management.
- Data Security – Data breaches or leaks can have severe consequences. Implementing encryption, data classification, and access controls to safeguard data can be more complicated in the cloud, where data is often distributed across multiple locations and services.
- Incident Response and Forensics – It is often challenging to investigate the causes of a security incident in the cloud. The lack of physical access and the need to navigate through various managed cloud services logs and data sources make incident response and forensics more challenging.
- Security Automation – Embracing automation is crucial for efficiently managing cloud security, but it also comes with challenges. You need to be wary of misconfigured automation scripts or security tools that can introduce vulnerabilities or errors at scale.
- Cloud-Native Threats – Some security threats are inherent in cloud environments. These environments are susceptible to serverless function vulnerabilities, container security issues, and API-based attacks. Your security team needs to be aware of these emerging threats and adapt its defenses accordingly.
- Human Error – The ease of provisioning resources in the cloud means that human error, such as misconfigurations or accidental data exposure, can have significant security implications. Proper training and security awareness programs are essential to mitigate this risk.
Let’s discuss some best practices for cloud security management that you can use to mitigate security risks.
Best Practices for Cloud Security
Once you have decided to place your data, apps, and platforms in the cloud, your next job is to determine your cloud security policy. This policy should cover critical considerations, such as access controls, the type of data you want in the cloud, and how your employees will use the cloud. Your cloud security policy is also informed by the type of cloud service you will use: SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS. Let’s discuss best practices for each type.
SaaS is a flexible cloud service, and a one-size-fits-all security approach does not work well with it. Moreover, there are many kinds of SaaS providers out there, and their offerings can vary significantly. So, what can you do? Choose a set of general SaaS security guidelines and use the ones that best fit your needs.
Some of these include the following:
– Properly assess and vet potential SaaS providers.
– Use multifactor authentication wherever possible.
– Encrypt all your data in the cloud, whether at rest or in motion.
– Use manual and automation techniques to find, count, and store cloud assets.
– Create an organizational culture where the cloud and security teams collaborate closely to create a secure cloud-based app.
Just as in SaaS, companies need to come up with a data encryption strategy in IaaS, in addition to determining a way to inventory assets in the cloud. However, securing AWS cloud infrastructure requires a bit more effort on the company’s part. IaaS gives you a lot of leverage in accessing the provider’s services and resources, which you can then utilize to create a stable operating environment in the cloud that can host workloads.
As a business, you should create an IaaS security checklist that will help you ensure proper access management and consistent patching. Here’s what you can include in your IaaS security checklist:
– Gain a comprehensive understanding of your IaaS provider’s security model.
– Ensure data encryption while data is at rest.
– Implement consistent patching.
– Track, monitor, and inventory your cloud assets.
– Manage cloud access.
PaaS is often the most difficult cloud model to manage when it comes to securing it. It is best that you take responsibility for its security. In PaaS, you get a cloud platform where you can develop, run, and manage your cloud apps. You are also given security tools by the platform provider. However, you have to use these to secure your app. For instance, you should deconstruct your application design through threat modeling to discover vulnerabilities and rectify them.
Although PaaS security strategies vary depending on the business use, environment, and industry, you can apply the following five best practices in virtually all cases:
– Initiate threat modeling to identify vulnerabilities and outline mitigation strategies to overcome them.
– Encrypt all your data, whether at rest or in transit.
– Create a map of interactions and test each interaction.
– Avoid lock-in by using a common language supported by different service providers.
– Leverage the potential of platform-native security features.
Who is Responsible for What in the Cloud?
As mentioned earlier in the article, today’s cloud industry largely operates on a shared responsibility model. In this model, the service provider is tasked with ensuring the security of the cloud, whereas the users are responsible for security in the cloud.
This means that the service provider ensures that its infrastructure and services are secure. An example of this includes properly configuring and setting up networks and servers.
On the other hand, it is the user’s responsibility to use the relevant security features to ensure that they access and operate their cloud assets securely. For example, suppose your cloud provider offers IAM (identity access management). However, if you don’t use this security feature, you will give open access to your cloud assets to outsiders. It may even land you in regulatory trouble. The cloud provider will not be responsible for this or for any data loss or theft.
Although traditional enterprise security teams can assume some responsibility for managing the enterprise cloud environment, it is best to have tech solutions for cybersecurity in business. The reason is that cloud security is a complex matter which requires specific technical skills.
Going a step further, it is also advisable to create special-purpose teams like IAM teams and IaaS teams that can manage access management and serverless computing, respectively. These are only some of the tasks that these teams can perform. Your IaaS security team can also be responsible for asset tagging, vulnerability scanning, and infrastructure composition techniques.
Setting up specialized teams for cloud security management ensures smooth deployments. It also enables you to conduct proper auditing and reporting, not to mention adequate policy enforcement. One of your top considerations in all this should be to offer leading cloud security certifications to your cloud employees.
Cloud Security Management Strategies
Most organizations that utilize the cloud use different and diverse cloud environments to meet their application, infrastructure, and platform needs. Such diversity in cloud environments necessitates the use of a robust cloud security strategy. But this is easier said than done. Let’s look at some of the leading cloud security management strategies.
To curb sprawl and enhance control, organizations should centralize the procurement, deployment, and management of their multi-cloud management. This centralization not only ensures the application and enforcement of security policies and compliance requirements but also facilitates collaborative and uniform communication about threats and mitigation strategies. Adopting emerging FinOps practices can also aid in establishing cross-functional teams focused on collaborative cloud use and cost management.
Regular testing of cloud environments is essential for security teams. Utilizing specialized tools for hostile tests against environments helps fortify cloud security. Live-fire training, which involves intentionally making cloud environments insecure, is also recommended for security professionals to enhance their skills and identify weaknesses and gaps in real-time.
Testing becomes particularly critical in the shared responsibility model, where both in-house and provider security teams jointly assume the responsibility of protecting assets in the cloud. Cloud penetration testing serves as a valuable method to assess the effectiveness of the shared responsibility model and overall cloud environment security.
In regulated or high-risk industries, employing forensics techniques in the cloud environment can support investigations. Automation plays a key role in this context, enabling organizations to inspect and analyze cloud information for legal proceedings and swiftly mitigate any issues identified.
Cloud account hijacking is a significant threat that security teams must guard against. Three key strategies include:
- Implementing multifactor authentication
- Segregating duties
- Adopting a trust-but-verify approach to account access
Information sharing is a commonly overlooked aspect of cloud security testing and management. Despite numerous tools available for identifying and addressing security issues, documenting and sharing responses to fundamental questions such as the cause, remediation, and results of incidents are crucial for the entire cloud management team to learn and improve policies, practices, and processes for future security management. Sharing information fosters a collaborative learning environment within the cloud management team.
How to Implement Cloud Security Management
There is no single, universal approach to implementing cloud security management. That is because just as cloud environments are diverse, the tools services providers offer and businesses that use them are also very different. The implementation approach you take depends on quite a few factors. Nevertheless, here are some guidelines you can use to implement your cloud security strategies:
- Understand your business goals and drivers – Start by comprehending your business drivers and goals and aligning cloud security management with the overarching objectives of your business. This ensures that security efforts serve your business purpose.
- Identify threats – Gain a comprehensive understanding of the potential threats your cloud environment faces, ranging from malware and intrusion to disaster scenarios. Also, conduct regular security audits on cloud-based assets to identify risks and inform the development of policies and processes. This knowledge is crucial for narrowing down the selection of appropriate security tools.
- Establish security principles – Develop security principles and practices tailored to the unique nature of cloud security. Considering aspects such as data access and protection, recognizing edge and cloud computing may differ significantly from traditional data center security. You should also anticipate how cloud security processes can best align with and benefit your company.
- Select and implement tools – Choose and implement tools, platforms, and services that align with your business goals and established security practices. Recognize that the diversity of offerings requires a careful evaluation of strengths and tradeoffs. Adjustments to principles and practices may be necessary, but the overall alignment with business objectives should remain consistent.
- Encrypt data and monitor – Prioritize data encryption at rest and in transit. Adopt a zero-trust approach for user and workload access, implementing highly restricted postures. Monitor network traffic for potential intrusions and scan for malicious activities. Keep an eye on end users and devices for enhanced security.
- Report – Leverage the alerting and reporting features of the cloud security management system to provide timely security reports to stakeholders involved in cloud workloads. Proactively recognize threats, like unpatched operating systems, and take necessary actions to mitigate risks on an ongoing basis.
- Reassess – Acknowledge that both threats and business needs are dynamic, necessitating continuous adaptation of cloud security measures. As cloud security and cloud threats evolve, the management effort should also evolve, requiring a collaborative effort from business, technology, and legal leadership to address emerging threats effectively.
To put things in a nutshell, cloud security management is really about crafting a tailored approach that aligns with your unique business needs and the greater environment it operates. It therefore requires a nuanced approach. As your business evolves and you look to adopt the latest technologies like the cloud to remain competitive in your domain, security will always be paramount. Make sure your cloud environment is as secure as possible.
If you have any questions regarding cloud security, or how you can further improve your existing cloud security management strategy, drop us a line at [email protected]. Our team will do a free consultation session to help you with your queries.