What Is cloud security?
May 5, 2022
Cloud computing describes the practice of accessing software, databases, and resources via the Internet instead of on local (also known as ‘on-premises’) hardware.
Cloud computing’s first boom began in the 1960s when virtualization — a strategy for dividing system resources between multiple applications — and time-sharing were made popular by vendors like IBM. At this time, establishing server securing meant focusing on physical measures and preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing the hardware.
Then, in the 1990s, telecommunications companies began experimenting with how they could use bandwidth more effectively through server management, optimizing infrastructure, and designing efficient applications that benefit end users. The 1990s also saw the rise of firewalls and antivirus programs, as organizations (and individuals) began storing and sharing more personal information online.
The 2000s and 2010s saw several major releases in the field of cloud computing. Amazon released Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2002, Google launched Google App Engine’s beta version in 2008, Microsoft’s Azure made its debut in 2010, and Google Compute Engine premiered in 2012. These eras of cloud computing brought about a massive increase in security breaches and the intensification of criminalization of hackers. To respond to these incidents, organizations began developing attack mitigation strategies like Network Behavioral Analysis (NBA), Denial of Service (DoS) protection, and web application firewalls (WAF).
Cloud services are a cornerstone of today’s digital age, with enterprise IT spending on public cloud computing projected to overtake traditional IT spending by 2021. But, as companies continue to use the cloud, it’s become increasingly critical that security requirements are met and that data is kept safe.
In this article, we’ll explore what cloud security is, what the risks of cloud computing are, and highlight strategies you can implement to keep your cloud services secure.
What Is Cloud Security?
Cloud security is a collection of predefined steps and technologies that aim to address and prevent both external and internal threats to application security. When you’re working with the cloud, you need to establish and maintain cloud security by implementing security best practices and using cloud-based services and tools as a part of your infrastructure.
The turn to popular cloud-based environments and computing models like Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has made infrastructure management a complex, dynamic challenge. And while your third-party cloud providers might play a significant role in managing your cloud infrastructure, you still need to take precautions when you’re storing data and applications on the cloud.
The decentralized nature of cloud computing makes maintaining security more complex. Because your applications and data are distributed across different infrastructures and systems, you need to ensure that all aspects of your pipeline and software supply chain are secure. Moreover, with security threats that directly target cloud providers becoming more prevalent, you need to proactively work to minimize, if not halt, the impacts of these breaches if one occurs.
Challenges of Maintaining Security in the Cloud
When shifting data to the cloud, you place your most precious assets with a third-party provider and make them accessible via the Internet. Even when you’re working with a trusted, diligent cloud provider, the cloud still creates additional security challenges, such as:
- Limited visibility – When working in the cloud, you’ll have limited visibility over your cloud interactions, such as the data and applications that are accessed and who is accessing them, compared with on-site interactions. Additionally, traditional network monitoring tools won’t work in a cloud context.
- Limited control over IT infrastructure — When using cloud services, you won’t have the ability to gain full access to the underlying IT infrastructure. You’ll have limited ability to configure the servers, storage, and networking devices.
- Authentication issues — Accessing cloud resources is available via the Internet, which means traditional on-site network security controls are ineffective. Users can also use their own devices to access cloud resources, which adds additional complexity to secure endpoint devices.
- Compliance issues — When sensitive data is stored in the cloud, it becomes subject to more data protection regulations. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mandates any company working anywhere to comply with its terms when storing or processing EU data subjects’ data.
- Misconfigurations — When working in a cloud environment, problems you have with configuring cloud services may introduce a security gap that can result in a data breach.
When you’re using cloud services to develop software projects, these security challenges become more complex due to the nature of the development process. For instance, DevOps teams need to have broad access to cloud resources, while the implemented security policies may prevent them from gaining full access to all needed resources.
Ensuring that DevOps teams can work efficiently without sacrificing security is challenging. However, it can be achieved by implementing proper cloud security management.
Cloud Security in Action
There are many different methods to ensure cloud security. Here are some of the most important ones you should consider implementing.
The first thing you need to do is classify your cloud data according to its sensitivity and importance to your work. Then, apply the relevant access controls according to each data type’s importance.
To secure your user endpoints, ensure that all users accessing your cloud infrastructure, resources, and data install antivirus, personal firewall, and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools on their devices.
Be sure to use an Identity and Access Management solution (IAM) to store all users’ credentials along with each user authorization level (their permissions). Using an IAM enables you to accurately and easily verify that users are only accessing the cloud resources they have permission to use.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Enforce Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) across your organization to secure access to cloud applications and data. This helps to verify user identity and ensures that even if a hacker gets access to your cloud resources, they can’t gain access to the application and its data.
Use the Principle of Least Privilege
Apply the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP). PoLP ensures that each agent in your pipeline — including users, processes, programs, and tools — has access to only the resource(s) and information they need to complete the job at hand.
Deploy Security Controls
You should deploy various security controls and tools to protect your cloud data. These include data loss prevention (DLP) solutions to prevent data leakage and encryption to ensure all sensitive data is encrypted and store security keys are in a safe location.
Additionally, you should install advanced security solutions, such as Network Detection and Response (NDR), to monitor all digital interactions between your on-premise and cloud environment and detect any suspicious activity.
Integrate Security in Your CI/CD Pipeline
You must integrate security in all phases of your CI/CD pipeline. This eliminates many security problems during the development process, from your software supply chain to deployments. Attention to security throughout the CI/CD process also helps you discover any security issues early on, such as issues with non-compliance and misconfiguration.
Scan for Misconfigurations
Scan containers and images for misconfigurations. For example, a developer may set the permission of some files to “public” during the testing process and forget to revoke the access after testing, making these files accessible to unauthorized users.
Keep Everyone Informed
Remember that cloud security is a continuous and cooperative practice involving every team member. Ensure all cloud users have adequate cybersecurity education and that your development teams understand all security implications related to using cloud platforms for developing software solutions.
The Importance of Cloud Security
Despite the tremendous benefits of adopting cloud computing models, doing so comes with a cost. For instance, transferring sensitive data to the cloud will introduce various security risks such as:
- Malware attacks
- Misconfiguration of cloud components
- API security risks
- Insiders’ threats, like data leakage
- Compliance issues related to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Patient Health Information (PHI) and other categories of sensitive information
As you begin using cloud services to perform one or more of your core business functions, such as storing and processing data, the potential of a security breach to have catastrophic consequences on both your application and business reputation increases. It’s reported that the average cost of a data breach in 2021 has reached 4.24 million USD.
Recent High-Profile Security Breaches
To understand how cloud security accidents can affect organizations heavily, consider some recent major security breaches.
Cognyte (May 2021)
Cognyte, a cybersecurity analytics company, left its database unsecured — they didn’t have authentication protocols in place. This oversight enabled attackers to expose 5 billion user records, including credentials like names, emails, and passwords. These credentials became publicly available and findable via search engines. Plus, Cognyte’s internal intelligence data was made freely available. It took four days to secure the data following the breach.
Kaseya Ransomware Attack (July 2021)
A ransomware attack against Kaseya, an IT solutions provider, stemmed from their software supply chain and focused on their unified remote monitoring and network perimeter security tool. Seeking to take administrative control of Kaseya’s services via their managed service providers, the attack resulted in pushing malware to thousands of the companies using Kaseya software worldwide.
Accenture (August 2021)
Accenture had its first major data breach in 2017 when it left at least four AWS S3 storage buckets, which contained 137GB of data, unsecured and accessible to the public. Threat actors acquired this data and used it to extort money from users. Then, in August 2021, Accenture was attacked using LockBit ransomware. Fortunately, Accenture discovered the breach during the final quarter audits in 2021, but LockBit claims to have stolen 6TB of data in this breach.
Cloud computing technologies have become an integral part of the digital age. Most organizations worldwide are using at least one cloud solution. But, as you’ve seen here, knowing the security challenges associated with cloud adoption and how to respond to them are vital for any organization that wants to survive in today’s digital age.
Lacework provides a unique solution for protecting your multi-cloud environment, offering resources and strategies for you to securely develop software projects in the cloud. Learn more about Lacework solutions to secure your cloud applications, infrastructure, and data.