Originally published by New Context.
The best time to plan and implement a cloud security strategy is before you migrate your data, applications, and infrastructure to a cloud provider. The second best time is right now. Though cloud security involves a lot of moving parts, understanding the cloud security basics is easy and can get you started on a path toward a more secure cloud infrastructure.
Your cloud security strategy will consist of technological tools, user access controls, administrative policies, and testable, automated processes for mitigating breaches. But before you can choose the right tools for your cloud environment, you need to understand the security risks you’re facing.
The Biggest Risks to Your Cloud Security
Migrating your resources to the cloud presents some unique security challenges. Here are some of the biggest risks you’ll face when securing your cloud data.
Loss of Visibility
One of the benefits of moving your services to the cloud is that you no longer have to maintain that infrastructure in-house. However, this lessened responsibility also comes with a loss of visibility and control over vital business services. When you have a more complex cloud setup involving several different services being accessed by multiple devices, business units, and geographical locations, this loss of visibility becomes an even greater risk.
Misconfiguration of Cloud Services
One frequently overlooked threat to your cloud security is the configuration (or misconfiguration) of your cloud services. Many companies rush to move their data, applications, and services to the cloud before they fully understand how to configure and use their new cloud systems. For instance, they grant excessive privileges to accounts that extend far beyond the required scope. Often done as part of trialing new services or during debugging, an “overpowered” account that is compromised grants an attacker far-reaching access across many or even all your cloud services.
Lack of Cloud Security Planning
This is the underlying cause of many cloud security risks, which means it’s also the answer to avoiding those threats. Without a well-developed cloud migration plan, many organizations bring cloud services online long before planning and implementing their security strategies. You should ideally know how you’re going to protect the privacy and security of your data before you move it to the cloud, not after.
If your data is subject to any sort of data privacy regulations—such as HIPAA, GDPR, or PCI/DSS—you need to ensure you stay in compliance even when moving and storing that data in the cloud. For instance, many of these regulations require that you and your customers know exactly where data is being stored, who has access to it, how it can be used, and what secure measures are in place to protect it. Cloud providers offer varying levels of transparency, often leaving the heavy lifting to the customer to ensure compliance is maintained.
Some of the biggest threats to your cloud security are your people—employees, contractors, and even business partners with access to your cloud services and data. Most insider threats are not intentionally malicious, but are instead the result of negligence or a lack of training. This multifaceted issue has no single solution, but you can easily get started by asking hypothetical questions. Who has access? What could they do? What would be the impact?
Insecure API and Interfaces
You probably use multiple APIs to integrate your cloud services with other applications, or your cloud platform may have an external user interface so you can access your services from the web or mobile devices. If so, this is a potential cloud security risk, because hackers can use an insecure API or interface to gain access to your data. Identify each API endpoint you use, define how it is used, and then ensure your ground rules are enforced.
6 Cloud Security Basics to Get your Company to the Next Level
Now that you have an idea of the challenges you face, you can start implementing security strategies to protect your cloud infrastructure.
1. Physical Security
With regard to cybersecurity, physical security refers to the methods used to prevent direct access to systems and infrastructure, including things like security guards, CCTV, and biometric locks. Transferring your data, services, and applications to the cloud means you’re also transferring the physical security responsibilities to your cloud providers. You need to ensure that the datacenters housing your cloud services are secure, whether that’s by touring the facilities yourself or verifying the credentials and certifications held by your cloud providers.
2. User Identity and Access Management (IAM)
User identity and access management (IAM) solutions give you advanced control over user roles and access privileges across all of your cloud services. With IAM software you can define access privileges at a granular level, monitor login and access behavior, and set up automated responses (such as account lockouts and notification emails) to anomalous activity. An IAM combines single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and user access controls so you have greater visibility on account behavior and permissions. Your cloud providers should either offer their own in-built IAM system or integrate directly with third-party IAM software.
3. Backup and Recovery
Backing up your cloud data is just as important as backing up your on-premises data. This includes your files and applications as well as your critical system configurations. Ideally, your backups should be located in another cloud altogether to provide redundancy in case of an outage and to prevent attackers from gaining access if your primary cloud perimeter is breached. You should also have a robust set of recovery processes in place so you can get back up and running from your backups as quickly as possible.
4. Threat Intelligence, Monitoring, and Prevention
Threat intelligence, cloud monitoring, and intrusion prevention tools provide visibility into your cloud resources, users, and applications and automatically identify and mitigate potential security risks. These tools allow you to automate your cloud security functionality which helps remove a lot of human error from the equation. All cloud providers offer varying levels of built-in monitoring and security tools, and you can further bolster your visibility with third-party tools that integrate with your existing cloud infrastructure.
5. Vulnerability and Penetration Testing
To ensure your cloud security strategy is effective, and to identify potential weaknesses, you or your cloud provider should conduct routine vulnerability and penetration testing. This type of testing involves attacking your own cloud systems using a variety of common exploits, malware, and social engineering tactics to see if you’re able to breach your cloud security perimeter. You can then use this information to improve your strategy moving forward.
6. Security Culture
The security culture of your organization is one of the most crucial—though often overlooked— components of a successful cloud security strategy. Too many companies make cloud security the responsibility of a single department, when instead they should be training all of their staff on how to maintain security and avoid breaches. For example, you should conduct yearly security awareness training to keep your staff up-to-date on common social engineering tactics like phishing and remind them of safe practices when accessing data in the cloud. You should also strive to create a “blameless culture” in which your employees can self-report potential security issues without fearing retribution if they’re at fault.
Using Cloud Security Basics to Get Your Company to the Next Level
The best way to ensure the security of your cloud resources is by implementing a comprehensive security plan from day one of your cloud migration. Your cloud services provider should act as your partner in this effort. Choosing the right cloud provider will set you up for success by providing you with the expert advice, flexibility, integration options, and visibility you need to put these cloud security basics to work.