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Cloud Security Best Practices For Total Systems Hardening

You may be familiar with the term “network hardening,” which refers to the practice of fortifying your security perimeters to prevent network breaches. When you migrate your systems, databases, applications, and other resources to the cloud, however, you need to think beyond enterprise network hardening. Instead, you need total systems hardening, which includes protecting your cloud-based applications, containers, servers, and databases in addition to the network traffic flowing to and from those resources. In this blog, we’ll cover 6 cloud security best practices to help you achieve total systems hardening of your cloud infrastructure.

6 Cloud Security Best Practices for Total Systems Hardening

These cloud security best practices provide the general guidelines your enterprise should follow to further your security goals.

  1. Implement Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems control which users, devices, and service accounts can access your cloud resources. A cloud-optimized IAM solution will allow you to extend your enterprise permissions and access control policies to your cloud systems, applications, and data. For example, with a cloud IAM solution, you can apply role-based access control (RBAC) and the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to limit the scope of an account’s permissions. You can create individual accounts for each cloud workload, and then limit an account’s permissions to the specific cloud resources it needs to perform those tasks. This minimizes your attack surface by limiting the lateral movement any one account has on your network. You can also use IAM to apply cloud security best practices for authentication such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO).

  1. Encrypt Everything

Encrypting data both in transit and at rest is not just a best practice for cloud security, but a best practice for data security in general. Encryption uses advanced algorithms to encode data, which makes it unusable to anyone who doesn’t have the key. You need to encrypt data while it’s in transit – for example, while you’re migrating it from your data center to the cloud, or while it’s moving from your cloud databases to your cloud-native applications – so anyone who illicitly intercepts the data will be unable to read it. You also need to encrypt your data while it’s stored on your cloud platforms. Encrypting cloud data is relatively easy thanks to the prevalence of cloud encryption software. You can also use a cloud-integrated secrets management solution to store and manage your encryption and decryption keys.

  1. Layer Your Security Controls

When you enter into a service contract with a cloud provider, you agree to the “shared responsibility model.” That means your vendor is responsible for some aspects of security, such as protecting the underlying network and infrastructure their platform runs on. You’re responsible for protecting the actual data, applications, and services, which requires cloud- or service-based security appliances like firewalls and web gateways.

One important cloud security best practice is to layer your security protocols and controls to harden your cloud systems. For example, you could start with a cloud-based firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) solution that provides multiple levels of security with network traffic monitoring, IP blacklisting, intrusion detection, and other critical cloud network security functionality. Then you could add a cloud access security broker (CASB) to monitor traffic between your enterprise and your cloud applications, services, and data, detect unusual behavior, and enforce security policies.

  1. Microsegment Your Cloud Resources

Microsegmentation is a network security term for separating individual workloads, interdependent services, or other related resources rather than keeping them all on the same network. Microsegmentation allows you to enforce granular access control policies, essentially segregating administrator and service accounts to individual microsegments. This further limits an account’s lateral movement on your cloud network, which means a hacker can be easily quarantined. You can also implement specific security protections or features that are tailored to the vulnerabilities of each microsegment (or the value of the data contained within). Since your cloud systems, databases, and applications are already running on virtual infrastructure, it is often easier to achieve microsegmentation through the cloud than with on-premises resources. For example, many FWaaS platforms offer microsegmentation capabilities.

  1. Enable Verbose Logging for Cloud Monitoring

Obviously, you first need to implement some form of cloud monitoring solution. Your cloud services may come with some form of platform-specific monitoring, but for cloud security best practices, you should use a vendor-neutral solution. This will allow you to monitor your entire cloud infrastructure from one centralized location. Then, you should enable verbose logging so your monitoring tools can collect as much usable data as possible, giving you a holistic overview of your entire cloud infrastructure.

  1. Remediate Bad Habits

Finally, all your cloud security technologies and methodologies won’t save you from bad security hygiene. That refers to the bad and neglectful habits that engineers and administrators sometimes fall into through overwork, poor training, or simple laziness. For total cloud systems hardening, you need to analyze your current practices and provide the training and solutions to mitigate bad behavior. For example, engineers frequently forget to decommission old servers or admin accounts, which increases your attack surface. To mitigate this problem, you could provide engineers with centralized infrastructure monitoring and management software. Then they can easily spin up new resources and decommission old ones without needing to RDP-jump from server to server. It’s important to understand the root cause of bad habits so you can present workable solutions to improve your security hygiene.

Fortify Your Cloud Infrastructure

These six best practices contribute to a holistic cloud security strategy that protects your infrastructure from multiple levels. However, to achieve true systems hardening, you need to thoroughly analyze your current security status to identify your capabilities, strengths, and vulnerabilities. If no one on your team is qualified to conduct this kind of assessment, you can consult with third-party organizations specialized in security analysis, vulnerability, and penetration testing. Then you can implement the exact cloud security technologies, policies, and best practices needed to fortify your cloud infrastructure.