Cybersecurity Essentials for Cloud Environments

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According to Statista, as of 2022, over 60% of all corporate data is stored in the cloud. This is up from just 30% in 2015. While cloud migration is being embraced by organizations the world over, many companies are struggling when it comes to cloud security, both during transition time and throughout their entire cloud journey. In this blog, we’ll delve into some of the common challenges and look at what makes a robust cloud security strategy.

What do we mean by cloud security?

The conflict in Ukraine, for instance, has increased the “spillover” risks of global cyberattacks considerably. While nearly 9 in 10 cyberattacks worldwide are currently targeting Russian or Ukrainian organizations, the fallout from those attacks is likely to impact the entire global threat landscape. While the NCSC advised there are no direct threats to UK organizations as a result of the conflict, it did emphasize that companies should still be taking action now to bolster their cyber resilience.

How threat actors are selecting their targets

The natural starting point here is to evaluate how cloud security differs from that of a traditional, on-premise system. This largely comes down to what we call the shared responsibility model. If all of your business assets are on-premise, you are accountable for the physical security of the building they are in, maintaining the health of the servers as well as the performance and security of the infrastructure.

However, with the cloud it’s broken down into two parts – the security of the cloud and the security in the cloud. The cloud service provider, like AWS or Azure, is responsible for the former, so all you need to worry about is the security of your resources within the cloud. There are cloud provider tools and utilities to help you manage that.

Common cloud security challenges

One of the most important things to watch out for in cloud security is misconfiguration. Companies have had decades of experience managing infrastructure on-premise, so they have had time to really understand all of the ins and outs. However, the cloud is still relatively new, so people are still grappling with the complexities and sheer number of configuration options.

Identity and access management (IAM) is an example of an area that is commonly misconfigured. This is mainly because of simple things not being accounted for, like not having multi-factor authentication enabled, misapplication of permissions, or being overly permissive.

This comes down to the key cloud principle of least privilege. There aren’t many companies where one individual requires access to the whole network, but businesses still frequently give individuals network-wide permissions.

In the event of a compromise, you would want the attacker to have the lowest possible level of access. It’s important to ensure that employees/users only have access to what is required to perform their roles.

There are also smaller misconfigurations that happen often, such as having unsecured S3 buckets (a type of file server). On their own, these may not be critical, but small issues like this can still evolve into bigger ones. For example, a lack of encryption on the S3 bucket can lead to sensitive data being made available in a publicly accessible realm.

Key considerations when moving to the cloud

1. Migration is key – it’s make or break:

Migration periods are still one of the highest risk points in time for an organization, especially when the migration is so big that companies spend a significant amount of time in a hybrid setup (both on-premise and cloud). It’s a misconception with hybrid environments that if everything is well segregated, there’s no route between on-premise and the cloud. In a lot of cases they are in fact closely intertwined and attackers can find their way between the two. It’s therefore important to treat them as one environment.

2. Secure configuration:

It’s essential to exercise due diligence when placing anything in the cloud. Frequently, companies will test and deploy quickly without taking the time to ensure that the content is secure. Before long, they will find that it has been compromised.

3. Governance structures:

You need to understand the right governance structure for your organization in order to manage things effectively. Fortunately, whether it’s ISO 27001 or CSF, these are baked into the cloud service providers themselves.

4. Good architecture:

This is just as important as in an on-premise environment. If you are considering moving to the cloud, sit down with a cloud architect or engineer and get your architecture right from the start. Otherwise, it can be really difficult to unpick and rebuild later on when there are interdependencies between software and services.

The importance of team buy-in

Let’s say you are part-way through moving to the cloud and you have three teams that have each started to use a different cloud provider. You want to define a company-wide strategy, but how do you bring those pieces of the jigsaw together? First of all, make sure you get buy-in from your teams. Consult with them on what they’re trying to achieve and why they’re using the providers they are. It’s no good just coming along and enforcing a policy if it makes their jobs more difficult – quite frankly, they just won’t comply with it.

It’s really important to understand the needs and drivers of the teams you’re working with. Then you can work with them to define a cloud strategy that works for the whole organization.

Often, businesses assume that everything is secure because Cloudtrail or Cloudwatch is enabled. While that will tell you what’s happening to resources (i.e. who is modifying or changing them), it won’t give insights into what’s happening within those resources. For that you will need a separate solution that will increase visibility and keep your cloud services secure.

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