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Cloud Security

Today’s most innovative companies see the cloud as a key to their success. The cloud accelerates the development and launch of new digital strategies, boosts efficiency and agility, and optimizes costs. Practically every transformative idea in the digital environment blossoms in the cloud.

Operating in the cloud also raises a host of security questions and challenges that are absolutely vital to answer. To get ahead and stay there, companies cannot live without the cloud. And they also can’t live without effective cloud security built to stay ahead of any potential threats.

What is Cloud Security?

A broad swath of technologies, controls and policies together comprise what we think of as cloud security. It’s a subdomain of information security and network security focusing on how enterprises protect their virtualized applications, services, data, intellectual property and all of the computing infrastructure that makes the cloud a reality.

Cloud security is a mix of processes and activities that, together, ensure confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and resources. It can include security practices at data centers where cloud services live, effective policies that control who can access what data, along with a wide range of protections against ever-changing cyberthreats.

Both the cloud service provider — such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, etc. — and the client share responsibility for cloud security. The provider is in charge of securing the infrastructure and the foundational services of cloud computing. Clients, meanwhile, are responsible for securing their data and controlling access to their resources. It’s known as a shared responsibility model, ensuring that sensitive data is secure both at rest and in transit, and that access controls and authentication measures are implemented properly.

Developers play a key role in cloud security as they are involved in various operational tasks, such as deploying infrastructure as code (IaC) — i.e., writing the software that starts or scales cloud computing resources — fixing misconfigurations, and addressing vulnerabilities. Cloud security isn’t just one thing, but rather a collection of strategies and tools. Some are outlined in more detail below, but they include identity and access management policies, encryption and frequent security assessments to watch for unauthorized access and deal with potential misconfigurations and vulnerabilities.

Why is Cloud Security Important?

Cloud security is essential because it keeps your cloud operations rolling uninterrupted, while protecting sensitive data from theft, leakage and deletion.

Moreover,  as businesses increasingly rely on cloud services for scalability, cost-efficiency and performance, they also face an escalating risk of cyberthreats. Operations can, indeed, be more secure in the cloud, so long as they’re protected by effective cloud security measures.

Cloud security not only protects intellectual property and personal information, but also helps to maintain trust between organizations and their clients. Beyond that, regulatory compliance mandates stringent data protection standards, which means cloud security is a must for legal and compliance reasons.

Common Cloud Vulnerabilities

For all of the cloud’s strengths, operations within the cloud face the potential for a number of common misconfigurations and vulnerabilities. These can lead to potential data breaches, unauthorized access and system compromises.

It takes a proactive cloud security approach to address and eliminate misconfigurations and vulnerabilities. Among other things, that means regular audits, the adoption of best configuration practices and implementation of a host of robust security measures designed with cloud computing in mind. Following are some of the possibilities that can stir trouble.

Misconfigurations

This stands out as one of the most prevalent issues. Simply put, misconfigurations happen when cloud services are not set up securely. It may be because of oversight or because complexity has gotten the better of those who are in charge of configuration. Either way, misconfigurations leave systems exposed to attackers.

Examples of misconfigurations include improper access controls, such as overly permissive access, unrestricted outbound access and disabled logging. The problem can stem from leaving default settings in place or setting permissions that are too broad, exposing sensitive data to people who should be locked out. Or, perhaps inbound access and outbound traffic are not appropriately restricted, or storage access is not configured properly.

Alternatively, encryption settings might be inadequate or misapplied. Or, monitoring and logging might be insufficient, configured inappropriately or even disabled, resulting in a lack of visibility into malicious activities.

Insecure interfaces and APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are essential for making digital innovation work—they are the way cloud services and applications interact and communicate. But insecure interfaces and APIs are a critical potential vulnerability.

Cloud management interfaces or APIs that can be accessed over the internet without sufficient security controls can turn into gateways for cyberattacks, giving unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Inadequate identity access management

You must take a lot of care with regard to who and what can access cloud-based systems. Nevertheless, a common cloud vulnerability is the reliance on inadequate identity and access management (IAM) systems—it’s like handing out keys to the cloud.

Only authenticated and authorized users should be able to access specific data and services, and it should be a short and carefully controlled list. Cloud security requires effective IAM policies and tools, or else critical systems and information can be exposed.

Poor visibility

If you can’t see a problem, you certainly can’t fix it—and you might not even be aware the problem exists in the first place. That’s why visibility into cloud environments is essential.

Poor visibility makes it difficult or impossible to adequately manage cloud resources and leaves you in the dark when it comes to detecting active threats. Without effective, comprehensive visibility and monitoring, you’re likely to overlook misconfigurations and fail to notice unauthorized activities.

Dynamic workloads

One of the things that makes cloud computing so powerful is the use of dynamic workloads. It’s key to flexibility, scalability and resilience. But dynamic workloads also introduce security challenges.

As workloads are rapidly scaling and taking advantage of their inherent flexibility, they’re also outpacing traditional security measures. Dynamic workloads must have continuous security assessments and adaptive controls. Threats can pop up and evolve in real time, so responses must be able to do the same.

Cloud Security Tools

Cloud security is a shared responsibility as noted previously, requiring a diverse toolkit that caters to different aspects of cloud computing environments.

Some cloud security tools focus on safeguarding data, some handle access rights, while others detect misconfigurations and vulnerabilities. Together, they ensure the protection of data, applications and infrastructures. Here are some of the primary examples of cloud security tools:

  • Cloud Detection and Response (CDR): CDR tools monitor and analyze cloud environments with an eye for detecting and investigating security threats in the cloud. As the title makes clear, it is not just “detection” but also “response,” as CDR facilitates mitigation of the threats it spotlights.
  • Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM): Users should only have the access needed for their roles and tasks, and CIEM solutions facilitate these access controls. They manage and enforce identity and access policies in cloud environments, reducing risks that can happen with over-provisioned permissions and privilege escalation. An increasing challenge in the CIEM world is the growth of machine identities, a dynamic roster that can greatly outnumber human entitlements.
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Misconfigurations and compliance violations are major sources of vulnerability, and CSPM tools automatically identify such issues in cloud infrastructures. They continuously monitor the cloud environment to help enterprises maintain a secure and compliant cloud posture. These tools are focused on visibility and control over infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service in the big cloud providers, and they are designed to prioritize issues across multiple providers.
  • Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP): Cloud workloads need protection across a variety of environments, such as virtual machines, containers and serverless functions. CWPP tools do just that, offering protection against vulnerabilities and threats so that workloads stay secure in public, private and hybrid clouds.
  • Data Security Posture Management (DSPM): DSPM technologies focus on identifying and protecting sensitive data within  cloud services. They monitor data access, classification and compliance with privacy regulations, thereby safeguarding data from unauthorized access and leaks.
  • Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB): CASBs are security policy enforcement points between users and cloud service providers, including SaaS applications. Beyond enforcing security policies, they provide visibility into cloud application usage and assess risk across cloud services.
  • Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP): These tools combine the capabilities of several security technologies, including CSPM, CWPP and more; in fact, virtually all of the other cloud security tools discussed above can be considered part of CNAPP. It’s a concept that takes on full-lifecycle protection for cloud-native applications, from development all the way through deployment. CNAPP can include agentless workload scanning as well as in-workload approaches, and may employ a variety of techniques for visibility into runtime environments.

Remediation Operations for Scalable Cloud Risk Reduction

The tools outlined in the previous section all have worthwhile purposes. The problem is, multiple, disparate tools, often with overlapping capabilities, can generate lots of signals along with plenty of noise. Security teams are left with the burdensome task of making sense of the data and prioritizing remediation efforts.

Remediation Operations (RemOps) is a scalable and efficient approach to unified cloud risk reduction that tames remediation chaos by consolidating security testing findings into a single, aggregated backlog with automated remediation workflows to dispatch the fixing work. The aim is to accelerate risk reduction and mean time to remediation, streamline processes and maximize productivity. Remediation Operations brings order to cloud risk reduction with a seven step plan:

  • Collect: Gather security findings from various cloud, code and infrastructure sources, such as CSPM, DSPM, CIEM, pen testing, and other security testing solutions.
  • Consolidate: Normalize, deduplicate and aggregate the collected findings in a single backlog. This becomes the single source of truth that helps prioritize remediation and drive workflows.
  • Choose: Determine who does the remediation work, what gets done first, where remediation is applied and how it is accomplished.
  • Route: Here’s where context-driven remediation requests get sent to the chosen fixers in the work management platforms they already use.
  • Receive: The fixer receives the ticket and accepts responsibility for handling it. In some cases, requests may need to be reassigned or delayed, or additional context might be needed. Now and then the request may be rejected.
  • Remediate: Now is when the issue gets resolved, as the remediation owner fixes the problem.
  • Report: It’s vital that there be regular reporting on remediation progress, process compliance and whether service level agreements have been met. This includes reporting that the job is done, and what steps were required.

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