Cloud Security Buyer’s Guide
Cloud service providers offer helpful security features for rudimentary data protection, but it’s not enough to keep vulnerabilities at bay. Here’s what to look for in a cloud security solution.
Without cloud computing, organizations would be stuck with on-premises servers and hardware flash drives, greatly limiting efficiency and interoperability between devices, applications, and data systems. While the internet has relieved companies of this inconvenience, it has also opened up new vulnerabilities that, if left unchecked, could result in disastrous breaches and data leaks.
Every cloud-based ecosystem is unique because each comprises a personalized mix of software programs, services, and applications used to transfer, edit, and store data online and across these platforms. Some organizations also embrace multi-cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructures, further complicating management and security. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll explain what cloud security is, common risk factors associated with cloud environments, and key features to look for when searching for a reliable cloud security system.
What Is Cloud Security?
Cloud computing generally refers to the ability of users to access and transmit critical resources, such as data and applications, remotely using the internet. It involves a wide range of capabilities, from information storage and automated security tool deployment to real-time project collaboration and enterprise-wide communication.
While broad in definition, there are certain qualities that further differentiate cloud computing from any other internet-based capability. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cloud computing involves:
- Instantaneous Self-Service: Users can deploy and access online resources and data on their own, at any time, without the help of an intermediary.
- Management Capabilities: Activity on the cloud can be monitored, audited, recorded, and logged for efficiency, data protection, and breach mitigation.
- Highly Accessible Networks: Anyone with a mobile device, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and anchored computers, can connect with networks using standard protocols.
- Limitless Scalability: Users can utilize resources individually or share access with other users without restriction while also expanding their applications to other services and capabilities.
- Multi-Level Resource Distribution: A cloud provider can house resources and facilitate data transactions for multiple users at one time, with adherence to identity-based authentication measures to ensure proper distribution and assignment of data.
Cloud computing often comes with base-level security features, but implementing a full-scale cloud security infrastructure requires additional moving parts. In fact, effective cloud security requires policies, applications, and technologies designed specifically to secure every channel, touchpoint, account, and asset present within a cloud system. It considers access privileges, identity authentication, device compatibility, and the volatility of cloud environments as organizational and individual demands constantly shift and new vulnerabilities surface.
What Are the Security Risks of Cloud Computing?
Anything that takes residence on the internet is at risk of becoming exposed to the public, even with native security measures in place. Without appropriate management, automation tools, and centralized visibility, an undetected anomaly can quickly escalate into a devastating breach. Listed below are common risks all cloud users and administrators should flag and address as soon as possible.
Insufficient Credential and Account Management
Organizations should manage their credentials and access privileges — even more so when cloud infrastructures are integrated into their operational framework. Often, cloud computing uses credentials, such as passwords, SSH keys, and tokens, to connect users to servers hosting applications and programs. The problem is that hackers can bypass traditional password-username combinations and infiltrate an organization’s cloud environment by leveraging just one of these credentials, which often aren’t rotated and remain active for long periods.
What’s worse, cloud services are used typically for short periods of time but access credentials, such as passwords and keys, are permanent in nature making them a bad match. Credentials get lost in the cloud easily.
Internal threats also pose risks if accounts are shared or contain broad access privileges. For instance, allowing all employees to use an administrative account to access company files leaves room for a malicious worker to tap into and exploit sensitive data that isn’t meant for their eyes. Authentication steps help to dispel suspicious behavior and alert admins about attempted logins.
Wider Attack Surface
By nature, cloud infrastructures and the company assets they store are sprawled out but interconnected, meaning a successful account hack can lead an adversary to most, if not all, of an organization’s resources. Often, cloud data contains credential information for related directories, servers, and domains, making granular security all the more vital. By fortifying every single touchpoint and connection channel, admins can greatly reduce the threat surface available for hackers to take advantage of.
Incomplete Compliance and Governance
In the cybersecurity space, regulations, standards, and laws abound to help enterprises around the world to better align with expert recommendations surrounding asset protection and breach mitigation. However, many cloud providers offer baseline security capabilities that don’t always tick all the boxes needed for a fully compliant cloud environment.
Adopting several comprehensive security solutions, such as IAM and PAM platforms, extended backup and recovery configurations, and additional authentication and authorization tools not only expands your organization’s breadth of security but helps maintain reputability by consistently meeting legal requirements.
Hybrid Cloud Complexity
There is no single cloud. Typically, companies host some of their services in private clouds that they manage themselves but they also purchase services from cloud service providers, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. In addition, there are services that are hosted on-premises.
Cloud service providers (Azure, AWS, GCP) have proprietary point solutions to access their own environments but they use different logics, offer different capabilities, log activities in different ways, and lack consistency overall. The same goes for private and on-prem host access management.
In a hybrid cloud environment, access management gets complicated quickly.
Shifting Workloads in the Cloud
The agility and scalability of cloud services are built on the foundation that cloud assets can be provisioned and decommissioned dynamically, fast, and at scale. As a result, enforcing policies, managing credentials, and restricting access to least privilege becomes a challenge with traditional security tools.
On- and Off-Boarding Employees
Companies often employ the services of IT consultants, since they do not have all the expertise in-house. When an expert is needed quickly, onboarding subcontractors in hybrid cloud environments might be surprisingly slow without proper tools. Furthermore, revoking access as soon as the job is done can take too long.
Discovering the Multi-Cloud Estate
Just like workloads, cloud targets are ephemeral, and they are just as easily discarded as they are bought. This leads to situations where a company might lose track of how many cloud targets they at a given moment even have. This is why they end up paying for cloud services that are not in reality needed but since nobody knows that for sure, they remain available in case they are needed. It’s also a risk for the company if they lose track of how many servers they maintain in their infrastructure since such servers tend to lack proper oversight and auditing.
Who hosts your cloud infrastructure is as important as what a provider can offer. If a provider’s services are prone to blackouts or if the provider itself is retiring its services, it will drastically affect customers’ cloud environments and pose a risk of data loss and exposure. Shopping for a cloud provider with a viable long-term outlook ensures that your cloud services and overall environment will stay solid and secure. It’s also highly recommended that all assets are regularly backed up and updated to preserve data in its most recent iteration.
Cloud Security Best Practices
A key aspect of establishing a strong cloud security system is finding the best cloud service provider for your business, but the other half of the equation lies in how well your organization enforces internal IT practices that keep personal assets safe. Experts strongly advise that all cloud-reliant enterprises practice these seven habits:
Embrace Automated Management Solutions
IAM and PAM programs take care of all the minutiae associated with proper data handling and organization. IAM and PAM solutions rely heavily on automation and customization, allowing administrators to set configurations to define and monitor user identities and generate, distribute, and retire credentials before leaks can happen. Automation ensures that all management tasks are performed swiftly and accurately.
Centralized Management Panes
Centralization becomes key when overseeing the entire scope of a cloud system and is especially helpful in gauging the efficiency and safety of a multi-cloud or hybrid environment. By visually understanding how the cloud functions with respect to the users accessing it and which targets are available at a given moment, administrators can better spot and resolve failing structures or adjust existing configurations for enhanced performance and security.
Having visibility into the entire cloud estate under a single pane of glass and receiving notifications and alerts in one place helps admins prioritize their data’s safety, ultimately encouraging further investigation into recurring abnormalities.
Audit, Track, Monitor, and Record Sessions
A proper cloud access management solution is able to identify, track, and log all user activities consistently regardless of the target.
When it comes to cybersecurity, no action is better than preventative action. Regular session recording and live monitoring can help log organizational behavior on respective clouds, enabling admins to analyze popular access areas, user tendencies and activity, and more. Consistent record-taking helps admins catch onto malicious schemes and hidden vulnerabilities before they unfold — covering everything from unsolicited modifications to faulty cloud components.
Adopt Built-for-Cloud Solutions
Cloud offers great agility, speed, and scalability. What if the rest of your software stack can’t keep up? To truly leverage the benefits that the cloud offers is to ensure that security solutions don’t slow you down. Prefer solutions that are built using the microservices architecture just like cloud services are and that can natively leverage cloud functionality and scalability. Many solutions have been retrofitted to include support for cloud targets but their underlying architecture might be too rigid to match cloud speed.
Pay Attention to Immutable Infrastructure
Immutable Infrastructure is built around the idea that you introduce as few changes into your environment as possible to keep it predictable. A software solution that doesn’t require agents, changes to existing configurations or scripts, and minimizes even temporary changes is a great example of this.
For example, using one-time passwords and rotating them through a vault is a process that typically requires tampering with the target environment, whether it is permanent or temporary. If every cloud session requires such a process, your environment is under constant change and requires processing power to keep up. It is better to use passwordless and keyless, ephemeral certificate-based authentication that keeps your environment intact.
Update All Software Consistently
Most cloud providers update connected software and hardware components automatically, but there may be external applications and services that are unaccounted for and left outdated. This can cause latency issues, susceptibility to bugs, and incompatibility with updated safety features. Ensure that all resources are updated to their latest versions and track how often they’re updated for optimal asset protection.
It certainly helps if your cloud access management solution is easy to update with as few software components as possible.
Establish a Backup System
Even if your organization is working with a dependable cloud provider, it helps to always have an alternative plan. If your servers and networks experience a malfunction, is there an alternative solution or accessible storage space that your company could use to keep operations running smoothly? If not, you’ll need to start thinking about ways to automatically duplicate and transmit data and resources to an internal reservoir that doesn’t depend on the internet. Or, find a cloud provider that offers this perk as part of their package.
How to Evaluate Cloud Service Provider Security?
The market’s leading cloud providers aren’t enough to keep your cloud environment compliant and secure. While Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure offer a range of protective features, like vulnerability detection and brute force defense mechanisms, developing an impenetrable cloud ecosystem requires installing several safety nets in case native features fail.
When shopping for a cloud security solution, ensure that your chosen solution works seamlessly with private, public, and hybrid cloud environments. Also, you’ll want to look for features like:
- Built-in cloud integration that doesn’t require separate management panes
- Quick deployment and rapid scalability to catch up with user demands and activity
- High availability to accommodate vast quantities of data, users, devices, and accounts
- Zero Trust authentication that relies on ephemeral, just-in-time credentials
- Smooth passwordless and keyless migration that doesn’t compromise existing credentials or security
- Central access to all targets for both broad and granular visibility
- Automated access control processes for immediate and meticulous behavior analysis
- Monitoring and recording of privileged sessions for concrete and comparable audit logs
Fortunately, there’s a solution that checks all these boxes, and more.
PrivX: Delivering Optimal Cloud Security
PrivX by SSH is a hybrid PAM solution, capable of far more than simply managing role-based access. PrivX is a flexible, budget-friendly, and integrative platform that supports hybrid and multi-cloud environments, as well as IT/OT convergences.
PrivX was designed using cloud-first architecture, employing microservices architecture, leaving a light footprint on the environment, and offering scalability at cloud-speed. With a focus on safeguarding against the threats of the present and the future, PrivX is designed to help organizations shift to a credential-less environment at their own pace — all while managing their existing credentials as they make the transition.
Get in touch today to learn more about how PrivX fits into your optimization plans for better productivity, better security, and better interoperability for your cloud environment.