What You Need to Know About Cyber Security in the Cloud

Organizations are increasingly using cloud computing technology to build, deploy, and migrate to cloud-based environments.

While cloud service providers like Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) continue to expand cloud security services to protect their cloud infrastructures, it is ultimately the customer’s responsibility to implement proper cyber security in the cloud and secure their data stored within them.

Despite an array of benefits, protecting an organization’s data in a cloud environment that is publicly hosted can easily expose the organization to many threat vectors.

A survey revealed that the top cyber security challenges in the cloud are data loss (64%), data privacy (62%), followed by accidental leakage of credentials (39%) tied with compliance issues (39%).

As data continues to move to the cloud, many cyber security professionals are struggling to maintain the security of their cloud environments.

Cloud computing is opening up new challenges.

When using cloud services, be it software-as-a-service (SaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), the customer always has some level of responsibility for protecting their data from attackers.

With SaaS services, their control is primarily with restricting access and encrypting data if SaaS allows it. With platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and IaaS, the organization takes on significantly more responsibility for protecting data.

Overcoming Cloud Security Challenges in Cyber Security

Security issues in the cloud are a major concern for many organizations that are considering cloud computing services. The rapid growth of the cloud has not only highlighted the benefits of the cloud but also focused on the cloud security challenges that exist in its environment.

Is it true? Is cloud computing really insecure?

The answer is complicated.

Individual cloud computing services can be significantly secure by implementing the latest security measures. In fact, many cloud service providers do a great job of integrating security into the cloud infrastructure and making it more secure than many other organizations do.

However, not every cloud service provider is like this, so care must be taken in reviewing the cloud provider’s security posture.

Security in cloud computing is dependent on the users as well. Failing to properly adhere to the security standards and addressing security risks in a timely manner can lead to an otherwise preventable cyberattack or data breach. This requires that companies understand and mitigate cloud security risks in an effective manner.

Most security issues in the cloud are centered around data and access because the majority of shared responsibility models in cloud computing services leave those two aspects completely up to the customers.

As a result, attackers have been targeting their focus on this potential security vulnerability. There are several challenges associated with cloud security. The most common problems for cloud computing security include:

  • Identifying and maintaining the necessary security controls
  • Balancing the shared responsibility of maintaining security between the cloud service provider and the user
  • Compliance with regulatory requirements to secure data in the cloud environment.

In a nutshell, cloud security is quite dynamic, majorly depending on how well the end user understands and addresses the cloud computing security risks and vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, cloud security risks can be largely mitigated by following cloud security best practices. Below, we’ve listed the top cyber security best practices in the cloud that can help you build and maintain a secure cloud environment.

Cyber Security: Best Practices in the Cloud

Want to leverage cloud computing in a secure manner? Here are some of the best cyber security practices in the cloud:

Implement Strong User Access Control / Least Privilege

Similar to the traditional software security process, administrators should implement strong user access control to define who can access the data and to what extent users can access it. This will help ensure that only authorized users can gain access to data in the cloud infrastructure.

Using the least privilege model, you can also ensure that users can only access data that they need to complete their tasks. This process of implementing user access control and least privilege can be easily automated to increase accuracy and save time as existing users and new users onboard to access new servers.

Use SSH Keys and Securely Store Keys

Secure Socket Shell (SSH) keys help establish secure server connections with private and public key pairs. Since they are used to access sensitive data and perform critical, privileged activities, it’s important to properly manage SSH keys and securely store them.

Companies should create special cloud computing and key management policies to monitor how these keys are created, managed, and removed when they reach their expiring period. For instance, any privileged session via SSH keys should be monitored and analyzed to meet both regulatory and cyber security needs.

Implement Encryption in the Cloud

Data encryption in cloud computing is essential for organizations as it helps ensure that the data moving to and from the cloud is encrypted and secure.

While choosing a cloud service provider, you need to be vigilant about your security needs for cloud deployment and data that will be stored in the cloud. Many cloud service providers offer cloud encryption services; many times you may want to manage your own encryption keys and not completely rely on your provider. Just manage this based upon your risk tolerance.

Encryption combined with other security protocols such as the principle of least privilege (PoLP) enables organizations to meet stringent regulatory policies such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR.

Perform Routine Penetration Tests

Cloud penetration tests help identify security vulnerabilities in the cloud infrastructure.

For cloud computing, pen tests are often a shared responsibility which means that both your organization and your cloud service provider can perform penetration tests to detect security vulnerabilities in the cloud.

Is pen testing in the cloud different from other pen tests?

Typically, a pen test in the cloud computing environment does not differ much from other pen tests. While there are key differences in the way the cloud applications and infrastructure are set up, the principles of the pen test remain the same - identifying and mitigating security vulnerabilities.

Hardened and Controlled Images

A hardened virtual server image is basically an image devoid of anything unnecessary to the specific task at hand and has its configuration secured tightly. These images are built in accordance with appropriate cloud security standards with the lowest access privileges and admin permissions, and only the ports and services that are required.

Hardening and controlling images is a key component to a Defense-in-Depth strategy that limits cloud security vulnerabilities and protects your organization.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) protects your company data and user accounts using an array of authentication methods such as one-time passwords, biometrics, security questions, and many others.

How will MFA help ensure better cloud computing security?

By implementing MFA in your cloud computing environment, you can limit the access to data in the cloud to only authorized users and prevent the risk of lost, stolen, or compromised credentials.

Scanning for Vulnerabilities and Unapproved Hardening Processes

Misconfigurations in the cloud computing environment can create exploitable security weaknesses.

According to a report, companies have, on average, at least 14 misconfigured IaaS events running at any given time, leading to an average of about 2,300 cloud misconfiguration incidents per month.

To avoid such cyber security vulnerabilities, you’ll need to audit your IaaS configurations for access management, encryption, and network configuration.

Further, consider automatic scanning of hardened images, docker containers, and all newly deployed servers to identify security vulnerabilities that might have been introduced in the cloud computing environment while deployment or management.

Don’t just look for existing cyber security vulnerabilities, continually scan your environment for any items that are not in the proper hardened configuration. If something has shifted from the hardened configuration, replace it with the approved hardened image. Remember, cattle not pets!

Wrapping Up and Looking Ahead

Cloud computing comes with its fair share of benefits as well as challenges. While cyber security in the cloud is a shared responsibility of both the cloud service provider and the user, many organizations don’t properly fulfill their responsibilities, at the expense of their clients.

Whether due to negligence or lack of knowledge, misuse of your cloud environment can have severe consequences. Make sure you implement stringent cloud computing security policies to ensure your data in the cloud is secure.

Running a cloud infrastructure isn’t an easy task and we get it.

Our security team consists of top security and subject matter experts on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, as well as knowledgeable security trainers who can help you with questions you should ask your cloud service provider before buying cloud services.

We also offer security audits to detect and mitigate security vulnerabilities in cloud infrastructure to make it easy for you to secure your cloud environment.

About

Cypress Data Defense was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Denver, Colorado with offices across the United States. Our goal is to help organizations secure their IT development and operations using a pragmatic, risk-based approach. The diverse background of our founders allows us to apply security controls to governance, networks, and applications across the enterprise.

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