What is cloud network security?
Security for cloud networks is a subfield of cybersecurity that is concerned with reducing the likelihood that malicious actors will be able to access information stored on a public or private cloud network, change it, or destroy it. Even though the principles for securing cloud networks are similar to those for securing on-premises networks, the unique characteristics of cloud environments necessitate the use of different tactics.
Why is cloud network security important?
Migration from on-premises networks to cloud networks is becoming more common among businesses of all sizes, which means that more sensitive information is being stored in the cloud. This information must be safeguarded, but the cloud also introduces new challenges that can make security more difficult to maintain.
What are the challenges facing cloud network security?
The same characteristics that make the cloud so powerful also make it difficult to secure. For starters, adding new assets to a cloud network is a straightforward process. In an on-premises network, the information technology and security teams have complete control over all new infrastructure and upgrades. This means that network expansion will be slow and labor-intensive, but it also means that all new infrastructure will be configured by security professionals. When using a cloud network, new infrastructure can be quickly and easily added by any person or system with the appropriate credentials, with no need for IT or security teams to be involved directly. The ability to expand the network is greatly facilitated by this, but it also increases the likelihood that new infrastructure will not be configured securely, making it vulnerable to attack.
An additional unique challenge of cloud network security is the rapid rate of change that occurs in cloud environments. Because of cloud computing technologies such as autoscaling and serverless computing, assets in a cloud network appear and disappear consistently. Because a vulnerable asset may only exist for a few minutes, traditional security measures such as vulnerability scanning are no longer sufficient. This is more than enough time for a malicious actor to discover and exploit the asset, but not nearly enough time for a weekly or even daily vulnerability scan to detect it.
Because of the ease with which cloud services can be deployed and the rapid rate at which they change, it is extremely difficult for security teams to maintain a complete picture of their cloud environment. As a result of the fact that different information is stored in different systems and protected by different security tools in hybrid environments (IT environments that include both on-premises networks and cloud networks), the situation is exacerbated. As a result, the security team must move back and forth between various systems to effectively manage their security efforts in these environments. Obtaining an accurate picture of an organization’s overall security posture or tracking a malicious actor who moves between cloud and on-premises networks is difficult (if not impossible) due to a lack of unified data.
The final point to mention is that when dealing with a network hosted by a public cloud service provider like AWS or Azure, the network’s owner shares responsibility for its security with the service provider. The specifics of this shared responsibility model vary from provider to provider; however, in general, they are responsible for the security of the cloud itself, including the physical security of data centers, the maintenance and updating of hardware, and so on. The network owner, on the other hand, is responsible for the security of any data that they store on that cloud computing platform. The loss of control over the security of hardware and data centers is a source of concern for many people; however, well-established public cloud service providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google can devote more resources to things such as physical security. The real risk associated with the shared responsibility model is the confusion it can cause within an organization’s ranks. More than a few security incidents have occurred as a result of people making the mistake of assuming that because their data was in the cloud and their cloud provider would take care of everything, they didn’t have to worry about cloud security.
Strategies to minimize risk in cloud network security
Defining a security baseline for the cloud environment is the most effective thing a company can do to minimize risk in its cloud network. This is in addition to embracing DevSecOps and educating employees on how to use a cloud network securely. Idealistically, this baseline should be established before a company begins to use a cloud network; however, it is never too late to establish one after the fact.
The baseline describes how the cloud network should appear from the standpoint of security. The goal is to ensure that everyone—security, IT, engineering, DevOps, and so on—is on the same page when it comes to what needs to be done to keep the network secure on an as-needed basis. It is possible that a properly defined baseline will aid in the resolution of several challenges in cloud network security, including ease of deployment, speed of change, and shared responsibility.
Several cloud network security best practices can be implemented by organizations as a starting point for establishing this baseline. Initial requirements include a description of the cloud environment’s architecture, how each type of asset should be configured, and who should have read and written access to each section of the environment. Guides such as the CIS Benchmarks and the AWS Well-Architected Framework should also be used to assist in establishing a baseline of performance.
To ensure consistency, ensure that the baseline applies to both the pre-production and test environments. In several instances, these environments have been used as an entry point for an intrusion. Make sure the baseline specifies policies and controls for testing, such as which production databases can be used or duplicated for testing (if any) and how many production databases can be used or duplicated for testing.
In addition, the baseline should outline incident response plans and clearly define who within the organization is responsible for which aspects of cloud security on an ongoing basis. It should also be revisited and updated regularly to take into account new threats and best practices as they emerge.
Once a baseline has been established or updated, it must be communicated to all parties who will have contact with the cloud computing network. In addition, the security team must collaborate with DevOps to develop and implement mechanisms for enforcing the baseline. Making cloud infrastructure templates (either through the cloud provider or a third-party vendor such as Terraform) with everything properly configured is what this entails. Continuous monitoring must also be implemented to detect when something has become outdated or changed after deployment, resulting in a deviation from the baseline. To provide continuous monitoring and vulnerability detection from the moment something is deployed, virtual machine templates should include an embedded agent.
Security teams should begin by ensuring that they have (at a bare minimum) read-only access to all of the organization’s cloud accounts when addressing the challenges associated with visibility into cloud networks. To secure and maintain visibility into a hybrid or multi-cloud environment, organizations need to ensure that a single team is responsible for securing all parts of the IT footprint. Silos, blind spots, and difficulty tracking a malicious actor who moves between networks are common consequences of having one team responsible for on-premises security and another responsible for cloud security, and another responsible for cloud security, and another responsible for cloud security.
In addition, teams tasked with ensuring the security of hybrid or multi-cloud environments should consider reevaluating the tools they employ. Many legacy security solutions are not designed to work with cloud-based networks in mind. As a result, different tools are used by different teams to secure their on-premises and cloud environments. Instead, the team should look for tools that will allow them to manage security for the entire organization’s IT footprint from a single location.
Most teams will benefit from tools such as the ones listed below:
A vulnerability management solution that can monitor and detect vulnerabilities in cloud networks, on-premises networks, containers, and remote endpoints continuously is needed. In addition, the solution should be capable of identifying and removing incorrectly configured cloud assets in real-time.
A modern SIEM (threat detection and response) solution that can aggregate data from all of the organization’s cloud and on-premises networks and systems is required for this task. With features such as a visual incident timeline and automatic quarantining of potentially compromised accounts and assets, the solution should also automatically detect threats and assist the security team in responding to an incident in real-time.
In addition, security teams should consider utilizing a security automation tool to assist in the security of cloud networks. Automation can assist the team in keeping up with the rapid pace of change in cloud networks, increasing visibility by sharing data between systems, working more efficiently by eliminating busy work and minimizing the damage caused by an incident by responding immediately to detected threats, among other things.
One method of leveraging automation is to automate the deployment of cloud infrastructure templates (derived from your security baseline) using a tool such as a Chef or a Puppet, for example. This has the potential to simplify the creation of complex architecture while also reducing the likelihood of human error. Utilizing a security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solution is yet another way to benefit from automated processes and procedures. An exchange tool of this nature can allow the team to quickly and easily exchange data between systems without having to spend time integrating them using APIs. Even better, a SOAR solution can automate many of the manual processes that can take up valuable time in a security analyst’s day or cause an investigation to drag on for longer periods. Using the SOAR tool, the security team can create workflows that automatically investigate suspected phishing emails, contain malware when it is detected, provision and de-provision users, streamline patching, and a variety of other functions and features.