Cloud Security Explained: Why It Matters & How It Works

Panoptica Team
Thursday, Jul 21st, 2022

What Is Cloud Security?

Cloud security involves the procedures, policies, controls, and technologies that protect data and infrastructure in cloud-based systemsThese security measures enable data recovery, prevent data theft, ensure compliance, and reduce the impact of misconfigurations and human negligence.

The Importance of Cloud Security

Cloud computing has become a mainstream technology vital for operating an enterprise organization. It is the most ideal way to achieve cost-effective digitization across an enterprise. Cloud adoption has likewise increased to reflect this market reality. 

By 2025, it is projected that over 100 zettabytes (a billion terabytes or a trillion gigabytes) of data will be stored in the cloud. This represents about half the total global data storage. For a better perspective, in 2015, only 25% of the world’s computing data was in the cloud. 

However, with over 94% of all workloads already processed in the cloud, the vast adoption of cloud technology raises a lot of implications for data security. Attack surfaces have also increased, with the astronomical growth of endpoints connected to the cloud, most of which can be accessed from both corporate and unsecured personal devices.

These trends have heightened the need of cloud security to protect the significant amount of personal and business data, intellectual property, and proprietary information now stored in cloud environments.

The Goals and Benefits of Cloud Security

The proliferation of cloud computing has brought security concerns—here are some of the benefits of implementing robust cloud security.

Safeguarding Against Security Breaches

Apart from the reputational damage it inflicts, the cost of a security breach is significant. The average cost of a data breach is $4.24 million. Hence, cloud security must guard against a host of malicious attacks such as the following:

  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
  • Identity theft
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Data compromise through exfiltration or ransomware lock down
  • Malware infections corrupting a system
  • Phishing and social engineering attacks
  • Advanced persistent threats

Facilitating Better Business Outcomes

Secure cloud infrastructures tend to enable better business outcomes. One of the reasons is because security acts as a resilience accelerator, with security protocols capable of being deployed instantaneously. 

These are some of the ways cloud security facilitates better business outcomes:

  • Cost-effectiveness: In-built cloud security saves organizations the headache of incurring the extra costs of dealing with a data breach, with all its ramifications.
  • Frictionlessness: Security can be embedded invisibly without degrading user experience with intrusiveness or disrupting business operations. 
  • Scalablility: With automation and self-healing processes, it is easy to scale operations securely. 

Operate Safely in a World of Mobility and Remote Work

The embrace of a remote workforce, along with the concept of bring your own device (BYOD) has accelerated in recent years. However, using personal smartphones to access business data poses security risks to the company’s network.

Unlike traditional security architectures, cloud-native security is effective for remote work. This is because it moves the security perimeter to where it's needed—the data, apps, users, and endpoints it needs to protect. 

Proactive Threat Intelligence Management

Cloud security enables organizations to proactively establish threat intelligence management. This positions organizations to gather the relevant security information to prioritize and operationalize their security measures. As a platform, the cloud provides organizations with the capability to perform threat intelligence analysis to discover new trends and threat actors.

This threat intelligence aims to provide visibility, monitoring, and tracking across networks, devices, and endpoints. 

Provide Data and Document Security 

Cloud platforms, along with cloud-native third-party tools are capable of providing data protection throughout the entire data life cycle, whether the data is at rest or in transit. These cloud security tools often use a combination of digital rights management with data loss prevention mechanisms such as strong encryption, robust identity access management, multi-factor authentication, and strong passwords.

Enhanced Regulatory Compliance

Most of the top businesses operating in tightly regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and government utilize cloud computing services. This is because of the vast amount of resources cloud service providers invest in building advanced security protocols.

Common Types of Cloud Computing Environments

Cloud computing environments are typically classified in two ways: in terms of their deployment model or service category.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for cloud security. Different cloud computing environments make different levels of security demands on an organization, both in the time, resources, and expertise required to maintain them. Ideally, an organization should understand the cloud security posture they wish to attain, then choose and plan accordingly. 

Deployment Models

In deployment mode, cloud computing falls into four main categories:

  1. The private cloud: Restricted for use within an organization. Operated by either the internal staff or a public cloud provider. With the latter, the service provider grants the organization a dedicated computing environment. Costly setup but offers more customization and security.
  2. The public cloud: Managed and hosted by an external, cloud service provider (CSP). The CSP is responsible for maintenance and security. 
  3. Hybrid cloud: Operates as a combination of both the private and public cloud. It is ideal for organizations who want the flexibility of customization along with top-notch encryption. 
  4. Multicloud: Here, an organization operates a combination of clouds, which could be a blend of public and private clouds.

Managing cloud security in these complex environments is challenging. More so because over 90% of businesses use or anticipate to use a multicloud environment, with a majority already immersed in the hybrid approach.

It is especially difficult to do so in a consistent manner in enterprise environments that mostly favor multicloud and hybrid configurations. 

DevSecOps also plays an important security role in cloud environments, regardless of their configuration. This is because DevSecOps—which stands for development, security, and operations—provides tools and methods that allow administrators to operate seamlessly and consistently across on-premises deployments, private clouds, and public cloud providers. More importantly, adopting a DevSecOps model allows your infrastructure to be treated like application code. As a result, the code can be scanned, tested, and checked for noncompliance issues and misconfiguration before deployment. 

Service Categories

To varying degrees, the cloud service provider is responsible for different aspects of cloud security:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – Provides access to online software applications and data through a browser. The CSP is primarily responsible for securing data and user access. Cloud access security brokers (CASB) can provide critical services like encryption, logging, auditing, and access control.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – An environment to develop, manage, and host applications without the overhead and complexity of managing backend software and hardware. The CSP is responsible for securing applications, in addition to data and user access. 
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – Provides servers, storage, and network resources. The overarching task of securing the infrastructure, operating system, virtual network traffic including the layers of abstraction used to access resources, lies with the CSP. 

Nevertheless, whatever deployment or service category is chosen, cloud security should be a shared responsibility between the customer and their cloud provider. This shared responsibility is necessary even with IaaS platforms used with AWS’s cloud security.

The Challenges of Cloud Security

Since the cloud is shared by many users, data accessibility and security are among its prime security concerns. Situations in which an organization uses multiple platforms and various technologies make it more challenging to detect and monitor network anomalies.

Cloud-native breaches are attack vectors that leverage vulnerabilities most prevalently found in the cloud. Some of these underlying challenges are addressed by cloud service providers offering access control mechanisms. 

However, other problems need to be addressed by adequate IT expertise and tools:

The Risks Posed By Inadequate Cloud Security

  • Data leakages or breaches resulting in data loss, theft, or nefarious/accidental exposure of credentials.
  • Lack of legal and regulatory compliance due to data privacy and confidentiality issues.
  • Unauthorized users accessing data for illegitimate and/or malicious purposes.
  • Excessive access or privileges to data by internal users.
  • Malicious attacks or breaches aimed at crippling, disrupting or destroying system infrastructure. Examples include ransomware, malware infection, and DDoS attacks. 

Here are some of the top threats an organization’s cloud security strategy needs to address:

  • Misconfiguration 
  • Insider threats/malicious insiders
  • Insecure interfaces/API
  • External sharing of data
  • Privileged account hijacking
  • Lack of visibility
  • Shortage of skills

However, a significant amount of security problems stem from the cloud service adoption, with reports showing up to 93% of cloud applications not being enterprise-ready. This often manifests in SaaS sprawl that includes shadow IT, which compounds security risks and introduce compliance concerns. Ultimately, it exacerbates the cloud security challenges by increasing the attack surface vulnerable for exploitation. 

Cloud Security Best Practices

  1. Identify sensitive data and how it’s being accessed.
  2. Secure user endpoints.
  3. Implement strong data and document encryption.
  4. Apply user access controls.
  5. Establish policies for data sharing.
  6. Implement advanced malware and antivirus protection.
  7. Choosing the right trusted provider.
  8. Define and identify cloud usage state and risks.
  9. Discover unknown cloud use like shadow IT.
  10. Implement continuous monitoring.

How Cloud Security Differs From Traditional IT Architectures

Traditional IT infrastructure relies on systems that are located on premises, especially regarding hardware architecture. The cloud alleviates the financial costs and administrative burden of maintaining on-premises software systems. 

However, one of the most salient differences between the cloud and traditional IT is with regard to their approach to security.

“Trust But Verify” in Traditional IT

The first and foremost priority of traditional IT architectures is to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to the system. This perspective lends itself to a “castle-and-moat” approach to strengthening network perimeter defenses. But the “trust but verify” philosophy is flawed because it grants too much trust to those already inside the network.

Traditional IT architectures have proven ill-suited for the dramatic increase in remote work and the proliferation of endpoints as a result of BYOD policies. The perimeter-based defense of traditional security is a poor match for the sheer volume of endpoints due to the explosion of mobile and IoT devices.

“Never Trust, Always Verify” in Zero-Trust Security

Zero-trust architecture is based on the negative premise that all network traffic is malicious. It repudiates the false sense of security regarding perimeter defenses, especially in the light of high profile data breaches over the past decade. 

Zero trust’s foundational assumption is that anything inside the network shouldn’t be automatically trusted. So, instead of implicitly trusting the users inside the network, it operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” Moreover, it makes cybersecurity defenses more effective by narrowing their scope from overly wide network perimeters to more manageable micro-perimeters.

Instead of being network-focused, zero trust removes implicit trust and shrinks the security perimeter. It does this by enforcing least privileges and the creation of segmentation zones to control sensitive resources and prevent lateral movement within the network. 

The Pillars of Cloud Security

1. Filters and Web Application Firewalls

The cloud is a constellation of servers that need to be protected from threats. This entails scrutinizing the traffic reaching the servers to ensure only non-malicious traffic is allowed.

Web application firewalls and filters are used to prevent malicious requests so legitimate users can gain entry into the system. Firewalls allow administrators to configure a network so internal services aren’t exposed to external threats. On the other hand, filters blocks access to certain web content.

2. Network Protection Through Zero-Trust Security

Zero trust is one aspect of network protection. With zero-trust security protocols, sensitive portions of the cloud environment can be strategically isolated. Workloads are isolated from one another through the creation of zones called microsegments.

Microsegmentation uses container technology to segment applications and their operating environment. The trust boundaries created minimize the damage an attacker can wreck because there’s a huge barrier to lateral movement from an infected host to others. 

Zero trust also bolsters cloud security by leveraging the least privileges concept. This only grants users the particular resources they need to perform specific tasks. 

3. Network Protection Through Identity and Access Management (IAM)

The other aspect of network protection applies to traffic already flowing inside the network. A cloud-based solution should avoid the perimeter-based defenses used by traditional on-premises environments. Instead, the borders of network protection should extend granularly down to the user level. 

This is where identity security, which is another component of zero trust, is vital. Identity security is needed so users and entities can only access what they need to perform their duties. Likewise, machines and devices must be constrained to communicate with only the applications they require to execute their tasks. 

IAM mechanisms are used to map machine and user identities with the privileges they need to access confidential information.

4. Data Protection

Data protection is primarily enforced through encryption. The best data protection mechanisms ensure sensitive data is encrypted through the data life cycle. Hence, encryption should be applied whether the data is at rest while in storage or in transit. 

5. Continuous Monitoring and Visibility

Cloud security should enable organizations to gain visibility in order to understand what’s happening inside their networks. This requires continuous monitoring of their cloud environment for vulnerabilities, threats, attack vectors, and anomalies. 

The Tools and Software Needed For Cloud Security

Cloud security does not occur in a vacuum. You need to fortify your cloud infrastructure with adequate cloud security tools and methods that safeguard your digital assets and business operations such as the following: 

  • Firewalls
  • Virtual private networks (VPN)
  • Tokenization
  • Obfuscation
  • Penetration testing
  • Intrusion detection and prevention systems
  • Cloud data loss prevention (DLP)
  • Vulnerability scanners
  • CSPM tools

Explore How Panoptica Can Help with Cloud Security

The cloud offers businesses a competitive advantage, with 26% of small and medium-sized businesses using the cloud experiencing faster growth and 21% higher gross profits. However, cloud security has become crucial to cloud computing. This is buttressed by 94% of businesses pointing to an improvement in security after cloud migration. 

Panoptica is a trusted expert, experienced in contextual cloud security. Try Panoptica’s for free to understand our graph-based cloud security and discover critical attack paths in your environment.

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