Cloud Application Security Guide with Best Practices

Businesses are increasingly realizing the benefits of cloud computing and are rapidly moving to the cloud. But as enterprise IT infrastructure continues to hybridize more and more, the number of attack vectors increases drastically, creating more opportunities for malicious actors to steal or compromise data and assets.

As a result, cloud application security has quickly become one of their top priorities for many businesses.

See Also: Cloud Security Checklist

Cloud application security includes policies, tools, controls, and more that protect software deployed in the cloud. However, safeguarding cloud-based applications with network and infrastructure security is no longer enough, and many organizations also leverage application-level security measures.

Cloud application security measures are typically implemented during software development and after deployed applications. This comprehensive approach is the most effective way to keep security incidents from harming the organization’s reputation and revenue.

What is Cloud Application Security?

The process of securing cloud-based software applications throughout the development lifecycle is known as cloud application security. It consists of application-level policies, tools, technologies, and rules for maintaining visibility of all cloud-based assets, protecting cloud-based applications from cyberattacks, and restricting access to only authorized users.

See Also: Best Practices for Cloud Security

Cloud application security is essential for organizations using web applications running in a multi-cloud environment hosted by a third-party cloud provider like Amazon, Microsoft, or Google.

These services or applications in the cloud significantly increase the attack surface by nature, providing many new access points for attackers to enter the network.

Why Do You Need Cloud Application Security?

Many organizations have adopted an agile software development process known as DevOps in recent years. The DevOps approach combines traditional software development and IT processes to accelerate the development cycle and rapidly release new software applications.

However, traditional network, application, and infrastructure security measures often do not protect cloud-based applications, making them vulnerable to various cyberattacks during development.

Organizations that leverage the cloud, primarily as part of their software development process, must now design and implement a comprehensive cloud application security solution to protect against an expanding array of threats in the cloud environment and increasingly sophisticated attacks at the application level.

What are Cloud Application Security Solutions?

There are many security solutions designed to mitigate cloud application security threats. Many organizations continue to leverage point devices to implement firewalls, IPS/IDS, URL filtering, and threat detection. However, these solutions are not ideal for modern cloud infrastructure as they are inherently inflexible and tied to specific locations.

We can list cloud application security solutions as follows:

  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM) concerns misconfigurations, compliance, governance, and control plane security.
  • Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) manages cloud container runtime protection and continuous vulnerability management.
  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) works to improve visibility into endpoints, including who accesses data and how it is used.
  • Web Application Firewall (WAF) helps protect web applications by filtering and monitoring HTTP traffic between a web application and the Internet.
  • Runtime Application Self Protection (RASP) is a security solution designed to provide personalized protection to applications. It leverages insight into an application’s internal data and state to enable it to identify threats at runtime that other security solutions might have otherwise missed.
  • Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) is a highly specialized security tool explicitly designed to protect web applications and APIs. It sits at the network’s edge in front of the public side of a web application and analyzes incoming traffic.

WAF, CSPM, CWPP and CASB, RASP, and WAAP form the core security triad of cloud data security and cloud access. Therefore, it is very beneficial for organizations to implement all three cloud security methods to optimize their cloud security infrastructures to ensure cloud application security.

Cloud Application Security Best Practices

Almost every organization uses cloud applications in its day-to-day operations. Data backup, communication, file storage, and much more are now managed in the cloud.

See Also: Cloud Security Controls: What You Need to Know

As a result, organizations must design and implement a comprehensive security solution to protect cloud applications from an expanding range of threats and increasingly sophisticated attacks in the cloud environment.

While there is no one-size-fits-all way to ensure cloud application security, there are several measures businesses can take to safeguard their assets, and cloud infrastructures are as safe and secure as possible.

To accomplish this, the cloud application security strategy must follow the following guidelines:

1. Reduce Your Risk of Attacks

Each cloud-based application or workload expands the organization’s attack surface, creating more entry routes for potential attackers.

There are two primary methods for lowering the risk of exposure:

  • Maintain an inventory of all cloud applications, workloads, and other assets to improve visibility across the entire cloud environment.
  • Limit the attack surface by continually searching and removing applications or workloads that are not essential to running the job.

2. Develop and Implement a Cloud Security Policy, Framework, and Architecture

To ensure the continued security of all cloud-based assets, you must develop and enforce consistent policies. These policies should specify who will access which applications and how access will be verified. Your security policies should also describe how it will be issued through advanced security measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and identity and access management (IAM) methods.

It would be best to create a comprehensive security strategy that encompasses all aspects of cybersecurity, such as network security, infrastructure security, endpoint security, and cloud security.

The cloud security architecture must address several critical aspects of the infrastructure, including data protection, monitoring and visibility, threat detection, cloud governance, regulatory compliance, and security measures implemented for the infrastructure’s physical components.

3. Protect Your Passwords Strictly

Phishing is one of the most common and, sadly, effective cyberattacks. It happens when hackers access personal account information and passwords and then encrypt that data for use in ransomware attacks.

Companies should encourage their employees to create secure passwords and change passwords frequently.

4. Use Identity Access Management

Cloud application security doesn’t come to you in a ready-made box, so it’s important to integrate security measures such as identity access management (IAM) with broader enterprise security processes. IAM ensures that each user is authenticated and only authorized data and application functions. A holistic approach to IAM can protect cloud applications and improve an organization’s overall security posture.

To initiate, capture, save and manage user identities and associated access permissions, use identity and access management (IAM) technology. IAM ensures that access privileges are granted by the policies established by both developers and security administrators. Additionally, IAM verifies that all individuals and services are properly authenticated, authorized, and audited.

Cloud application developers should have a good understanding of IAM. Don’t just add IAM to resources like data and services; add it directly to your applications. IAM systems contain APIs that you can use to recheck the user’s authority to access the application, platform, services, and data. Any of these can be decommissioned at any time and is therefore never an all-or-nothing approach.

IAM systems should automate the initialization, capture, recording, and management of user IDs using a central directory service. This central directory prevents accidental saving of credentials to files and sticky notes.

5. Focus on Data

Application developers should focus more specifically on data security, as most attacks aim to obtain sensitive data. That’s why it’s important not to design your applications to allow hackers to access sensitive data.

When we think of data security in the cloud as a set of levels, the following levels come into our mix that we need to protect:

  • Platform level. The machine instance’s operating system includes items such as data files. Insufficient platform protection is a fundamental flaw that most app developers do not take into account. They can protect access to data, not the database itself exposed on the platform. Be sure to encrypt data to deal with this vulnerability. That way, if an unauthorized person copies the data files, the data is useless as they cannot open it. While this is the best approach, it can sometimes cause performance issues, so many developers prefer not to use encryption.
  • Database level. Most databases have their security systems, and it’s a good idea to use them when leveraging databases in public clouds. Database security systems include data encryption and the ability to allow only certain users to access certain parts of the database, depending on the level of authorization. Be sure to choose a cloud-based database that offers these security features.
  • Application level. Since applications can read and write to a database, you need to focus on security. This means setting up identity-based access to the application and monitoring activity to ensure that the user does not view hacker patterns such as logins from an unknown IP address or missed.

6. Encrypt Your Data

Applying encryption in the right areas optimizes application performance while protecting sensitive data. In general, the three types of data encryption to consider are encryption in transit, encryption at rest, and encryption in use.

  • Data In-transit encryption protects data by encrypting it as it is transmitted between cloud systems or end-users. Encryption in transit involves encrypting communication between two internal or external services, so unauthorized third parties cannot intercept that data.
  • Data at rest encryption ensures that data is not read by unauthorized users while stored in the cloud. Standing encryption can include multiple layers at the hardware, file, and database levels to fully protect sensitive application data from data breaches.
  • Encryption in use aims to protect data currently being processed, which is often the most vulnerable data state. Keeping data safe in use includes pre-limiting access using IAM, role-based access control, digital rights protection, and more.

Leveraging encryption for data at each of these stages can reduce the risk of cloud applications leaking sensitive data. Encryption is essential to achieve a high level of security and privacy that protects organizations from intellectual property theft, reputation damage, and loss of revenue.

7. Monitor Threats

After applications are deployed to the cloud, it is essential to monitor cyber threats in real-time constantly. Furthermore, as the application security threat landscape continuously evolves, it is critical to leverage threat intelligence data to stay one step ahead of malicious actors.

Threat monitoring enables development teams to find and remediate cloud application security threats before affecting end users.

8. Data Privacy and Compliance

Along with application security, data privacy and compliance are crucial to protecting end-users of cloud-native applications. For example, compliance with GDPR requires a careful review of open source components that are often used to accelerate cloud-native application development.

Additionally, you must comply with PCI DSS requirements if you process, store or transfer credit card data in your cloud environment. Data encryption, access controls, and other cloud security controls can also help protect the privacy of app users.

9. Do Regular System Updates

Hackers are constantly improving their hacking capabilities to keep up with the latest data security developments. Some organizations mistakenly believe that older security software versions will protect against existing threats, but this is not the case. Therefore, you should regularly update security software to the latest version to detect emerging threats.

10. Perform Automatic Security Tests

A crucial part of DevSecOps is integrating automated security testing directly into the development process. By automatically scanning for vulnerabilities throughout the continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) process, software development teams can ensure that every new software build is secure before deploying it to the cloud.

Security tests include the code and open-source libraries that applications trust and the container images and infrastructure configurations they use for cloud deployments.

In addition, implementing developer-friendly security scanning tools with existing developer workflows can further strengthen cloud application security. This significantly reduces the cost of vulnerability detection and remediation while allowing developers to continue submitting code quickly.

11. Perform Regular Security Audits

All good cybersecurity teams constantly audit and optimize their security infrastructure and posture. Depending on the size and complexity of your data environment, this can happen on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. Whatever your time scale, make sure you audit your cloud application security often and consistently.

See Also: How to Conduct a Cloud Security Assessment

Insider attacks, data loss, and employee neglect are the source of many cloud application security issues. To combat these and other risks, companies should restrict data access to those who need to use it. You should also conduct regular security checks to understand who has access to what data and apply appropriate results.

12. Invest in Cloud Security Solutions

Cloud computing has dramatically expanded the reach and capabilities of businesses, but it also means that traditional security systems are no longer adequate. Users can connect to networks and systems from any device or location, giving hackers a plethora of potential attack vectors. That’s why companies need to invest in cloud-native security software with the ability to manage security in a hybrid ecosystem.

13. Migrate from DevOps to DevSecOps

The rise of DevOps and cloud-based platforms as the target platform for applications provide many additional risks for security breaches. But this also presents opportunities to improve security.

It would be beneficial to concentrate more on DevSecOps, or development security operations, which deal with testing security in DevOps processes. DevSecOps means that you include continuous security testing in your continuous testing.

For the correct use of IAM services, encryption, and other security processes built into the applications, you should constantly check the applications and make sure that they are all working correctly.

Also, once you’ve provisioned and deployed an application in the cloud, continue to focus on your security operations during the continuous operations phase. Review IAM and encryption across applications, data storage, and platforms to ensure you’re adequately protected and that all protections are active and working correctly.

Your approach to DevSecOps will differ significantly depending on the applications, industry, and public cloud brand you use. The best practices here are to be proactive in monitoring practices in operations to continually improve your security approach and look for activities that could lead to attacks or represent ongoing attacks.

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykara
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Cyberwise. Over the past 15+ years my professional career has included several positions beginning as a developer and IT administrator, working my way up to a senior Technical Performance Consultant before joining Biznet back in 2015. I had several different roles at Cyberwise, including Penetration Tester and PCI DSS QSA. In my job as a QSA, I found my passion and worked closely with the Audit and Compliance team. I've been working inside InfoSec for over 15 years, coming from a highly technical background. I have earned several certifications during my professional career including; CEH, CISA, CISSP, and PCI QSA.

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