If you’re a small company using Google Docs for document sharing or a large enterprise shifting its global ERP system to the cloud, you must insist that vendors who offer Web-based software and services follow certain security and compliance criteria. Because most people don’t ask their IT team before signing up for a cloud storage account or converting an online PDF.
These requirements include who can access your applications and data and the systems hosting them. To meet corporate and regulatory standards, you must obtain detailed logs of who has access to your data and applications and verify that it is adequately encrypted.
What you demand from the cloud depends on your corporate standards and compliance needs, the number of workloads you move to it, and how you divide management and security responsibility between your staff and your provider.
Just as the cloud is different from on-premises deployment, security in the cloud can differ from traditional best practices. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Software as a service (SaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS) have different security criteria.
However, it would help if you considered each of the items in the cloud security checklist below in your cloud security plans.
Understand Cloud Usage and Risks
The first phase of cloud computing security focuses on understanding your current situation and assessing risk. You can perform the following steps using cloud security solutions that allow cloud monitoring:
- Identify your sensitive data. Data loss or misuse, which may result in civil fines or the loss of intellectual property, is your most important risk field. Data classification engines can help you categorize the information so you can determine the risk entirely.
- Understand how sensitive data is accessed and shared. Sensitive information can be safely stored in the cloud, but you must keep track of who accesses it and where it goes. Evaluate permissions on files and folders in your cloud and access contexts such as user roles, user location, and device type.
- Explore shadow IT (unknown cloud usage). Most people don’t ask their IT team before signing up for a cloud storage account or converting an online PDF. Discover what cloud services you don’t know are being used using your web proxy, firewall, or SIEM logs, and then analyze their risk profiles.
- Check AWS or Azure configurations for infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Many of the essential settings in your IaaS environments can be misconfigured, resulting in an exploitable vulnerability. Start by checking your configurations for identity and access management, network configuration, and encryption.
- Expose nefarious user actions. Employees who aren’t paying attention and third-party attackers may also show signs of cloud data violence. User behavior analysis (UBA) can track anomalies and reduce both internal and external data loss.
Protect Your Cloud Environment
Once you understand your cloud security risk situation, you can strategically apply protection to your cloud services based on their risk level. Several cloud security technologies can help you implement the following best practices:
- Apply data protection policies. You can set rules that control what data can be stored in the cloud, quarantine or delete sensitive data from the cloud, and coach users if they make a mistake and breach one of your policies once your data has been identified as sensitive or organized.
- Encrypt sensitive data with your keys. Encryption in a cloud service will protect your data from outside parties, but the cloud service provider will still access your encryption keys. Instead, encrypt your data using your keys so you can control access completely. Users can work with data without interruption.
- Set restrictions on how data is shared. Once data enters the cloud, enforce your access control policies on one or more services. Begin by designating users or groups as viewers or editors and restricting the information that can be exchanged externally through shared links.
- Stop moving data to unmanaged devices you don’t know. Access to cloud services is possible from anywhere with an internet connection, but access from unmanaged devices, such as a mobile phone, creates a security blind spot. By requiring system security authentication before downloading, you can prevent downloads to unmanaged devices.
- Apply advanced malware protection to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) such as AWS or Azure. In IaaS environments, you are responsible for the security of your operating systems, applications, and network traffic. To secure the infrastructure, anti-malware technologies can be extended to the operating system and virtual network. For single-purpose workloads, use program whitelisting and memory exploit prevention, and for general-purpose workloads and file repositories, use machine learning-based protection.
Respond to Cloud Security Issues
As your cloud services are accessed and used, regular events require an automated or guided response, just like in other IT environments. Follow these best practices to get started with your cloud security incident response implementation:
- Request additional validation for high-risk access scenarios. For example, if a user is accessing sensitive data in a cloud service from a new device, they automatically require two-factor authentication to prove their identity.
- Adjust cloud access policies as new services emerge. You cannot predict every cloud service that will be accessed. Still, you can automatically update web access policies, such as those enforced by a secure web gateway, with information about a cloud service’s risk profile to block access or provide a warning message. Do this through the integration of a cloud risk database with your secure web gateway or firewall.
- Remove malware from a cloud service. The malware will infect a shared folder that syncs with a cloud storage service automatically, replicating the malware in the cloud without the user’s awareness. To avoid ransomware or data theft attempts, scan your files with malware protection in cloud storage.
The challenges and threats you face while using cloud services develop as well. Always be aware of any cloud provider security feature updates so you can adjust your policies accordingly. Security providers will also change their threat intelligence and machine learning models to keep up with this.
In the above stages and best practices, several key technologies can be used to perform each step, often working in conjunction with cloud providers’ native security features.
- Access and permissions
- Check application permissions for cloud accounts.
- Restrict access to vulnerable applications.
- Multi-factor authentication
- Users must follow a two-step login process to enter your cloud environment.
- Password policies
- Set password lengths and expiration time.
- Run a password check for all users to verify compliance standards and enforce a password change via the admin console if needed.
- Message encryption and mobile management
- Enable and use encryption for confidential information protection.
- Configure mobile device policies to access cloud applications.
- Data loss prevention
- Ensure data integrity and continuity of systems, processes, and services.
- Apply a data loss prevention strategy to protect sensitive information from accidental or malicious threats.
- External sharing standards
- Define criteria for calendar, file, drive, and folder sharing among users.
- Vulnerability assessment
- Perform frequent vulnerability checks to identify vulnerabilities based on a comprehensive list of security breaches.
- Network traffic and access log
- Give customers or employees optional file access permissions.
- Access the system log with insights into data exchange options for administrators.
- Business continuity
- A plan should be in place to deal with unforeseen situations in the commercial, political or social environment.
- Service Level Agreement (SLA) standards
- Establish practical SLA standards, including a detailed description of the service metrics and associated penalties for violations.
The primary cloud security best practice above is essential for any organization that migrates to the cloud. If any of these apps go unnoticed, it could lead to a security disaster.
Cloud computing has indeed revolutionized the business and technological environment. Increasing dependence on cloud services for storing and managing sensitive data is sufficient motivation for attackers. Therefore, all companies and users need to understand cloud security best practices to protect their cloud environments adequately.
Cloud Security Assessment Checklist
Moving to the cloud means a new set of security concerns and more different approaches than in a traditional environment. Applying cloud security best practice covers multiple areas of your environment and business. Cloud security requires enterprise-wide effort, not just the responsibility of one person or a team.
When reviewing the security of your cloud environment, the Cloud Security Assessment Checklist seeks to provide a high-level list of security aspects to consider. The items on the cloud security checklist will be applied differently depending on your environment, but the policies will remain the same no matter how they are implemented.
Step 1: Cloud Policies and Procedures
Cloud policies are guidelines by which companies operate in the cloud. Cloud policies, which are often implemented to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of company information, can also be used for financial management, cost optimization, performance management, and network security.
Organizations that use cloud technology to support operations should follow good security practices. Creating cloud security policies is key to achieving this.
In short, a cloud security policy is an official guideline that helps companies ensure secure operations in the cloud. Cloud technology can be used in a variety of ways. The company solely utilizes private clouds; any organization can use public clouds, and hybrid clouds mix private and public cloud resources. Each of these scenarios should be considered when evaluating security policies.
The responsibility for a secure system lies with both the cloud provider and the customer. Implementation and monitoring of comprehensive policies and procedures will help eliminate this area as a threat.
The following are some questions to ask concerning policies and procedures in cloud security assessments:
- Have all security policies and procedures been updated to include the cloud?
- Are there safety procedures for resident workers?
- Are there procedures when employees leave or change roles?
- Do you have protocols in place to deal with a data breach?
Step 2: Cloud Access management
Identity and access management is a cloud service that controls permissions and access for users and cloud resources. IAM policies are a set of authorization policies applied to people or cloud resources to control what they can access and do with it.
Managing identity and access management is an essential step in securing your cloud environment. Access management controls how users are identified and authenticated in the cloud and who can assign access rights.
Questions to ask about identity and access management in a cloud security assessment are as follows:
- Who has access to your cloud systems? Have they been adequately reviewed?
- Do all your employees receive training on security awareness?
- Do you use multi-factor authentication? Using at least two forms of authentication before granting access assures that the person requesting access is who they say they are.
- Is your guest access controlled? Guest access can lead to potential security vulnerabilities. Make sure their permissions are limited and only set them when needed.
Step 3: Cloud Networking
Using a cloud-based environment puts most of the responsibility for network security on the cloud provider. Cloud network security is a vital component that helps organizations meet their compliance obligations and minimize cyber risk in the cloud.
With the success of phishing attacks, brute-force techniques, and the large number of compromised credentials found on the dark web, attackers are increasingly finding ways to evade perimeter defenses.
Security is not usually provided in public cloud security, so an extra network layer must be added to achieve enhanced cloud security. Questions to ask about networking in a cloud security assessment are as follows:
- Is there any protection against malware injection at the gateway? Hackers can intercept and steal sensitive data by injecting malicious code into cloud services.
- Are there any protections in place to prevent network-based attacks? Brute force attacks on virtual machines can be prevented by disabling RDP access from the internet and restricting internet SSH and SQL Server access.
- Is all sensitive material encrypted over less reliable networks?
Step 4: Cloud backup and data recovery
In the cloud, data can be lost due to various factors such as hardware failure, natural disasters, or malicious actions. A recovery plan is vital to avoid catastrophic data loss.
Cloud backup is a service where data and applications on a business’s servers are backed up and stored on a remote server. Companies prefer to backup to the cloud to keep files and data ready in a system failure, outage, or natural disaster.
Cloud backup for business copies and stores your server’s files on a server located in a separate physical location. Depending on its preferences, a corporation can back up some or all of its server files.
Customers frequently use a web browser or a service provider’s control panel to back up and restore their data and applications. Today, many firms require a cloud server backup since they keep most or all of their business-critical data and apps on cloud servers.
In a cloud security assessment, you should ask the following questions about backup and data recovery:
- Does your cloud provider adequately handle backup and data recovery with comprehensive plans and procedures? Backup and data recovery should include physical storage locations, physical access to server facilities, and disaster plans.
- Do you perform regular tests to ensure a successful restoration? Regular checking of your backups and restore procedures will ensure a smooth recovery even in the worst case.
Step 5: Security Patches and Updates
Keeping your cloud systems up to date with the latest security patches is a vital step in maintaining a secure environment. Cloud patch management takes the process of keeping your servers and other devices free of vulnerabilities and centralizes them in the cloud.
When programmers write code, they often make minor mistakes that hackers can use to obtain confidential information. Software companies write new code or patches that replace the broken part of the code to fix these problems.
The biggest problem companies face is that most of their devices are deployed outside of the office and rarely reconnect to physically located servers in a primary office. By implementing a cloud-based service, companies can access all roaming devices whenever they have internet connections.
Adding a Cloud-based solution to your security patch management process fills the gap when you don’t know where a device is or when to connect it next. Without the cloud, you can leave a weak link on your network, which is the key an attacker needs to wreak havoc and compromise your security.
Questions to ask about security patches and updates in a cloud security assessment are as follows:
- Are you installing the latest security patches?
- Can you show which patches are installed?
- Do you test security patches before deploying them to live servers in a development environment?
- Do you examine your environment for system flaws regularly?
Step 6: Logging and monitoring on the cloud
A security compromise can take a long time for an organization to notice. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your system activity is logged and stored for future analysis.
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to keep an eye on everything, especially in medium and large-scale cloud systems. The number of systems, servers, and IoT devices that are part of such systems makes it impossible to manage, monitor manually, and analyze their logs.
Add in the different business and compliance requirements, and we have a situation where a well-structured and maintained log centralization solution is required.
Managing log events can be difficult in cloud computing services for several reasons. First, there is a massive volume of data points. Still, complex issues are the number of applications involved and the errors detected by reverse engineering their resources to fix.
Cloud log services aim to simplify managing everything by providing an interface to which logs are routed. The information contained in the data can be more easily filtered and exposed to reporting and analytics.
Using the cloud means monitoring remains independent of your network, so any bugs or malfunctions shouldn’t slow it down. Additionally, cloud storage makes it easy to save any historical data points you might need to reference later.
In a cloud security assessment, here are some questions to ask concerning logging and monitoring:
- How long do you keep your diaries?
- Do you record when apps touch-sensitive data?
- Do you log activities such as changes in policy assignments, network security groups, and security policies?
- Do you monitor your system for suspected security breaches?
Step 7: Cloud data encryption
Even if your cloud data is hacked, encryption renders the information useless to hackers as long as the keys are kept safe. The more sensitive the information, the more crucial it is to encrypt it.
Encryption uses mathematical algorithms to convert data (plain text) into an unreadable form (ciphertext) hidden from unauthorized and malicious users, which can be a text, file, code, or image. It is the simplest and most important way to ensure that cloud data is not breached, stolen, or read for an uncommon purpose.
Cloud storage providers encrypt data and transmit encryption keys to users. These keys are used to decrypt data when needed securely. Decryption turns hidden data back into readable data.
Questions to ask about data encryption in a cloud security assessment are as follows:
- Do you encrypt all sensitive information stored on servers and in transit?
- Have you protected all private keys for certificates and public keys?