Lots of organizations are adopting cloud computing, encouraged by its many potential advantages, including lower costs, shorter development cycles, and high scalability.

Despite those benefits, cybersecurity weaknesses in cloud environments make organizations vulnerable to many kinds of cyberattacks, including phishing, ransomware, malware, and account hijacks. In 2020:

  • Almost 3.1 million external cyberattacks hit cloud accounts;
  • There was a 605 percent increase in COVID-themed attacks in the second half;
  • Security was the top cloud challenge for 81 percent of organizations.

Implementing strong cloud security is important to leverage the cloud’s benefits while avoiding cyber threats, but requires organizations to act vigorously. Read on to learn more about processes and best practices to protect cloud environments from threats and to improve cloud security control.

Four Primary Areas of Cloud Security

  1. Identity and Access Management

    To improve cloud security you must minimize the risk of unauthorized logins. This is where robust identity and access management (IAM) comes in.

    IAM is based on role-based access control. It can help secure cloud data with measures like multi-factor authentication and privileged account management, which protect data and assets by preventing unauthorized use and misuse. IAM also protects your organization if a threat actor gets access to internal credentials because it provides a complete audit trail for event investigation and mitigation.

  2. Data

    In the public cloud, data security is a shared responsibility between you and your cloud service provider, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. In this shared responsibility model:

    • Security of the cloud belongs to the cloud service provider;
    • Security in the cloud belongs to the customer.

    Since your data resides in the cloud, data protection is your responsibility. Protect data at rest and in transit by:

    • Securing the root account with robust authentication;
    • Securing all communications between private and public clouds;
    • Implementing secure data storage and key management;
    • Protecting sensitive data with strong encryption.
  3. Operating System

    Configure the operating system and patch it regularly to strengthen its security. Stay updated on system configuration requirements, establish a patch baseline, and schedule regular maintenance windows to stay a few steps ahead of malicious threat actors.

  4. Network Layer

    The cloud network enables communication among cloud assets and between these assets and the outside world, so strong network security is crucial.

    To protect network resources from unauthorized access, misuse, or damage, they must be configured and managed correctly. Perform regular network scanning to identify and address any open vulnerabilities. Deploying a web application firewall (WAF) protects web applications from cross-site-scripting (XSS) and SQL injection attacks.

Seven Critical Cloud Security Controls to Implement

Implementing these seven security controls will help you avoid cyber attacks, data breaches, operational disruptions, and reputational damage. Consider them before and after moving to the cloud.

  1. Improved Cloud Visibility

    Improved security in the cloud starts with improved visibility into user activity, configuration settings, security policies, and existing security risks.

    Use cloud workload protection (CWP) tools for centralized visibility; they make it easier to identify and address problems quickly. Implement automated configuration monitoring to diagnose security misconfigurations and implement fast fixes.

    You should also:

    • Implement network boundaries to restrict access to business-critical applications and data;
    • Maintain encryption keys separately from the cloud environment.
  2. Strong Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC)

    With a solid cyber GRC program, you can better manage cyber risks in the cloud. It must include proven strategies, security tools, and frameworks to address cloud risks and threats consistently, while improving visibility and asset management.

    Follow these GRC best practices to boost cloud security:

    • Implement robust security policies and standards across the organization;
    • Eliminate unused resources and consolidate idle resources;
    • Regularly audit users with access to cloud assets or data.
  3. Protect the Private Cloud

    With a virtual private cloud (VPC), you can create a separate virtual network within a public cloud to isolate your applications from other organizations using the same public cloud.

    To protect your VPC assets, perform regular network scanning to understand how these assets are performing; then identify and address vulnerabilities as needed. Maintain an updated and current asset inventory to assure the network scanner gets the right inputs and provides the best output.

  4. Security Automation

    Implement automated solutions to monitor cloud environments continuously and end-user activities in real-time. Such solutions can spot anomalies and suspicious behaviors that may indicate the presence of a threat actor. Depending on the threat, eliminate or mitigate it with access controls or other security tools.

  5. Penetration Testing

    Even a single vulnerability can be catastrophic to your cloud infrastructure. For ongoing security, perform penetration testing regularly to simulate a cyberattack on the network. Penetration tests uncover vulnerabilities that adversaries could exploit. Address them quickly to strengthen your cloud infrastructure’s security.

  6. Threat Intelligence

    Threat intelligence is contextual information that can help your organization prevent or mitigate cyberattacks in the cloud. With threat intelligence, you can better understand threat actors and threat vectors as well as tailor your defensive and offensive cyber strategy for stronger security. It is especially vital for complex cloud environments with asset or vendor sprawl.

  7. Adopt the ‘Shift Left’ Approach

    Shifting left means incorporating security testing earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). When you test applications towards the end of the SDLC, it may be too late to fix any discovered security issues. You may also miss some problems, especially if the time-to-market pressure is high. Instead, shift left to catch potential concerns (misconfiguration errors, for example) in your code before it goes live.

Manage Your Cloud Security with ZenGRC

In complex multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments, security challenges are a big concern for organizations. As your environment grows, implement these pillars of cloud security to defend your infrastructure from threat actors.

Manage your cloud security and data security, and proactively remediate risks with Reciprocity’s ZenGRC.

With this single platform, you can quickly identify and respond to incidents, strengthen cloud governance, and protect your data with confidence. Click here to learn more about ZenGRC.