Cybersecurity Best Practices for Cloud Environments

As cloud usage snowballs into unprecedented growth, organizations must ensure that their sensitive data is adequately secured and that any potential risks associated with its use are addressed. Cloud security safeguards the privacy and integrity of critical information assets and ensures compliance with governmental regulations. As such, having a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy with the best practices for cloud environments is essential for any organization looking to protect its data in the cloud. But first, what are the major security hurdles that all cloud solutions face?

Weakness of the Cloud Security Environment –

  • Large Attack Surface

Cloud security does not have a defined perimeter, meaning there are no tools to restrict access to cloud data or systems to a specific area. Cloud is a perimeter-less system that allows for the rapid exchange of information across a large range of space and people. Each cloud attack surface involves the cloud applications and services an organization utilizes, the data in these platforms, and the people with access to this data.  

APIs are increasing the attack surface for potential hackers as they grow in utilization. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allow different software systems to interact and share data, which is essential for cloud services to function effectively. However, this also means that APIs can become a potential entry point for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities in the system.

  • Lack of Visibility 

Since the cloud covers a variety of environments across different locations and people, it can take much work to track human activity. Some cloud providers do not expose the cloud IT infrastructure to their customers. This can make it hard for organizations to identify their cloud assets and take proper measures to protect their data efficiently.   

  • Complexity of Environments

Complex multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud environments are used based on an organization’s needs. Hybrid environments present difficulties in cybersecurity due to the need for tools that can work in both cloud and on-premises settings. 

Best Practices –

Meet IT Compliance Requirements 

Government and industry regulations are in place to protect customers’ sensitive data, such as card numbers, health information, and social security numbers. Failure to comply with these security measures and tools within your cloud infrastructure can result in massive fines if a data breach occurs.   

Most well-known cloud computing providers align with compliance requirements. However, always ask questions to ensure that the provider is up to date. Organizations that use a third-party cloud service must also ensure that their data security and processes are compliant.

Employee Cybersecurity Training

Employees are skilled at their jobs but not always in cybersecurity. A joint study by Stanford University Professor Jeff Hancock and security firm Tessian found that 88 percent of data breach incidents are caused by human error. That is 88 percent of data breaches that can be avoided with proper awareness training in phishing scams, avoiding suspicious downloads, and the importance of regularly updating devices.  

Shared Responsibility Model  

The shared responsibility model outlines the division of responsibilities between the cloud service providers and their customers when it comes to protecting and securing data in the cloud. It is important for both parties to understand their respective roles and take the necessary steps to ensure the security and integrity of the data. 

In the shared responsibility model, the cloud service provider is responsible for the security of the cloud infrastructure and the underlying hardware and software components. This includes maintaining physical security measures, such as data center access controls and network security, as well as implementing security controls at the infrastructure level, such as firewalls and encryption. 

The customer is responsible for securing their data and applications within the cloud. This includes implementing access controls, encrypting sensitive data for enhanced data protection, and regularly monitoring and auditing their cloud environment for any potential vulnerabilities or security breaches. The customer is also responsible for ensuring their own processes and security are compliant with relevant regulations and industry standards.

Cloud service providers do play a role in supporting their customers in fulfilling their responsibilities. This includes providing tools and resources for customers to secure their data and applications, as well as offering guidance and support in implementing cloud security best practices.

Monitor and Audit  

Monitoring and regularly auditing the cloud environment is a shared responsibility as laid out in each unique agreement. These processes include vulnerability scans, pen tests, employee monitoring, and utilizing logging capabilities.  

Vulnerability scans should be set up to act in real-time in conjunction with a remediation service to protect against virus and malware attacks. Penetration testing is recommended to simulate an attack and determine whether the security measures are enough. 

Monitoring employee cloud usage increases transparency and allows for early detection of insider threats or potential security issues. It’s important to regularly review all employees to limit access privileges to only those who require it and revoke access for individuals who no longer need it.

A Log Management System (LMS) can also increase visibility within the cloud as LMS can automatically document and time stamp activity within the operating system or software applications. Analyzing this data can optimize system performance, identify technical issues and suspicious activity, and strengthen security.  

Data Encryption

Cloud data encryption is the process of securing data stored in the cloud by converting it into an unreadable/undecipherable format using cryptographic algorithms. Encrypted data remains confidential and protected from unauthorized access or breaches while being stored or transmitted in a cloud environment.

Data encryption should be done when the data is in the cloud, as well as when it is in transit. Many cloud providers offer data encryption services. Whatever cloud solution you choose, make sure data encryption is part of your cybersecurity plan. 

Identity and Access Management (IAM) 

IAM is a management solution that controls the identities and access rights of individuals within an organization. It involves the process of identifying users, granting or revoking access privileges, and ensuring proper authentication and authorization for the secure and efficient use of resources and data. This practice has become increasingly important as more businesses adopt work-from-home or hybrid work schedules.  

All IAM methods follow the ‘Zero Trust’ concept where, by default, no individual is trusted and therefore requires verification to access the network resources. Examples of IAM tools include using MFA (multi-factor authentication), SSO (single sign-on), and RBA (risk-based authentication).  

Endpoint Security

Cloud-based endpoint security is meant to protect your endpoint devices, such as laptops, servers, and mobile devices, to provide network security. Several practices are used to block potential security incidents regardless of where you are and how you are accessing the network. These practices include having antivirus and antimalware systems, EDR (endpoint detection and response), EPP (endpoint protection platforms), and XDR (extended detection and response).

Securing Your Cloud Environment: Best Practices and Shared Responsibilities

With the ever-increasing usage of the cloud, it has become crucial to understand the best cybersecurity practices for the cloud environment. Cloud security faces many challenges such as a large attack surface, lack of visibility, and high complexity in multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud systems.

With all these items to consider it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Whatever cloud solution you choose, ensure that you are following the above cybersecurity best practices for cloud environments in order to protect your data. Ask the right questions and work with your cloud provider to understand the shared responsibilities so nothing goes unchecked!

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