Cloud Security Explainers:
9 Cloud Security Best Practices You Must Know
What is cloud security?
Cloud security employs a set of technologies, procedures, and best practices to secure cloud environments against external and internal threats.
Cloud security best practices are a body of knowledge that can help organizations prevent malicious activity, and keep the cloud secure from emerging and existing threats. While each organization may be subject to specific industry best practices or organizational policies, many cloud security best practices can be applied universally.
Benefits of Cloud Security
An effective cloud security strategy should provide the following essential benefits.
Cloud security helps organizations centralize their protection efforts. Business networks set in the cloud often consist of many endpoints and devices. This setup can prove difficult to manage for organizations dealing with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and shadow IT.
By centrally managing all these entities, organizations can:
- Enhance traffic analysis processes alongside web filtering
- Streamline network events monitoring
- Use less software and policy updates
- Easily implement disaster recovery plans
Related content: Read our explainer on Cloud Security Solutions.
Cloud computing eliminates the need to invest in on-premises hardware. This can help organizations upgrade their security while avoiding setup costs. A cloud service provider can proactively handle the security needs of the organization, further reducing the costs and risks associated with hiring an in-house security team to protect and maintain local hardware.
A reputable cloud security platform or cloud service provider can help reduce or altogether eliminate manual security configurations and updates. Locally, these manual tasks can significantly drain resources. However, organizations moving to the cloud can leverage centralized security administration as well as certain fully-managed options.
Increased reliability and availability
Cloud security helps ensure that applications and data are readily, yet securely, available to authorized users. Cloud providers handle certain aspects that secure the infrastructure and provide organizations with features and services that help control access to cloud applications and data. This enables organizations to quickly respond to potential security threats.
Cloud Security Best Practices
The following are best practices that should benefit almost every organization leveraging the cloud, in any industry.
1. Understand the shared responsibility model
In the cloud, your organization and your cloud provider share responsibility for securing the environment. In general, the cloud provider is responsible for infrastructure, while customers are responsible for securing their data and workloads.
Keep in mind that when using infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), like Amazon EC2 instances, you have the greatest responsibility. When using platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or software-as-a-service (SaaS), the cloud provider takes responsibility for a larger portion of the stack.
Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure provide detailed documentation that explains the responsibilities of their customers, and best practices to help them secure their part of the environment. Be aware of these guidelines and follow them closely.
2. Perform due diligence on your cloud provider
Before selecting a cloud provider, or when evaluating existing cloud services in your organization, ask the following questions:
- Where are the provider’s data centers?
- How does the provider handle security incidents and disasters?
- What types of technical support are available and what are their costs?
- Does the provider offer data encryption, does it incur an additional cost, and is it on by default?
- Which teams at the provider can access your compute resources or data?
- For which compliance standards is the provider certified?
3. Deploy an identity and access management (IAM) solution
Unauthorized access is a major threat to cloud environments. To combat these threats, cloud providers offer sophisticated IAM solutions. Use the provider’s IAM to set up granular roles and apply permissions using the least privilege principle. Always enable multifactor authentication (MFA).
If you operate across multiple clouds, or in a hybrid cloud model, the provider’s IAM may not be enough. In this case, look for IAM solutions that support all your environments and provide single sign-on (SSO) with consistent security policies across all systems.
Related content: Read our explainer on Cloud Security Controls.
4. Establish cloud security policies
Create a written policy that specifies who in the organization is permitted to use cloud services, what type of data they store, which of it is sensitive, and how it should be protected. Specify the cloud security technologies in use at the organization, and specific best practices employees should follow in their day-to-day work.
However, policies are not enough. Adopt a zero trust architecture (ZTA) security model, which will help you centrally define and enforce access policies. Use automated systems like cloud access security brokers (CASB) and cloud security posture management (CSPM) to track configurations across the cloud environment, identify policy violations, and preferably, automatically remediate them.
5. Encrypt data in transit and at rest
Data encryption provides another layer of protection to ensure that even if cloud systems are breached, sensitive data is useless to attackers. Data must be encrypted both at rest, within cloud storage systems, and when being transmitted within the cloud environment or outside it.
All cloud providers offer built-in encryption capabilities. See if they meet your needs and the way your organization manages encryption keys. For example, the cloud provider may allow you to manage your own keys, or provide a solution that manages and rotates keys on your behalf.
6. Use intrusion detection and prevention
Deploy intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), which are highly effective to secure cloud servers. An IDS/IPS system can detect malicious traffic based on attack signatures, protocols, or anomalous behavior. They either provide alerts (IDS) or immediately block the traffic (IPS). These systems are the first line of defense against threats to critical cloud resources.
7. Compliance and security integration
A cloud provider that holds reputable security certifications and is also compliant with specific regulations and standards that your business complies with is preferred. For example:
- Check if the provider holds a Cloud Security Alliance Security, Trust, and Assurance Registry (STAR) certification, or equivalent
- Check whether the provider complies with HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, SOX, or other relevant standards
- See how the provider can support your compliance efforts, either through relevant product features or human support
8. Conduct audits and penetration testing
All cloud providers conduct penetration tests, but these tests focus only on the underlying infrastructure and the elements managed by the provider. It is essential to use an external security consultant or at least an automated application testing tool to test your cloud systems from an attacker’s perspective.
Carry out regular penetration tests, and treat the resulting audit report very seriously. It will indicate gaps in your security posture, which you should promptly remediate. Note that many compliance standards mandate regular penetration tests of your environment.
9. Enable security logs
Robust logging is the foundation of cloud security. You must have logs to be able to identify and investigate security incidents, and also to provide a record of activity for auditors.
Use the cloud provider’s logging infrastructure to collect a central log of important activity such as authentication and access, authorization changes, data transfers, configuration changes, and deployment of new cloud resources. Preferably, deploy a security information and event management (SIEM) system, which can centrally store logs, analyze them, and generate actionable security alerts.
Cloud Security with Exabeam
Even if an all-cloud initiative is not in motion, it’s likely your organization will be moving operations into the cloud as part of a business transformation initiative. Before taking this step, it’s critical to assess how you will go about securing cloud operations by understanding related security, identity security and behavior, and compliance issues. A modern security information and event management (SIEM) or extended detection and response (XDR) solution will help your analysts see attacks with advanced monitoring, behavioral analytics, and automation.
A modern SIEM or XDR can help you combat increasingly targeted and complex attacks that range from remote users and network anomalies to cloud services and development environments by centralizing log collection and event management. With tight integrations into cloud security solutions like identity and access management (IAM), cloud access security broker (CASB), and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), modern SIEM or XDR can help organizations better detect, investigate, and respond to cloud-based attacks, while minimizing the detection of false positives.
As cloud-delivered offerings, Exabeam Fusion SIEM and Fusion XDR address gaps in cloud security monitoring in multiple ways to ensure the protection of sensitive data, applications and infrastructure. Both Fusion SIEM and Fusion XDR contain Exabeam’s industry-leading behavioral analytics to find credential-based threats, distinguishing between normal and abnormal behavior.
With 80% of attacks involving credentials, Exabeam Advanced Analytics examines unified access policy across identity tools attached to the network, endpoint, and cloud activity. Attacks coming from any vector are seen as anomalies in normal behavior and Exabeam Smart Timelines organize these events in chronological order offering security teams a full view of what happened, where, when, and involving which credentials, entities, and data stores.
More ways Exabeam supports your cloud security initiative:
- Collects alert data by direct ingestion from dozens of cloud security tools and popular cloud-based services across multiple enterprise clouds, in addition to hundreds of other products
- Includes response playbooks using pre-built connectors and hundreds of actions to contain and mitigate threats
- Offers pre-built compliance packages (Exabeam Fusion SIEM)
- Supports detection and investigation with mappings to MITRE ATT&CK and the availability of the Exabeam Threat Intelligence Service, a daily updated stream of indicators of compromise (IoC), such as malicious IP addresses and domains
- Augments other cloud security solutions like IAM and CASB to better detect, investigate, and respond to cloud-based attacks while minimizing the detection of false positives