A hybrid cloud enables organizations to leverage different cloud and on-premises environments. The goal is to avoid vendor lock-in and enable higher flexibility and availability. However, these architectures are complex and can be difficult to configure, maintain, and secure. 

In this article, you will learn about the benefits and challenges of hybrid clouds, including best practices for keeping your hybrid cloud safe.

What Is a Hybrid Cloud?

A hybrid cloud is an infrastructure that you can use to bridge cloud and on-premises environments. It requires that your environments be integrated. Hybrid clouds can be composed of either public or private clouds and can be combined with a multi-cloud strategy

Public clouds are remote clouds that are hosted by third-party vendors. For example, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. In a public cloud, you share servers and networking with other tenants. Private clouds are remote (often co-located)  or on-premises clouds that are managed by you or a third-party vendor. 

In private clouds, you use servers and network connections that are dedicated to your use only. A multi-cloud strategy is one that combines cloud services from multiple vendors. 

To be considered a hybrid cloud, an environment must:

  • Network multiple servers or devices across multiple cloud environment types
  • Offer increased data availability and scalability 
  • Enable the flow of workloads and data across separate cloud environments

Hybrid Cloud Benefits

There are numerous benefits to hybrid cloud environments, including the following:

  • Improved business continuity—enables you to store backups and recovery resources in the cloud while retaining original copies on-premises. You can use hybrid environments as a failover in case of disaster or local outage. 
  • Scalability—cloud resources enable you to scale as needed and on-the-fly. You can more quickly provision resources than is possible with on-premises hardware and you only pay for cloud resources while in use. Additionally, hybrid resources can enable you to extend the life of on-premises resources, reducing technical debt. 
  • Increased availability—enables you to distribute traffic and applications across your environments for greater availability. Distributing processing power and requests prevents bottlenecks and reduces the risk of single points of failure.
  • Supports DevOps—enables DevOps teams to quickly provision resources and deploy projects. Organizations can retain sensitive data and operations on-premises without limiting the speed and flexibility of development operations.

Hybrid Cloud Security Challenges

While hybrid clouds can provide significant benefits, deploying these environments effectively can be a challenge. Hybrid environments are more complex than pure cloud or on-premises environments. You need to manage the visibility, analysis and control of  additional networking, configuration, and integration tasks than is otherwise necessary. Three of the most common challenges are covered below. 

Migration and Configuration

The complexity of hybrid environments can make it difficult to ensure that your configurations are standardized and secure. You need to ensure that policies are applied uniformly and that your deployment is providing the performance you expect. You also need to ensure that when you migrate data and applications, these assets are delivered securely and intact.

The best way to ensure a smooth migration and optimal configurations is with a solid cloud migration strategy. Take the time beforehand to thoroughly research best practices for migration and configuration across any services you are using. You should also consider transitioning in phases. A phased process enables you to test your configurations as you go and can help ensure that assets are not corrupted or left unprotected when moved.

Monitoring

Monitoring hybrid clouds can be a challenge because of the diversity of services you’re using. Although cloud services often provide monitoring tools, these don’t always integrate with existing solutions. Additionally, using these tools typically requires accessing cloud dashboards which are inefficient for security teams. 

To comprehensively monitor these environments you should adopt centralized monitoring solutions. For example, system information and event monitoring (SIEM) solutions. These solutions should continuously integrate logging and event data from across your systems and provide alerts that centralizes data across your environments (hybrid cloud). Solutions should also be able to correlate data across systems to identify lateral movement and more reliably identify issues or attacks.

Data Protection

Hybrid solutions, by nature, transfer data between on-premises and cloud resources. Every time this data is transferred, it is at risk of corruption, interception, or loss. Additionally, cloud access requires Internet connectivity, meaning that your data is potentially accessible by anyone with an internet connection.

In a hybrid environment, data security is entirely on you. While cloud providers offer features for encryption and secure, virtual private networks (VPNs), it is up to you to configure these features. 

To secure your data, you need to ensure that encryption is used at all times, and applied correctly for data in-transit and at-rest; there is a performance vs security trade-off decision that often needs to be considered for data at-rest in high volume transaction applications/environments. You should also restrict access to both resources and data using built-in or third-party access management tools. 

Top Cyber Security Best Practices for the Hybrid Cloud

In addition to the above recommendations, there are a few best practices you should adopt when deploying a hybrid cloud. 

Apply the principle of least privilege

The principle of least privilege specifies that applications and users should only have access to those resources and data they require. This limitation helps prevent users from accessing privileged data and can limit the damage caused if credentials are compromised. 

For even greater security, you should consider streamlining these permissions into role-based categories. Doing so makes permission management simpler and enables you to reduce your number of power users and thus threat profile in the event of an account compromise or misuse.

Continuous audit of systems

After your hybrid cloud is deployed, you may be tempted to simply trust your configurations. However, this is a mistake. Cloud services and default settings can change frequently and so can your needs. Additionally, you may have misconfigured something during migration. The nature of cloud means that audits data is much more readily available via well-defined API frameworks, leveraging these API’s and cloud vendors existing audit functionality can mean easier adoption of continuous audit and assessment strategies, improving overall security, risk and audit posture.

Audits can help you uncover these changes or misconfigurations and correct any issues. Audits can also help you ensure that your performance is optimized, enabling you to identify and correct bottlenecks or cloud provisioning issues. Additionally, if you have data or assets that fall under compliance regulations, audits are often a required part of your compliance. 

Secure all endpoints

Endpoints are any externally facing devices on your network, including smart devices, workstations, routers, and web portals. With a hybrid cloud, your number of endpoints will likely be significantly larger than before. With each endpoint, your attack surface area increases, putting your data and systems at risk.

To reduce this risk and protect against attack, you need to ensure that your endpoints are protected. This means implementing firewalls, access controls, antivirus, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions. Tools should comprehensively cover your network and scale alongside your resources. 

Expand endpoint security posture validation

With a hybrid cloud, your number of endpoints will likely be significantly larger than before. Your access footprint will also increase, via users personal devices, 3rd party systems, IoT/OT and many others. With each new endpoint accessing your data, the attack surface area increases, putting your data and systems at increased risk.

Managing this risk will rely on ensuring that you adopt increased security measures at both ingress and egress points across the hybrid cloud environment. Considering the adoption of access control systems for validating non corporate owned entities, (EDR) solutions to provide more in-depth visibility, detection and control on all managed endpoints, not least cloud based security gateways and federated authentication mechanisms  comprehensively cover your security needs and scale alongside your resources. 

Create backup and disaster recovery strategies

Just like with a pure on-premises environment, a hybrid cloud requires backup and recovery plans and policies. One benefit of cloud solutions is that services typically come with built-in data duplication or recovery tools. However, these tools only apply to cloud data. If you are retaining data or applications on-premises, you still need to arrange for duplication. 

Ideally, you should be storing duplicates in multiple regions. This protects you against single points of failure and can provide a failover option in case of disaster. Backups that are remote from your source data can also protect against data loss from attacks, such as ransomware. 

Conclusion

Hybrid clouds are complex environments that require special and careful care during every step—from migration and configuration, to monitoring and data protection. That does not mean you should avoid hybrid environments. 

By adopting best practices, you can properly configure and secure your hybrid cloud. You can and always should apply the principle of least privileges, periodically audit your ecosystem, secure all endpoints, and create backup and disaster recovery strategies. 

Senior Director Security Strategy / Evangelist

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