Cloud Vulnerability Management Program
Blog Article Published: 07/28/2023
Written by Kazi Arif, Senior Consultant, AT&T Cybersecurity.
Continuous technological advancements introduce critical vulnerabilities to your organization that malicious actors seek to exploit. Despite considerable time, money, and resources invested into security, achieving 100% protection is impossible due to the ever-present vulnerabilities, including undiscovered ones like zero-day vulnerabilities. Information Security teams have already faced challenges with keeping their environments secure in traditional on-premises technology environments. While traditional on-premises environments have always presented security challenges, this shift to cloud systems has opened up potential entryways to an organization’s environment and data.
Cloud technology has revolutionized the IT landscape, offering numerous benefits and advancements. With the widespread adoption of cloud technology, cloud security is now going to be a major and growing concern. This is because as “Cloud” evolves, it will introduce a wide variety of new cyber threats and vulnerabilities. With many aspects of our lives being digitized, and many of our technologies and data being shifted to the Cloud, there is a new threat vector introduced to our data in the Cloud. Data stored in the Cloud is no longer fully under our control, increasing data breaches potential. Organizations that have adopted the Cloud into their infrastructure often establish direct connections between their Cloud environments and their traditional IT infrastructure. This interconnectivity means that if a Cloud system is compromised, attackers can move laterally and infiltrate the on-premises systems, bypassing invested network and perimeter defenses. This means that despite the security defenses that may have been architected in your on-premises network, the compromise of a Cloud system can potentially bypass these protections. Another consequence of compromised Cloud systems is that the attacker may potentially leverage the massive scale and computing power of the Cloud to launch Botnet attacks, or other forms of Distributed Denial of Service initiatives.
We need to adapt and secure our data in the Cloud due to the increasing threat vectors amplified by Cloud technology. It is beneficial to implement controls such as encryption, Identity and Access Management, and effective policies that govern cloud operations. However, a great way to begin securing your cloud is through establishing a Cloud Vulnerability Management program. When attackers seek to infiltrate your cloud environment, they will typically begin by performing vulnerability and port scans of your publicly available interfaces in order to identify potential vulnerabilities in your systems that can be exploited. Vulnerabilities can exist on your systems for a number of reasons including misconfigurations, outdated software, bugs, and human error, which expose Cloud resources to potential threats such as unauthorized access, data breaches, and denial of service attacks. Building a Cloud Vulnerability Management program will provide organizations with a head start in identifying vulnerabilities before malicious actors pinpoint them.
As part of an effective Cloud Vulnerability program, the following essential security elements must be in place:
- Asset Discovery: The initial step in building a Cloud vulnerability management program is to establish an inventory of all the assets and resources that are part of the Cloud environment. This includes servers, applications, databases, and other components.
- Vulnerability scanning: Once the initial asset discovery is complete, reputable vulnerability scanning solutions must be used to scan the cloud environment for known vulnerabilities. These tools can identify potential vulnerabilities such as unpatched software, default passwords, and misconfigured settings.
- Vulnerability assessment: Assess the vulnerability scan results to determine the criticality of each identified vulnerability and its potential impact on the Cloud environment, to drive prioritization of remediation efforts.
- Remediation: Once vulnerabilities are identified and prioritized, remediation efforts can begin. This involves applying patches, configuring settings, and implementing other measures to address vulnerabilities and minimize exploitation risk.
- Monitoring and reporting: Ongoing monitoring and reporting is necessary to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed, and the cloud environment remains secure. This includes frequently scheduled vulnerability scans, tracking remediation efforts, and reporting on the overall security posture of the cloud environment.
Vulnerability management in the cloud is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and adaptation. By identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in a timely manner, cloud providers can minimize the risk of data breaches and other security incidents. Leading vulnerability scanning solutions on the market will provide the ability to not only perform vulnerability scans, but also provide a wide variety of other valuable features such as continuously running vulnerability scans, as well as correlation of findings with threat intelligence feeds to identify vulnerabilities that are currently trending at a current point in time. To ensure a cloud environment is in compliance with any relevant major regulatory frameworks such as PCI DSS, NIST CSF, and ISO Standards, vulnerability scanning tool sets are capable of assessing an environment and its vulnerability findings for compliance. In addition to ensuring compliance, some scanning solutions have integrated Patch Management capabilities to support remediation activities, which make it possible to not only detect vulnerabilities but also deploy the relevant patches to address them. It is also highly recommended to leverage a scanning solution which can be integrated with your other security tools such as a SIEM system to streamline and enhance visibility of Cloud environment security posture.
Another best practice for hardening cloud security is to design the environment in accordance with security best practices recommended by the cloud provider, such as AWS Well-Architected Framework, Azure Security Benchmark, and Google Cloud Security Foundations. Assuming that the Cloud environment has been designed with security in mind, many vulnerability scanning tools have the ability to perform Cloud security assessments that will evaluate the overall Cloud environment’s security in depth and perform an automated assessment in alignment with an extensive list of Cloud security best practices that are relevant. The report of findings from such Cloud security assessments may be utilized as a roadmap for improving the security of a Cloud environment.
As a next step after performing a Cloud Security Assessment in alignment with best practices, it is highly recommended to have a Penetration Test performed by a reputable third-party that is skilled and knowledgeable of Cloud technologies. A penetration test will involve a qualified subject matter expert assessing the Cloud environment for vulnerabilities, but also taking the additional step of attempting to exploit the identified vulnerabilities just as a potential attacker would. The goal of this exercise is to provide an organization with additional visibility into potential entryways into the Cloud environment, as well as guidance on how to remediate the identified gaps.
As organizations increasingly adopt cloud technologies, ensuring the security of Cloud operating systems becomes paramount. While there may be risks associated with computing in the Cloud environment compared to a traditional on-premises solution, this should not discourage organizations from leveraging the enormous potential of Cloud technology. Instead, it emphasizes the need for comprehensive security measures and the establishment of robust policies to protect resources deployed in the Cloud. By addressing security concerns effectively, organizations can harness the full potential of the Cloud while safeguarding their data and infrastructure.
About the Author
Kazi Arif is currently a Senior Consultant at AT&T Cybersecurity Consulting who works with AT&T customer organizations across all industry verticals to understand their unique business challenges within the context of business environment and industry regulations, and then proposes solutions to align business objectives with the relevant compliance standards. Kazi has a track record of innovating and implementing various tools and technologies to solve trending challenges in the threat landscape, as well as experience performing a variety of Cyber Security risk assessments in alignment with NIST CSF, ISO 27001, HITRUST, and HIPAA. Kazi’s current areas of focus within Cybersecurity includes Vulnerability and Threat Management, Penetration Testing, OT/IOT Security, Cloud Services Technology, and Telephony Voice Fraud Services.
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