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4 Key Factors to Consider When Protecting Your Cloud Workloads

4 Key Factors to Consider When Protecting Your Cloud Workloads

Blog Article Published: 02/06/2024

Originally published by CrowdStrike.

Today’s security practitioners face a daunting challenge: Staying ahead of sophisticated adversaries who have turned their attention to the expansive terrain of cloud environments.

CrowdStrike observed a 95% year-over-year increase in cloud exploitation in 2022. This trend demands strategic reevaluation of how organizations protect their cloud environments and workloads, and emphasizes the importance of choosing the right cloud security capabilities. Defending against cloud-focused adversaries is about understanding the nuances of cloud security, recognizing the methods adversaries use and deploying a proactive, comprehensive solution.

To truly secure the cloud against evolving threats, organizations must consider adopting a full cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) solution.

A CNAPP includes cloud workload protection (CWP) in addition to other critical capabilities such as container scanning, cloud security posture management (CSPM), infrastructure-as-code scanning, cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) and runtime vulnerability and configuration scanning. It provides a unified security posture to cover every facet of the cloud environment, from the initial development stages of applications to their ongoing operation and management.

Each of the capabilities built into a CNAPP is critical to a comprehensive and effective cloud security posture. Here, we take a closer look at the four key factors to keep in mind when evaluating a CNAPP’s cloud workload protection capability. Whether you’re a seasoned security expert or newly navigating the cloud security domain, this guidance will help you best protect your cloud workloads in an ever-evolving threat landscape.


Key Factor #1: Comprehensive Coverage and Integration

The cloud environment is a complex ecosystem, home to a diverse range of workloads, each with its own security needs and challenges. From virtual machines (VMs) to containers and serverless architectures, the landscape is constantly evolving. Organizations must have security that caters to the requirements of these workload types.


Understanding Workload Diversity

VMs, for example, often host critical applications and data. They require a security approach that also encompasses the underlying network infrastructure. Containerized applications, on the other hand, present a different set of challenges. They demand security solutions that can seamlessly monitor and protect the ephemeral, dynamic nature of containers. And then there are serverless functions, where traditional security perimeters no longer apply. For these, the focus shifts to securing the runtime environment and associated APIs.

Organizations need cloud coverage that can adapt to the unique characteristics of each workload type without hindering its performance or scalability.


Seamless Integration with Existing Systems

Equally important is the ability to integrate with existing systems, security tools and cloud environments. Organizations often operate within a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environment, using a mix of on-premises and cloud-based resources. A CNAPP should offer a unified view of security across the entire environment and facilitate the sharing of threat intelligence and security insights, which is crucial in a landscape where threats are increasingly sophisticated.


Key Factor #2: Advanced Threat Detection and Response

The second factor to consider in securing cloud workloads is advanced threat detection and response capabilities. Today’s adversaries are faster and stealthier — the average breakout time for an adversary is 79 minutes, with the fastest observed time a mere 7 minutes, the CrowdStrike 2023 Threat Hunting Report found. The ability to detect and respond to these threats in real time is paramount.


Real-Time Monitoring and Threat Intelligence

Real-time monitoring is the backbone of effective threat detection. It involves continuous surveillance of cloud workloads to identify unusual or malicious activity as it occurs. Immediate detection is crucial to minimize the impact of a breach — but real-time monitoring must be complemented by advanced threat intelligence to defend against adversaries’ latest tactics, techniques and procedures. Threat intelligence involves analyzing data from various sources to understand current threats and predict potential attack vectors.


Automated Response and Remediation

When a threat is detected, the speed of response is critical. Automated response mechanisms can take immediate action without the need for human intervention. These actions may include isolating affected systems, blocking suspicious network traffic or deploying patches to vulnerable workloads. Automated remediation goes a step further by not only addressing the immediate threat but also creating a policy to prevent workloads being deployed with similar vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in the future. This proactive approach ensures similar attacks cannot happen again.


Managed Detection and Response (MDR) for Cloud

MDR services provide expert oversight and analysis, offering a more nuanced understanding of the threats affecting cloud workloads. MDR for cloud combines technology, process and people to provide a comprehensive approach to threat detection and response. This includes 24/7 monitoring by security experts, advanced analytics to detect threats and strategic guidance to improve overall security. MDR services are particularly valuable for organizations that may not have the in-house expertise or resources to manage complex cloud security environments.


Key Factor #3: Scalability and Performance Impact

The third factor to consider when protecting cloud workloads revolves around the ability to balance growth and efficiency. As businesses expand and evolve, their cloud environments inevitably become more complex. Cloud security tools must not only accommodate this growth but do so in a way that maintains system performance.


Scaling with Business Growth

In the fast-paced world of modern business, cloud environments must be agile enough to scale with the organization's growth. This scalability extends to security as well. Cloud workload protection should feature automated deployment capabilities, ensuring immediate security as new workloads are added and existing ones are expanded. This automation is crucial as it eliminates the risk of any lapse in protection during scaling processes. It's not just about adding resources — it's about intelligently scaling security measures to align with the changing size and complexity of the cloud environment.


Zero Impact to System Performance

Another critical aspect of scalability is ensuring the expansion of security measures does not adversely affect system performance. The agility and efficiency of cloud environments are among their most significant benefits, and cloud workload protection must uphold these qualities. Security measures should be lightweight and optimized to minimize their footprint on system resources and ensure security becomes a facilitator — not a bottleneck — to business growth and innovation.


Key Factor #4: Shift-Left and CI/CD Pipeline Integration

The fourth essential factor to consider when protecting cloud workloads is the integration of security practices into the early stages of application development — often referred to as the "shift-left" approach — and the seamless integration of these practices within the continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline.


Building Security into New Application Development

The concept of "shifting left" in security refers to the practice of integrating security measures early in the software development lifecycle, rather than treating security as an afterthought at the end of the development process. This way, potential vulnerabilities can be identified and addressed much earlier and reduce the risk of security issues in the released product.

With this shift, developers are equipped with the tools and knowledge to write more secure code, conduct code reviews with security in mind, and utilize automated tools to scan for vulnerabilities as part of their regular development activities. This shift not only enhances the security of the applications — it fosters a culture where security is a shared responsibility among all team members, not just a concern for the security team.


Integrating Application and Container Security into the DevOps Toolchain

Additionally, integrating application and container security into the DevOps toolchain ensures security tools and processes are part of the automated workflows that define modern CI/CD pipelines. This integration allows for continuous security assessment and enforcement throughout the application lifecycle, from development to deployment and maintenance.

For example, container security solutions can be integrated to scan container images for vulnerabilities during the build process. Automated security testing can be part of the testing phase, identifying security issues before the application is deployed. In the deployment phase, configuration management tools can ensure security configurations are correctly applied. This will also enable rapid feedback to developers, allowing them to address security issues promptly and improve the security of their applications.


Embracing a Holistic Approach to Cloud Security

As previously mentioned, while cloud workload protection plays a critical role in securing cloud environments, it represents only a part of the broader solution needed to comprehensively safeguard cloud infrastructure and applications. Organizations must adopt a comprehensive CNAPP to effectively safeguard their cloud environments from the wide range of cloud threats.

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