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Mapping the Impact of Cloud Remediation

Mapping the Impact of Cloud Remediation

Blog Article Published: 04/09/2024

Originally published by Tamnoon.

Written by Michael St.Onge, Principal Security Architect, Tamnoon.


What is impact analysis?

Performing an impact analysis is a critical step in the cloud remediation process that employs methodical techniques to answer the questions: “What might go wrong if we implement this fix?” – and the equally-important “What might go wrong if we don’t?”

A comprehensive impact analysis not only highlights the possible ramifications of altering cloud-based resources and configurations, but also offers a holistic view of the risks and benefits to your operations, cost, security, and compliance with each remediation task. Some fixes may have no broader impact at all while others may crash the production environment for anywhere ranging from minutes to hours, so it’s vital to understand the potential consequences before implementing any changes. This way, you can ensure that security fixes don’t unexpectedly disrupt your business operations, put you at risk of noncompliance, or cost your organizations.

The overarching goal of impact analysis is to enable organizations to make informed, data-driven decisions about the best approach to cloud remediation, while fully grasping the business tradeoffs. When done well, it sets the stage for a seamless remediation process.


Key Steps

Planning

Once you’ve identified security issues, your very next step should be to make a plan. A well-crafted remediation plan should unfold in distinct phases, starting with matters that have minimal production impact first and then, as the process progresses, delving into more complex challenges. Each of these phases should be mapped out and detail the specific steps you or your team needs to take to address each security concern.

This structured approach ensures that your remediation efforts are both comprehensive and well-organized with minimal business impact (see our blog post for more on how to do this systematically).

For example, let’s say you need to encrypt an existing Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for PostgreSQL DB instance in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud with minimal downtime. After it’s created, you can no longer add encryption to an Amazon RDS DB instance. But you can encrypt a snapshot of your unencrypted DB instance and then restore it from the snapshot to get an encrypted copy of your original DB instance.

In the planning stage, the security team would meet with the database admins and application owners to plan the process of encrypting the RDS database instance. They would review the current database architecture, security requirements, and potential downtime. The plan would need to outline the steps for creating a snapshot, encrypting it, spinning up a new encrypted instance, and cutting over. It should also cover validating data replication, disabling constraints, and updating applications.


Documenting your plan

Documenting your remediation plan is essential. Documentation not only serves as a roadmap for the remediation process but also fosters clear communication across various teams. A detailed plan will act as both a guide you can reuse in the future and a communication tool, playing an indispensable role in successful remediation.

In our Amazon RDS example, the security lead would document the encryption plan in a shared wiki or document, with details on timelines, resources required, risks, and mitigation strategies. This would be circulated to all stakeholders for review and sign-off before starting the work.


Roles and responsibilities

Define roles and responsibilities as part of the plan. By meticulously laying out the required steps and procedures, all members — from SecOps to DevOps — gain clarity on their roles and responsibilities. This type of transparency ensures that teams are aligned, enhancing your remediation effort’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Consider again the Amazon RDS example. A clear plan would layout each team members role, such as:

RoleResponsible for
Security lead
  • Project management
  • Plan documentation
Database admins
  • Create encrypted snapshot
  • Spin up the new instance
  • Validate data replication
App owners
  • Reconfigure the applications to point to the new endpoint
All parties
  • Collaborate on assessing downtime
  • Communication with customers/stakeholders (i.e. flagging potential performance issues during maintenance window)


Remediation impact analysis

Each fix has its own unique set of repercussions. Some might seamlessly integrate with no noticeable effect on your business environment, while others may introduce downtime ranging from a few minutes to several hours — halting production and impacting trust with your users or customers. By systematically working from tasks with the least impact to those with the most, you can prioritize actions, safeguard operations, and maximize your uptime.

Because potential outcomes vary greatly, conducting a detailed impact analysis is the first line of defense against unintended outcomes and is indispensable for informed decision-making.

Continuing with Amazon RDS, the team would analyze the impact of the RDS encryption on overall database performance, application latency, and potential downtime. They would test encryption on development environments first and then they would assess the app’s ability to failover and point to the new endpoint.


Role of the expert vs. automation

A common dilemma for organizations is choosing between fixing risks manually or deploying fixes automatically. When it comes to impact analysis, exclusively relying on either method poses considerable benefits and challenges.

Manually testing every scenario is impractical, leaving a vast majority of risks unaddressed. On the other hand, automation without human oversight can’t accurately predict the unique business implications of changes for your specific business. This may risk destabilizing your production cloud environment.

ApproachProsCons
Expert
  • Invaluable perspectives and nuance that automated systems may overlook
  • Anticipate potential challenges and craft customized solutions aligned with business priorities and regulations
  • Exercise judgment in complex trade-off situations to evaluate broader implications
  • Devise custom scripts tailored to specific needs
  • Effectively communicate scenarios across teams
  • Manually testing every scenario is impractical, leaving many risks unaddressed
  • Lack of automation makes response times slower
Automation
  • Rapidly scan expansive infrastructures to identify vulnerabilities consistently
  • Automatically trigger alerts and remedial actions to expedite response times
  • Aggregate vast amounts of data to reveal insights that would take much longer manually
  • Implement fixes uniformly at scale
  • Automation without oversight risks destabilizing environments and compromising production
  • Inability to appreciate nuances that human experts would identify
  • Standard tools may fall short of tailored solutions

When encrypting an existing Amazon RDS, the database admins would leverage their expertise to thoroughly test and validate the data replication and app connectivity. Automation could be used for snapshotting, spinning up new instances, running data validation checks, and routing app traffic. But the DBAs’ skills would be critical for troubleshooting issues.

The combination of human expertise and automated scanning delivers comprehensive, tailored cloud remediation. Experts contextualize and customize, while automation provides speed, consistency and an information-rich landscape. Together, they offer robust defense.


The bottom line

Thorough impact analysis is indispensable for safe and smooth cloud remediation. Carefully evaluating fixes upfront through multiple lenses paves the way for successful changes.


For Practitioners

For security and ops teams, impact analysis prevents disruption by identifying risks pre-implementation. Practitioners can design tailored remediation plans leveraging impact insights across tools, technologies, and processes resulting in a smooth hand-off between teams.


For Management

For leadership, impact analysis provides confidence in change success by quantifying risks. Management gains visibility into the business justifications guiding each remediation decision while also increasing compliance assurance by assessing regulatory impacts.

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