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Cloud Security Assessment Fundamentals in 2024

Cloud Security Assessment Fundamentals in 2024

Blog Article Published: 05/29/2024

Written by David Balaban.

The indisputable benefits of cloud computing for organizations are the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it lies an oft-overlooked multitude of unique threats and vulnerabilities that might erode the environment unless kept in check. The challenges run the gamut from cloud sprawl and insecure APIs to misconfigurations and crude access controls.

The aftermath of exploiting these security gaps can be highly disruptive, amplifying concerns about data confidentiality, regulatory compliance, and business continuity. These risks propel cloud security assessment, a concept that aims to provide a bird’s-eye view of the entire off-premises digital infrastructure in terms of potential weak links. Importantly, its mechanisms and principles must match the rapidly evolving cloud threat ecosystem.

The basics of cloud security assessment

Cloud security assessment boils down to three key stages:

  • Auditing everything that runs in the cloud environment
  • Pinpointing the possible attack vectors based on the detected vulnerabilities
  • Prioritizing the remediation actions to shield the most valuable organizational assets

To maximize effectiveness, this activity should work in concert with cloud vulnerability management. Continuous by nature, it focuses on identifying security loopholes in APIs, workloads, containers, identity and access management (IAM) systems, shadow IT resources, IoT devices, and software development lifecycles (SDLCs).

Once the analysis is completed, IT teams can determine whether or not the current security measures are enough to foil the risks. Ultimately, cloud security assessment is a stepping stone to addressing critical vulnerabilities that expose the enterprise network to compromise.

Why conduct cloud security assessment?

The average organization uses multiple cloud instances, solutions, virtual machines, and accounts dispersed across different platforms. Without proper centralized oversight, these resources tend to accumulate over time, and IT teams might lose track of them. This snowball effect inflates the attack surface and creates blind spots in the security posture, making the infrastructure susceptible to abuse.

This is why it’s so important to inventory what’s in the cloud, and from there, make informed security decisions and take immediate actions. Cloud security assessment is what gives that big picture and provides actionable insights into the areas that require immediate improvement. Here is a summary of the reasons to run such an assessment in 2024:

  • Staying on top of your cloud environment: Cloud security assessment offers visibility of what apps, data, and accounts are being used; what the critical security risks are; and what access controls are in place. This knowledge can put your security strategy on the right track.
  • Revealing security gaps in the face of current risks: Even if you are effectively shielding your data against known threats today, new attack paths may - and probably will - appear tomorrow. In the dynamic cloud territory, being able to quickly adjust the defenses to emerging challenges is key.
  • Raising the bar for cyberattacks: Once the problem areas are spotted and fortified, malicious actors have fewer entry points into the corporate network. This reduces the chances of security breaches, data loss, account hijacking, insider threats, DDoS raids as well as attacks that piggyback on cloud misconfigurations and vulnerable APIs.
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance: Companies that handle customer data are legally obliged to keep the associated records intact. Non-compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS entails penalties and reputational risks. Cloud security assessment helps thwart data leaks and thereby facilitates conformance to such requirements.

Cloud security providers are great, but with a caveat

One way to maintain robust defenses in a cloud environment is to use turnkey solutions from trustworthy brands in the industry. This “shortcut” tactic is gaining momentum these days, as it saves organizations the hassle of traversing dozens or hundreds of cloud instances in search of gaps to close.

However, amid eye-catching marketing mantras, it’s vital to do your research by compiling a checklist and looking at the potential partner through the lens of these criteria. Aside from the track record and reputation, the things you should pay attention to include the access control techniques being offered, data encryption practices, performance and availability metrics specified in the SLA, customer support, and the availability of clear-cut disaster recovery and backup mechanisms. To avoid vendor lock-in, look for a provider with flexible and interoperable solutions and make sure it offers a straightforward exit strategy.

Keep pace with encryption trends

Data encryption is one of the most powerful ways to protect sensitive records in the cloud. It prevents threat actors from weaponizing proprietary information even if they manage to intercept it. The traditional security paradigm presupposes encrypting data both in transit and at rest. However, what about safeguarding data when it’s being processed by applications?

While this seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle, an emerging technique called confidential computing fills the void. It adds a layer of protection by encrypting data in use, which is arguably its most vulnerable state. This requires special hardware, but if your organization stores and processes highly sensitive information, such an approach could be worthwhile in 2024.

Double down on strict access and authentication controls

Not everyone in your organization should have access to every piece of information within the cloud. One of the best things you can do to shield sensitive information from unauthorized access is to implement robust access and authentication controls with the principle of least privilege at their core. Consider adding the zero trust network access (ZTNA) technology to the mix. Its granular policies and adaptive trust model help maintain secure access to organizational cloud resources for remote workers.

Multi-factor authentication and biometrics are the go-to techniques to make sure only those authorized can access data in the cloud environment. Importantly, permissions should be vetted and adjusted regularly to keep them both sufficient for a specific employee’s day-to-day tasks and effective security-wise.

Make it a regular exercise

One assessment is not enough to ascertain that your cloud systems are operating smoothly and safely. It’s critical to consistently audit and monitor the environment to discover new potential risks, configuration slip-ups, and incidents before they can cause problems.

While this can be a challenging task in increasingly common multi-cloud environments that combine diverse interfaces and security settings, breaking the process down into smaller steps makes it more manageable. Categorize the digital assets based on sensitivity and exposure to attacks to avoid spreading your resources too thin. It’s also good practice to automate continuous security monitoring so that new loopholes don’t fly under the radar until the next assessment.

Getting started

Especially if your organization has not done one before, it's necessary to use an established security framework to guide your assessment. Frameworks are very useful for making sure all aspects of your environment are covered as you audit the security measures currently in place and determine what measures need to be added. One such framework is the Cloud Security Alliance's Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM), a comprehensive framework of cloud security controls. You can learn more about the CCM here.

About the Author

David Balaban is a cybersecurity analyst with two decades of track record in malware research and antivirus software evaluation. David runs and projects that present expert opinions on contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, malware, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy, and white hat hacking. David has a solid malware troubleshooting background, with a recent focus on ransomware countermeasures.