13 Cloud Security Best Practices & Tips

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Security has been the biggest concern among enterprises considering cloud services. For many organizations, the idea of storing data or running applications on infrastructure that they do not manage directly seems inherently insecure, along with the risk of data traveling across the public internet to get to and from those services.

Enterprises can protect their cloud infrastructure by implementing cloud security best practices and tools. Although these measures might not prevent every attack, they do help businesses shore up their defenses, protect their data, and implement strong cloud security practices. Cloud security is easier than you think — as long as you do your part.

One key way to improve cloud security is to make sure that users and devices connecting to cloud apps are as secure as possible. Kolide — this article’s sponsor — works with Okta to ensure that only secure devices access cloud applications and resources, enabling zero trust, device trust, and patch management.

Cloud Security Best Practices

  1. Understand your shared responsibility model
  2. Ask your cloud provider detailed security questions
  3. Deploy an identity and access management (IAM) solution
  4. Train your staff
  5. Establish and enforce cloud security policies
  6. Secure your endpoints
  7. Encrypt data in motion and at rest
  8. Use intrusion detection and prevention technology
  9. Double-check your compliance requirements
  10. Consider a CASB or cloud security solution
  11. Conduct audits, pentesting and vulnerability testing
  12. Enable and monitor security logs
  13. Understand and mitigate misconfigurations

1. Understand Your Shared Responsibility Model

Unlike private data centers, where the enterprise is completely responsible for security, the public cloud adds complexity, and at times a little confusion. The cloud customer is ultimately responsible for cloud security, but the cloud services provider takes on some security responsibilities, a structure known as the shared responsibility model. Leading IaaS and PaaS providers, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, provide documentation to define roles in various deployment situations. Enterprises evaluating cloud vendors should check these common security rules to minimize miscommunication and misconceptions, which can lead to lax security controls and events going unnoticed. But as long as the customer does their part, like implementing encryption and configuring connections and settings properly, data will generally be secure.

2. Ask Your Cloud Provider Detailed Security Questions

In addition to clarifying shared responsibilities, organizations should ask their public cloud vendors detailed questions about the security measures and processes they have in place. It’s easy to assume that the leading vendors have security handled, and in some cases they do, but security methods and procedures can vary significantly from one vendor to the next.

To understand how a particular cloud provider compares, organizations should ask a wide range of questions, including:

  • Where do the provider’s servers reside geographically?
  • What is the provider’s protocol for suspected security incidents?
  • What is the provider’s disaster recovery plan?
  • What measures does the provider have in place to protect various access components?
  • What level of technical support is the provider willing to provide?
  • What are the results of the provider’s most recent penetration tests?
  • Does the provider encrypt data while in transit and at rest?
  • Which roles or individuals from the provider have access to the data stored in the cloud?
  • What authentication methods does the provider support?
  • What compliance requirements does the provider support?

What if Your Cloud Provider Does Not Have Effective Security?

If your cloud provider lacks appropriate security measures, you or your business may be exposed to serious risks such as data breaches, downtime, and compliance violations. This could lead to some negative consequences.

  • Inadequate security measures might expose your data to illegal access, theft, or data loss. This puts your data’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability at risk.
  • In the case of an outage or disaster, your company may experience longer downtime if you do not have a solid disaster recovery strategy in place, which could disrupt operations and jeopardize business continuity.
  • Improper incident response methods can delay threat detection and containment, raising the odds that hacks or breaches could inflict damage.
  • Limited technical assistance can impair your ability to handle security risks quickly.
  • If your cloud provider fails to satisfy compliance standards, your company may face regulatory penalties and legal consequences.

To address these concerns, consider taking the following actions:

  • Examine your cloud provider’s security procedures and capabilities thoroughly. Consider hiring third-party security specialists to assess the infrastructure and operations.
  • Review your service-level agreements (SLAs) and provider contracts. Ensure that security-related provisions are clearly specified, including security, data protection, and incident response duties.
  • Improve your security procedures to compensate for any security flaws on the provider’s end. This may include encryption, access limits, and monitoring.
  • Backup all of your important data to a different cloud provider or on-premises infrastructure to reduce the chance of outage or data loss.
  • Explore other cloud providers if your provider is unable to meet your security and compliance needs, including any geographical and data control requirements.

3. Deploy an Identity and Access Management Solution

Unauthorized access is a major concern with public cloud security. Organizations should consider building comprehensive identity and access management (IAM) systems based on the following principles to minimize risk:

  • Organizations should be able to design and enforce access controls based on the concepts of least privilege and zero trust. This entails restricting user access to only what is required for their tasks and approaching all access requests with caution. Privileged access management (PAM) can help secure access for the most sensitive accounts.
  • Implement IAM policies that offer permissions based on role-based access control (RBAC). This guarantees that users’ access is provided based on their unique positions within the company, decreasing the possibility of unwanted access.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to increase security. Even if hostile actors get credentials like usernames and passwords, MFA provides an additional layer of security by demanding additional verification, such as biometric scans or SMS codes.
  • Consider IAM solutions that can operate across private data centers and cloud deployments. This streamlines end-user authentication and allows for uniform policy enforcement across all IT environments.

4. Train Your Staff

To prevent hackers from obtaining access credentials for cloud accounts and services, firms must train all employees on how to identify and respond to cybersecurity risks.

  • Conduct thorough cybersecurity awareness training for all staff, addressing issues such as:
  • Stress the potential risks of shadow IT, which occurs when employees use unapproved tools and applications, resulting in hidden vulnerabilities.
  • Provide specialized training for security personnel to keep them up to date on emerging threats and countermeasures.
  • Encourage responsibility by having regular talks about security practices, such as:
    • Setting security standards for all staff members
    • Discussing issues like data privacy, password management, and physical premises security
    • Encouraging open discourse regarding the significance of security rules and regulations

Read more: Best Cybersecurity Awareness Training for Employees

5. Establish and Enforce Cloud Security Policies

All organizations should have written guidelines that specify who can use cloud services, how they can use them, and which data can be stored in the cloud. They also need to lay out the specific security technologies that employees must use to protect data and applications in the cloud.

Cloud Security Policy Example

To illustrate effective cloud security practices, here is an example of a written cloud security policy:

1. Identify the Scope

  • This policy applies to all <company name> employees, contractors, and third-party users who utilize cloud computing services in the course of their duties.

2. List Ownership and Responsibilities

  • The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is responsible for overseeing and implementing this policy.
  • The IT department is responsible for the technical implementation and enforcement of security controls.
  • All employees and users are responsible for complying with this policy.

3. Define Secure Usage of Cloud Computing Services

  • The IT department shall maintain an up-to-date inventory of all cloud services used by <company name>.
  • The IT department shall conduct regular reviews and updates in the inventory.
  • CISO shall maintain a list of approved cloud computing services.
  • All employees and users shall use only approved services for <company name> data and operations.
  • Employees are prohibited from using unauthorized cloud services.
  • Employees are encouraged to report any unauthorized usage promptly.

4. Determine the Areas for Risk Assessment

  • CISO shall conduct periodic risk assessments of cloud services to identify and mitigate security risks.
  • CISO shall evaluate risks associated with data privacy, compliance, and business continuity.

5. Implement Security Controls

  • The IT department shall implement appropriate security controls for data protection, including encryption, access controls, and authentication.
  • The IT department shall regularly review and update security controls based on risk assessments.

6. Develop Security Incident Recovery Plan

  • CISO shall develop and maintain a cloud incident response plan.
  • The IT department shall notify the CISO and follow the incident response procedures in case of a security incident related to cloud services.
  • The IT department shall ensure data backups are available for recovery.

7. Raise Awareness through Training

  • CISO and The IT department shall provide ongoing cloud security awareness training for employees and users.
  • All employees and users are encouraged to participate in training sessions.
  • All employees and users are encouraged to promote a culture of security within the organization.

8. Enforcement

  • Violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action, including termination, for employees and contractors.
  • Third-party users may face contractual penalties for non-compliance.

9. Related Documents

  • CISO and the IT department shall maintain and refer to the following related documents:
    • Cloud computing service agreements.
    • Data classification and handling policy.
    • Incident response plan.
  • All employees are expected to adhere to the procedures stated in training materials, and in other related documents.

10. Review and Revision

  • This policy will be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect changes in technology, regulations, and security best practices.
  • Users are encouraged to provide feedback for policy improvement.

6. Secure Your Endpoints

The use of a cloud service increases the requirement for effective endpoint security, as endpoints often connect directly to the cloud. New cloud projects provide a chance to reexamine security techniques and respond to new threats.

Implement a defense-in-depth plan that includes:

  • Firewalls
  • Anti-malware
  • Intrusion detection
  • Access control

Complex endpoint security concerns necessitate automated security tools. Consider endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools and endpoint protection platforms (EPP). Additional controls to consider include patch management, endpoint encryption, VPNs, insider threat prevention, and more.

Read more:

7. Encrypt Data in Motion and At Rest

Encryption is a key part of any cloud security strategy. Not only should organizations encrypt any data in a public cloud storage service, but they should also ensure that data is encrypted during transit — when it may be most vulnerable to attacks.

Some cloud computing providers offer encryption and key management services. Some third-party cloud and traditional software companies offer encryption options as well. Experts recommend finding an encryption product that works seamlessly with existing work processes, eliminating the need for end users to take any extra actions to comply with company encryption policies.

See the Best Encryption Software & Tools

8. Use Intrusion Detection and Prevention Technology

Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) are among the most effective security tools on the market. They monitor, analyze, and respond to network traffic, either as a standalone solution or part of another tool that helps secure a network like a firewall.

Major cloud services like Amazon, Azure and Google Cloud offer their own IDPS and firewall services for an additional cost. They also sell services from cybersecurity companies through their marketplaces. If you’re working with sensitive data in the cloud, these add-on security services are worth the cost.

Read more: Best Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems

9. Double-Check Your Compliance Requirements

Organizations that collect personally identifiable information (PII), including those in retail, healthcare, and financial services, face strict regulations when it comes to customer privacy and data security. Some businesses in certain geographic locations — or businesses that store data in particular regions — may have special compliance requirements from local or state governments as well.

Before establishing a new cloud computing service, your organization should review its particular compliance requirements and make sure that a service provider will meet your data security needs. Staying compliant is a top cloud security priority. Governing bodies will hold your business responsible for any regulatory breaches, even if the security problem originated with the cloud provider.

Related: Best Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) Tools

10. Consider a CASB or Cloud Security Solution

Many businesses provide specific solutions for improving cloud security. When existing security methods fall short, it is important to seek outside support.

Cloud access security brokers (CASBs) are purpose-built solutions for implementing cloud security standards that are gaining traction as cloud use increases. They are ideal for firms that use several cloud services from many providers and can track unlawful app activity.

CASBs provide a wide range of cloud security services, including:

  • Data loss prevention
  • Malware detection
  • Regulatory compliance assistance
  • Cloud application access and shadow IT control

These solutions work with a variety of SaaS and IaaS platforms to provide full infrastructure security. Choose the CASB solutions that support all of your company’s cloud-based services.

For those running workloads and applications in the cloud, cloud-native application protection (CNAPP) and cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP) are two options for safeguarding cloud infrastructures and data, along with cloud security posture management (CSPM). The best solution will be determined by your cloud security requirements as well as interoperability with your existing infrastructure.

Firewalls as a Service (FWaaS) also offer cloud security benefits by expanding firewall protections outside local environments to cloud environments and remote devices.

See the Top Cloud Security Companies

11. Conduct Audits, Pentesting and Vulnerability Testing

Whether an organization partners with an outside security firm or keeps security functions in-house, experts recommend conducting the following security practices:

  • Penetration Tests
    • Examine the reliability of present cloud security solutions.
    • Identify vulnerabilities that might put data and applications at risk.
  • Vulnerability Scans
  • Regular Security Audits
    • Assess all security vendors and controls to determine their capabilities.
    • Make sure they follow agreed-upon security terms and standards.
  • Access Log Audits
    • Ensure that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive data and cloud apps.
    • Improve access control and data security measures.

12. Enable and Monitor Security Logs

This is actually one of the most effective cloud security options available today. Organizations should enable logging in their cloud services — and take it a step further by ingesting that data into a security information and event management (SIEM) system for centralized monitoring and response. Logging helps system administrators and security teams monitor user activity and detect unapproved modifications and activity, a process that would be impossible to accomplish manually. In the event that an attacker gains access and makes changes, thorough logs offer a clear record of their actions, and a SIEM tool would allow for quick remediation to limit damage.

Effective logging is also important for dealing with misconfigurations because it enables tracking of changes that can lead to vulnerabilities and allows for preventive steps. It also assists in detecting people with excessive access rights, allowing for changes to be made to reduce possible dangers.

In AWS, for example, CloudTrail log files can be imported into an AWS CloudTrail Lake or third-party SIEM tool for analysis, which will typically be priced by volume.

Also read: Security Data Lakes Emerge to Address SIEM Limitations

13. Understand and Mitigate Misconfigurations

It is essential not just to log misconfiguration data, but also to take proactive steps to reduce misconfigurations in storage buckets, APIs, connections, open ports, permissions, encryption and more. Some cloud services provide extensive rights by default, sometimes even to external users, posing serious security vulnerabilities if not restricted properly; default public settings for AWS S3 buckets is one such example. Misconfigurations provide chances for malicious actors to:

  • Steal from cloud buckets
  • Move laterally through the storage infrastructure if they obtain the right credentials

Improper account permissions might allow attackers who steal credentials to gain administrator access, resulting in additional data breaches and possibly cloud-wide attacks. Although the work is time-consuming, it is critical for your company’s IT, storage, or security teams to:

  • Personally configure each bucket or groups of buckets
  • Collaborate with development teams to ensure that web cloud address setups are correct
  • Ensure that the default access permissions are never used
  • Determine the user access levels that are required (view-only or editing rights) and configure each bucket accordingly

Tools like cloud SIEMs, CWPP, CSPM and CNAPP can help.

Also read: CSPM vs CWPP vs CIEM vs CNAPP: What’s the Difference?

Featured Cybersecurity Software

What are the Biggest Threats to Cloud Security?

As businesses migrate their activities to the cloud, they need to rethink their network-centric idea of security and re-architect for the decentralized cloud. In addition to the best practices listed above, here are some recommendations for how to defend your organization against the biggest cloud security threats.

Cloud misconfigurations

Misconfigurations in cloud settings are a common source of security vulnerabilities. These mistakes can provide unwanted access to critical data, services, or applications. Human errors or oversight during the setup and administration of cloud resources could lead to misconfigurations.

How to Overcome Cloud Misconfigurations

  • Automate the detection of configuration drift.
  • For infrastructure code, use version control.
  • Automated code analysis tools should be integrated into your CI/CD process.
  • Changes in configuration should be monitored for and should result in alerts.
  • Use security scanning tools for infrastructure as code (IaC).
  • Peer review infrastructure code on a regular basis.
  • Develop a security-conscious culture among engineers.
  • Consider employing outside security specialists for penetration testing and security assessments to provide an objective assessment of your cloud security posture.

Unnecessary access

Allowing users or apps excessive or unwarranted access rights might lead to vulnerabilities in your cloud environment. Data breaches, data loss, and other security events can all result from unauthorized access.

How to Overcome Unnecessary Access

  • Implement just-in-time (JIT) access provisioning.
  • Enforce least privilege by default.
  • Review and revoke unneeded access credentials on a regular basis.
  • Make use of automatic access recertification procedures.
  • Install a strong privileged access management (PAM) solution.
  • Make multi-factor authentication (MFA) available for all accounts.
  • Limit lateral movement by segmenting your network.

Cloud vendor weaknesses

Although cloud service providers provide strong security protections, they are not immune to threats. Attackers often use cloud provider flaws to get access to consumer data or services. These flaws might include software defects, permission issues or infrastructural flaws.

How to Overcome Cloud Vendor Weakness

  • Evaluate and compare cloud service providers based on security capabilities.
  • To avoid vendor lock-in, implement a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud strategy.
  • Create a backup strategy for anticipated vendor outages or interruptions.
  • Monitor vendor security updates and fixes on a regular basis.
  • Review and amend your cloud vendor contracts and SLAs on a regular basis.

Also read: Building a Ransomware Resilient Architecture

Employee errors

Employees might unwittingly jeopardize cloud security by exposing sensitive data or falling prey to phishing attempts. Training and general awareness are critical for reducing the risks associated with this.

How to Overcome Employee Errors

  • Employees should get extensive and constant cybersecurity training.
  • Create an environment of accountability and reporting for security events.
  • Implement password policies that are both user-friendly and secure.
  • Apply the concepts of role-based access control (RBAC) and least privilege principles.
  • Conduct phishing simulations and security awareness initiatives on a regular basis.
  • Create detailed incident response processes and practices.
  • Encourage your team’s collaboration and documentation and open lines of communication for reporting errors or security issues.

Bottom Line: Implementing Strong Cloud Security Practices

Cloud security is a shared responsibility, and you can confidently navigate the cloud landscape by equipping yourself with knowledge of the best practices and most effective security strategies. While cloud service providers typically maintain secure environments, your biggest risks will be how you connect to the cloud and control data and access. This puts cloud security within your control and emphasizes how crucial it is to learn cloud security best practices. The good news is that also means that good cloud security is achievable.

This article was originally written by Cynthia Harvey on May 24, 2017, and updated by Jenna Phipps on March 21, 2023, and by Maine Basan on September 20, 2023.

Read next: Top Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) Providers

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