What is cloud security?

Cloud security protects modern enterprises from an ever-expanding digital attack surface. Cloud security involves keeping track of the data, workloads, and architecture changes in multiple cloud computing environments (such as AWS, GCP, Azure, and Kubernetes) and ensuring its safety from internal and external threats.

About Cloud Security

Cloud security is a form of cybersecurity designed to protect sensitive data stored and shared across cloud computing platforms. A cloud security platform keeps data safe from theft, unintentional or purposeful leakage, or deletion.

The ultimate goal of cloud security is to ensure the security posture and privacy of all enterprise data, in motion and at rest. This means protecting data across all networks and within business applications, containers, workloads, and other cloud computing environments.

What’s the Difference Between Public and Private Cloud?

Cloud environments are typically divided into two main categories: public or private cloud. A private cloud is a virtual environment used exclusively by an enterprise or a department within an organization. A public cloud, on the other hand, is a cloud environment that is shared by more than one entity, such as AWS, Azure, Kubernetes or GCP. Most enterprise cloud users toggle between multiple cloud service providers.

Who is Responsible for Cloud Security?

Typically, there is a shared responsibility model between you and the cloud computing service provider. It’s true that cloud computing services providers such as AWS, Microsoft, and Google must meet certain data privacy regulatory requirements. These providers are not cyber security companies. Cloud service providers must implement data protection mechanisms to ensure that your data is safe in their cloud.

Depending on the model of cloud services being provided, your organization’s responsibility may vary. For example, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers such as Dropbox, Salesforce, or Microsoft 365 are responsible for security around relevant services and storage. This includes basic cloud infrastructure components, such as the virtualization layer, disks, and networks. The provider is also responsible for the physical security of the data centers that make up its cloud hosting infrastructure.

It’s up to you to have a clear understanding of where your organization’s responsibility for cloud security begins and ends and to have a robust cloud security plan in place.

What is the Difference Between Traditional Cybersecurity and Cloud-Native Security?

To understand the differences between traditional cyber security and cloud-native security, let’s first define the term. Cloud-native means that an application or service was born in the cloud and not adapted for the cloud later. A container environment is a great example of a cloud-native application. Containers are software packages that have all the necessary elements to run exclusively in the cloud. They run on a virtualized operating system and are accessible from anywhere. Google, for example, runs everything from Gmail to YouTube to Google Workspace in containers. This cloud-native approach enables development teams to move fast, deploy software efficiently, and operate at an unprecedented scale.

Cloud-native security solutions ensure that security best practices are built into applications from the infrastructure planning phase to the client delivery process and even post-delivery maintenance of the software. By baking security throughout every step in the software development life cycle, cloud-native security delivers complete, multi-cloud security coverage across environments, cloud workloads, and identities.

This matters because many organizations today are still depending on traditional cyber security practices, policies, and tools that weren’t built to support and scale with the modern, cloud-native applications dominating the workplace. A cloud-native security solution protects data and infrastructure now and in the future, as it evolves.

What are Some Common Cloud Security risks?

Today’s public cloud has evolved beyond the capabilities of most on-premise storage options, especially regarding data security. Most cyber security professionals would agree that data stored in the cloud is generally more secure than data stored locally on physical servers. However, there are risks to consider when evaluating cloud security solutions. The most common points of failure in the cloud include:

  • Data leakage, loss, or theft: Either intentional or accidental exposure of company data, either by an employee or someone outside of the organization.
  • Unsanctioned access to public or private cloud: This could include compromised passwords or an account takeover.
  • Malware or ransomware attacks: Targeted cyber-attacks, often email-based, use malicious software to compromise data--or hold it hostage.
  • Company security policy or data privacy regulatory non-compliance: Despite shared responsibility, the burden of proving your organization’s compliance status falls squarely on you. Aligning your company’s data security policies with any relevant data privacy regulations helps mitigate the risks of being in the cloud.

How Does Cloud Security work?

To be effective, cloud security should address protection against threats across multiple cloud layers:

  1. The virtualization level
  2. The networking level
  3. The operating system (OS) level
  4. The application level

This multi-layered approach to cloud security is built on the reality that the traditional enterprise network perimeter no longer exists. Instead, cloud security addresses each point of potential risk in an ever-increasing attack surface.

For example:

  • At the application level, encryption reduces the risks of data leaks and exposure, both at rest and in motion.
  • At the OS level, Cloud identity and access management (IAM) keeps user credentials and access to data stored in the cloud from falling into the wrong hands. Examples include Single Sign-On (SSO), multi-factor authentication, and access control.
  • At the application security level, extended detection and response (XDR) technology can constantly monitor, detect and mitigate security threats, such as business email compromise, software vulnerabilities, and more.
  • At the network level, cloud firewalls filter out potentially malicious web traffic and threat activity such as DDoS attacks and bots.

What is Cloud Security Posture Management?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is an increasingly popular category of cloud security product that automates security and provides cloud compliance assurance. CSPM detects and automatically remediates cloud misconfigurations, a significant security risk.

As your organization continues to expand in the cloud and take advantage of cloud-native workloads like containers, you should be aware of the techniques that cybercriminals use to target hidden gaps in security responsibilities and misconfigurations. CSPM tools work to secure these gaps. They continuously view and maintain an inventory of security best practices for your organization’s various cloud configurations and service. CSPM tools are designed to analyze for security risks, over-privileged access, or spend anomalies.

These best practices are cross-referenced and mapped against your current configuration statuses to an established security control framework or a specific regulatory standard--a crucial aspect of multi-cloud security. CSPM tools are flexible enough to work with IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS platforms in containerized, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud environments.

How Does Cloud Workload Protection Work?

Cloud workload protection is a security tool that provides complete visibility into host and container workloads. A cloud workload is an application, service, capability, or specified amount of work that takes cloud-based resources, such as computing or memory power. Essentially, all cloud databases, containers, microservices, and virtual machines are cloud workloads. Cloud workload protection platforms have the power to identify malware, exploits, and anomalous behavior before they can get a foothold. They are designed to protect server workloads in hybrid, multi-cloud data center environments.

At its core, cloud workload protection focuses on application runtime threat detection. A container runtime security threat can impact a container once it is running. Cloud workload protection evaluates all changes and remote access attempts to detect any runtime attacks in near-real time. On most occasions, container runtime threats arise from compromised container images, introduced into a system via malware, or through insecure configurations such as allowing containers to run in privileged mode.

Enterprise Cloud Antivirus and a Cloud Security Strategy

Your cloud-based data is still susceptible to malware, ransomware, spyware, Trojans, and phishing attacks. As long as your users have access email, you’ll need enterprise-level antivirus protection. Business email compromise is designed to execute cloud account takeovers.

Enterprise cloud antivirus is vital for malware and ransomware mitigation, because it reduces the chances of malicious attacks getting into your business network in the first place. Cloud-based antivirus solutions enable administrators to apply protection to any device.

Cloud-based antivirus moves antivirus workloads from an end-user’s machine to a cloud-based server containing a comprehensive antivirus suite. By pushing antivirus into the cloud instead of storing it on each end-user device, individual computers aren’t slowed down. Another key benefit of the cloud-based antivirus model is that management is centralized. Administrators can access both live and historic data from the cloud and quickly get critical information just from the devices they need it from, even if they are currently offline. For example, in an active investigation, administrators access live data from endpoints and see what is happening in real-time.

Cloud Security Solution Features

Every organization has its own unique needs when it comes to a cloud security solution, but there are some core features that should be requirements. The best cloud security platforms should:

  • Adhere to the shared responsibility model
  • Deliver data encryption at rest and in motion
  • Protect your users’ identities from unsanctioned access
  • Block malware, ransomware, and any malicious web traffic that could affect applications and data
  • Support multi-cloud environments (AWS, Azure, GCP, Kubernetes)
  • Enable complete visibility into cloud security posture
  • Provide multi-layer protection for all levels of the enterprise cloud
  • Enforce security policies across all clouds and data centers
  • Detect and repair any misconfigurations that could become security vulnerabilities
  • Offers a failover plan to prevent data loss in the event of a cloud outage or disruption of service
  • Ensure security policy and regulatory compliance

Above all, your cloud security platform should be cloud-native, or built for the cloud from the ground up.

What is a Cloud Security Assessment?

The first step in strengthening your cloud security posture is visibility. A cloud security assessment can help you evaluate the current state of your organization’s cloud infrastructure. It’s an opportunity to discover whether your cloud environment has the appropriate level of security and governance, and to learn about any gaps in your cloud security strategy.

While every cloud security provider has their own approach, any cloud security assessment should include the following:

  • Network visualization: A complete visualization of all your public cloud environments with detailed asset inventory.
  • Audit-ready reports: Audit-ready regulatory compliance and security best practice reports, mapped to leading cyber security and data privacy standards.
  • Recommendations: A prioritized report with remediation paths for security and compliance gaps that are placing your organization at risk.

A cloud security assessment is a proactive way to identify any vulnerabilities, such as weak cloud security settings, common misconfigurations, account permission anomalies, and more.

There's no question that all organizations require a cloud security solution that’s up for the task of protecting users and data across your entire cloud architecture, whether it’s a private, public, or hybrid cloud.

The implications of a cloud data leak, loss, or targeted attack can impact your entire organization. While you may not be able to prevent every attack, the shared responsibility model of the cloud provider relationship means that you must make every effort to do so. That requires a strong cloud security strategy, partnering with a trusted cloud infrastructure provider, and investing in cloud-based threat prevention and detection solutions.

Avoid the fallout from a cybersecurity attack by selecting a cloud security solution that delivers visibility while detecting threats.

The expert team at Sophos can help you understand cloud security solutions and give your organization a cloud security assessment. 

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Related security topic: What is cloud governance?