What is Cloud Native Security?

Cloud-native architectures include applications that are built to leverage the benefits of the cloud rather than being “lifted and shifted” from on-prem environments. These applications use containers, microservices, and serverless frameworks to take advantage of cloud flexibility and scalability.

While cloud security is always important, it is especially critical and complex in cloud-native environments. These architectures inherit all of the same security risks as traditional cloud deployments but also face additional challenges unique to their architectures.

Pillars of Cloud Native Security

Cloud-native architectures are multi-layered environments, and each layer introduces additional security risks that must be managed. The four pillars of cloud-native security include:

  1. Code: Cloud-native applications can contain vulnerabilities that leave them at risk of exploitation. Code security involves performing static and dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) and managing dependencies to ensure that they don’t contain known vulnerabilities or malicious code.
  2. Container: Cloud-native architectures encapsulate applications in self-contained environments, making them extremely portable. These container images may have vulnerabilities and must be managed like any other computing environment with threat protection tools.
  3. Cluster: Groups of containers are deployed and managed as a cluster by solutions such as Kubernetes, which automates deployment, scaling, and management. At the cluster level, organizations should implement and enforce access, networking, and security policies. Additionally, events should be monitored and logged to support incident response and regulatory compliance.
  4. Cloud: The security of cloud-native architectures depends on that of the underlying cloud infrastructure that hosts the clusters and containers. At the cloud level, cloud-native security incorporates identity and access management (IAM), data security, and resource management.

Key Challenges in Securing Cloud Native Environments

Cloud environments face different security challenges than on-prem ones. In the cloud, an organization lacks full control over its infrastructure stack, and its environment lies outside the traditional network perimeter. These factors, along with the complexity of managing multi-cloud environments, introduce new hurdles for security teams.

Cloud-native’s unique architecture introduces the following security challenges:

  • Expanded Attack Surface: Microservices involve many distinct pieces of code cooperating to implement various functions. This extreme modularity makes for much more flexible and adaptable software but also introduces more entry points for attackers to target.
  • Ephemeral Resource Visibility: Cloud-native workloads and containers can be spun up and down on an as-needed basis. As a result, it can be difficult to maintain visibility into these ephemeral resources since they only exist when they are actively needed.
  • Supply Chain Risks: Most applications use open-source libraries and dependencies to implement various functions. This third-party code may contain vulnerabilities or malicious behavior that leave the organization at risk of attack.

A Strategic Framework for Cloud Native Security

Cloud-native architectures are well-suited to DevOps practices in which updates are pushed regularly and the organization’s application footprint and digital attack surface evolve frequently. To manage the security risks of these environments, organizations need to build security into each stage of the build, deployment, and runtime phases of the application lifecycle.

Some best practices for implementing cloud-native security include:

  • Shift Left Security: Often, security is only considered during the Testing phase of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) when limited time and resources are available for addressing any issues. Shifting security left involves building security into every stage of the SDLC — starting with defining explicit security requirements — to reduce the cost and impact of vulnerability management.
  • DevSecOps: DevOps CI/CD pipelines automate the deployment and testing process, enabling code changes to be quickly validated and staged for release. DevSecOps integrates automated security testing such as SAST and DAST into these pipelines to ensure that security testing is performed with minimal impact on development pipelines and processes.
  • Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) Security: IaC is commonly used in cloud-native architectures to expedite and standardize the process of configuring and deploying cloud resources. IaC security validates these configurations to ensure that they are secure and don’t introduce new vulnerabilities into an organization’s cloud architecture.
  • Container and Cluster Security: Containers and clusters introduce additional layers of abstraction and the potential for more configuration errors or vulnerabilities. A cloud-native security strategy should incorporate container and cluster security solutions that offer visibility and security management for these environments.
  • Serverless Security: Serverless architectures enable developers to write applications that run in full-managed environments. These applications require specialized security solutions capable of managing access to these functions and protecting them against potential exploitation.
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Cloud environments have numerous settings that must be securely configured, especially when multi-cloud and cloud-native architectures are taken into account. CSPM solutions automate the process of identifying configuration errors and centralizing configuration management, protecting against configuration drift and potential misconfigurations.

Gaining Comprehensive Visibility for Threat Detection and Response

Security visibility is a significant challenge in dynamic, cloud-native environments. Resources can be short-lived and deployed at will, containers limit security visibility, and serverless platforms eliminate the traditional architecture where applications can be deployed and monitored. Without deep visibility, organizations lack the ability to identify and respond to potential threats to their IT resources.

Cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs) are essential for achieving the visibility necessary to effectively manage and defend cloud-native environments. These solutions are integrated with the cloud infrastructure, enabling them to monitor virtual machines (VMs), containers, or serverless platforms. Based on an understanding of normal behavior in an organization’s environment, CWPP uses machine learning to identify anomalies that could point to potential security incidents.

CWPP solutions also offer centralized logging and reporting capabilities for cloud-native environments. This centralization is essential for effectively monitoring complex cloud environments, especially when many resources are ephemeral, making traditional log collection methodologies ineffective.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) for Cloud Native Environments

Cloud-native environments have vast attack surfaces and depend on cross-service interactions to achieve various tasks. Identity and access management (IAM) is essential in cloud-native security to restrict unauthorized access to sensitive data or privileged functionality within these applications.

For cross-app interactions, API keys are a common method for authenticating the requestor’s identity. However, they must be carefully managed to ensure only authorized access to the application using them. If compromised, an API key provides the attacker with the same level of access as the legitimate user.

Implementing zero trust security principles such as least privilege helps to reduce the risk of account takeover attacks in cloud-native environments. With least privilege, a user or application has the bare minimum set of permissions required, limiting the damage that can be done with a compromised account.

When designing an identity management infrastructure for the cloud, companies should also consider the implications of hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Implementing zero trust and effective access management requires the ability to integrate identity management across multiple platforms. This could be accomplished using federation to link each platform’s identity management systems or by implementing access control at the network level using zero-trust network access (ZTNA).

Navigating the Cloud Native Security Tools Landscape

As cloud-native environments and the threats that they face evolve, so does the landscape of tools designed to protect them. As a result, security teams may be faced with an array of security solutions that are difficult to manage, provide poor visibility, and leave security gaps.

Cloud-native application protection platforms (CNAPPs) are designed to address these challenges by integrating multiple security functions to manage cloud-native applications through their entire lifecycle. Some of the key factors for evaluating CNAPP and related solutions include:

  • Threat Management Capabilities: CNAPP solutions should offer comprehensive threat prevention, detection, and response capabilities to ensure that they can protect cloud-native apps against a wide range of threats.
  • Technology Integration: Most organizations have multi-cloud environments and use various cloud technologies – a CNAPP solution should support all parts of an organization’s cloud environment to avoid introducing fragmented cloud solutions.
  • Ease of Integration: CNAPP solutions are designed to be integrated into automated CI/CD pipelines. This process should be easy and painless to support rapid deployment and configuration.
  • Scalability and Performance: CNAPP solutions provide runtime protection to cloud-native applications. These applications should offer good scalability and performance to avoid bottlenecking application performance.

Cloud environments face an evolving regulatory and security landscape. Today, data protection laws mandate stronger protection of data stored and processed in the cloud.

Some of the major trends that are shaping the future of cloud-native security include:

  • Confidential Computing: Traditional encryption algorithms are capable of protecting data at rest and in motion but not data in use. Homomorphic encryption (which allows data to be encrypted while in use) and confidential computing close the gap, protecting the privacy and security of data in use.
  • Software Bills of Materials (SBOM): Supply chain attacks are a growing threat to cloud security as attackers exploit vulnerabilities or introduce malicious functionality into third-party libraries. SBOMs map an application’s dependencies, enabling an organization to identify potentially vulnerable components in cloud-native applications.
  • AI/ML-Powered Security Analytics: AI and ML offer the ability to process large volumes of data to identify trends or anomalies. Analyzing large volumes of threat data allows cloud-native security tools to quickly detect polymorphic and hidden threats and helps accelerate threat response and remediation. 
  • Chaos Engineering: Chaos engineering involves intentionally causing faults in a system to see how it responds. By doing so, an organization can improve resilience by proactively ensuring that the system can respond appropriately to unexpected events or attacks.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Cloud-native architectures face unique security risks and require security processes and tools designed for them. Cloud-native security best practices include integrating security into each stage of the SDLC and converging various cloud security functions into a single solution. Cato SASE Cloud provides comprehensive visibility, access control, and threat management in a converged, cloud-native solution. Learn more about enhancing cloud security via security convergence with SASE.