Cloud Security Principles

As corporate cloud footprints expand and incorporate more sensitive data and vital applications, new vulnerabilities and security risks are introduced. More organizations face increased risk from cyber threat actors who are constantly refining their methods while exploiting new attack vectors. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the evolving cloud threat landscape as well as the key cloud security principles that are essential in developing an effective, scalable, and sustainable cloud security program.

The Evolving Threat Landscape

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) are cyberattacks that pose a sustained, targeted threat to an organization’s infrastructure and its data. These attacks are often performed by sophisticated, well-funded cybercrime groups with affiliations to nation-states or organized crime.

Weak Cloud Infrastructures

Cloud environments contain security weaknesses that expose them to potential attacks. Some common cloud vulnerabilities include security misconfigurations, excessive privileges, and inadequate security controls protecting cloud data and applications.

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks use trickery and psychological manipulation to get the target to do what the attacker wants. These attacks are more difficult for an organization to defend against because they don’t exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s software and security architecture. Instead, the attacker manipulates the target to use their legitimate access and permissions to achieve the attacker’s goals.

Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day vulnerabilities are vulnerabilities or security flaws that were unknown to the software manufacturer. These exploits have a high probability of success since no patches are available.

GenAI and LLMs

While generative AI has its advantages, it also creates significant security threats to an organization and its data. Cybercriminals can use the power of GenAI to develop more sophisticated attacks than in the past. Additionally, GenAI poses data security risks if employees enter sensitive information into tools like ChatGPT, that could use it for training or reveal it to other users.

14 Cloud Security Principles

Cloud security is a complex challenge, and overlooking critical details can undermine the security of an organization’s entire cloud environment. The following fourteen cloud security principles describe the core capabilities and security controls required to effectively protect a corporate cloud deployment.

#1. Shared Responsibility

The shared responsibility model delineates the security responsibilities of the provider and the customer in cloud environments. These responsibilities differ depending on the cloud deployment model in use, be it Software as a service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), or Platform as a service (PaaS), and customers should be familiar with the shared responsibility model for any cloud services that they are using.

#2. Operational Security

Under the cloud shared responsibility model, the cloud provider is responsible for the underlying infrastructure and ensuring that it is operational and secure. Commonly, this is demonstrated via a SOC2 certification that attests that the cloud provider has the capability to provide the contracted services.

#3. Resilience and Data Recovery

Resiliency and data recovery are a shared responsibility in the cloud. Cloud providers should offer a level of availability consistent with their service level agreements (SLAs). Additionally, it is best practice for organizations to have their own on-premise or cloud data backups They must also manage access to their data to prevent potential compromise.

#4. Personnel Security

Insider threats pose a significant risk to corporate cybersecurity. The potential for accidental security incidents can be managed by implementing clear security policies and performing regular cybersecurity awareness training. Background checks can help to address the risk of malicious insiders.

#5. Secure Development

Software vulnerabilities are on the rise and leave applications vulnerable to exploitation and data breaches. As development increasingly moves to cloud environments, companies should adopt secure coding practices and integrate security testing and validation tools into automated CI/CD pipelines to minimize the number of vulnerabilities that reach production environments.

#6. Supply Chain Security

Most applications rely upon third-party components and libraries to implement certain functionality. However, these components can contain vulnerabilities or malicious functionality that opens these applications up to attack. Implementing supply chain security best practices such as software composition analysis (SCA) is critical to identifying and addressing these potential security risks.

#7. Secure User Management

Privilege management is a common challenge in cloud computing. It is not uncommon for users to be granted full access to a cloud account rather than the set of privileges actually needed to perform their role. Implementing zero trust access controls in the cloud to limit permissions to the bare minimum and validate each request individually, reduces the risk that an attacker can gain the access required to achieve their goals.

#8. Identity and Authentication

Account takeover (ATO) attacks are a common threat, especially in the cloud. These attacks take advantage of weak authentication mechanisms (passwords, etc.) that cybercriminals can easily overcome. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) can reduce the risk that a cloud account will only be protected by a weak password and increases the difficulty for attackers looking to use compromised credentials.

#9. External Interface Protection

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a core component of cloud systems, enabling applications to exchange data both inside and outside the organization. However, many organizations suffer from shadow API usage, where corporate programs expose unmanaged or use unapproved third-party APIs. This practice creates potential security gaps for an organization, creating the risk of data breaches or unauthorized access to corporate systems.

#10. Secure Configuration Management

Security misconfigurations are a leading cause of data breaches and other security incidents in the cloud. The complexity of cloud infrastructure, especially in multi-cloud environments, can make it difficult to properly manage vendor-recommended configuration settings. Additionally, the rapid pace of development in the cloud can introduce configuration drift or accidental misconfigurations. Implementing robust change management processes and infrastructure as code (IaC) can reduce the risk of dangerous configuration errors in cloud environments.

#11. Secure Data Management

Companies are increasingly moving sensitive data to cloud-based storage; however, sensitive data is routinely stored unencrypted in the cloud. Cloud storage also makes it easy to retain data when it’s no longer needed, potentially without the organization’s knowledge. Implementing data discovery, classification, encryption, and retention policies is essential to protecting data against unauthorized access and ensuring compliance with applicable regulations.

#12. Protective Monitoring

The growing sophistication of cyber threat actors means that sophisticated attacks can be performed rapidly and at a massive scale. Cloud environments require round-the-clock security monitoring and the ability to identify and block potential threats before they pose a serious risk to cloud resources. To accomplish this, organizations need preventative security controls and continuous incident detection and response capabilities.

#13. Secure Use of the Service

Often, users are the cause of data breaches and other cloud security incidents through negligence or malice. Managing the security risks of using cloud-based services requires educating users to follow cloud security best practices such as the use of encryption, strong authentication, and compliance with corporate security policies.

#14. Secure Shared Resources

Clouds are multitenant environments where users share resources with others, both inside and outside the organization. This resource sharing is essential to cloud scalability and flexibility, but it also introduces the potential for data leakage, denial of service, and other attacks. The privacy of users’ cloud environments should be enforced via isolation, network segmentation, and access controls to protect against potential data leakage or unauthorized access.

Securing Cloud Environments with Cato Networks

An organization’s cloud footprint often sprawls across multiple providers’ environments, and rapid development cycles create an ever-changing cloud digital attack surface. Implementing these cloud security principles can help organizations reduce their cloud risk by addressing the most common causes of data breaches and other security incidents. 

However, implementing and enforcing them at scale can be difficult without the right tools. Cato SASE Cloud offers converged cloud security and visibility across an organization’s entire corporate WAN. SASE’s visibility into all cloud network traffic enables companies to effectively identify threats and enforce security policies without the complexity of managing multiple platform-specific solutions.

The Cato SASE Cloud provides advanced threat prevention in the cloud to protect critical corporate resources.