What Is Endpoint Security in Cloud Computing? 

Cloud endpoint security refers to the process of protecting endpoints in a cloud computing environment. Examples of cloud endpoints are a cloud-based virtual machine (VM), container, or managed cloud service. These endpoints are points of entry that an attacker could exploit to gain unauthorized access to the cloud network. By securing them, businesses can prevent data breaches and safeguard their sensitive information.

Amit Sheps
May 6, 2024

Endpoint security in the cloud is not just about preventing attacks but also about detecting and responding to potential threats. This involves monitoring endpoint activities, identifying unusual behavior, and taking appropriate action when a threat is detected. A cloud endpoint security strategy should also include measures to recover from an attack, such as restoring affected systems and data.

In this article:

Endpoints in the Cloud That Need Protection 

1. Virtual Machines

Virtual machines (VMs) are one of the key endpoints in a cloud environment. They are virtual computers that run on a physical host machine, allowing businesses to run multiple operating systems and applications on a single server. However, VMs are vulnerable to various threats, such as malware and hacking attempts. Therefore, they need to be secured with appropriate security measures, like intrusion detection systems and firewalls.

2. Containers and Container Orchestration Systems

Containers are lightweight, standalone, executable software packages that include everything needed to run a piece of software. They provide an efficient way to package and deploy applications in the cloud. Many organizations run thousands of containers in cloud environments, managing them with cloud orchestration solutions like Kubernetes or Amazon ECS. 

Containers raise novel security concerns, including vulnerabilities in container images, improperly secured container orchestrators, vulnerabilities or sensitive data in infrastructure as code (IaC) templates, and runtime attacks against containers.

3. Serverless Functions

Serverless functions, also known as Functions as a Service (FaaS), are pieces of code that are executed in response to specific events, such as an alert received from a monitoring tool or a user clicking a button on a website. 

Despite their name, serverless functions do run on servers, but the servers are managed by the cloud provider, not the business using the service. This means that many aspects of serverless security are under the responsibility of the cloud provider, but serverless users are still responsible for aspects like securing access to their serverless functions and using secure coding practices.

Cloud Endpoint Security Challenges 

Here are some of the important security challenges raised by cloud endpoints:

  • Diverse and distributed nature of endpoints: In a cloud environment, endpoints can be located anywhere in the world, and can take many different forms—from VMs and containers to serverless functions and API endpoints. This requires taking specific security measures for each endpoint and ensuring all instances are covered.
  • Visibility and control: In a traditional, on-premises environment, businesses have full visibility into and control over their network and systems. However, in the cloud, some of this visibility and control is lost, as the cloud provider manages certain aspects of the infrastructure, and endpoints are dynamic and ephemeral in nature. This can make it more difficult to monitor endpoint activities and detect potential threats.
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM): It is critical to manage who has access to what resources in the cloud environment. Given the distributed nature of the cloud, managing access can be complex. It’s important to have robust identity and access management policies and tools in place, and constant monitoring to ensure all cloud endpoints have proper access controls.
  • Integration with on-premises security: Many businesses operate in a hybrid environment, with some resources hosted on-premises and others in the cloud. Ensuring consistent security across these different environments can be complex. Businesses need to ensure that their cloud endpoint security measures are compatible with their on-premises security measures, to provide comprehensive protection against threats and avoid security gaps that attackers can exploit.

Best Practices for Endpoint Security in the Cloud 

Implement Strong Access Controls

The first line of defense in cloud endpoint security is implementing strong access controls. This involves properly configuring IAM solutions, setting up complex, unique passwords for all users and implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) for an added layer of security.

Moreover, role-based access control (RBAC) should be used to restrict access to sensitive data. With RBAC, access permissions are based on roles within an organization, and users can only access the data necessary for their job. This minimizes the risk of insider threats and data breaches.

Additionally, consider implementing single sign-on (SSO) solutions. These systems allow users to log in once to access multiple applications, reducing the number of passwords that need to be remembered and consequently, the likelihood of password-related security breaches.

Harden Endpoints Using Industry Best Practices

Endpoint hardening is an essential part of strengthening cloud endpoint security. This involves configuring endpoints to reduce vulnerabilities and eliminate potential attack vectors. Here are some industry best practices:

  • Disable unnecessary services and features on your endpoints. Unneeded services can provide opportunities for attackers to infiltrate your network. Refer to CIS benchmarks for additional hardening best practices for specific cloud endpoints.
  • Regularly update and patch software. Outdated software often has vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals, making it a prime target for attacks. In the cloud, due to the large number and dynamic nature of endpoints, it is important to use automation to deploy patches to all software systems running on cloud resources.
  • Deploy security tooling on the endpoint if possible, including anti-malware, firewalls, and detection and response solutions. These tools are highly effective at detecting and preventing attacks specifically targeted against endpoints.
  • Use encryption for data at rest and in transit. This ensures that even if data is intercepted, it cannot be read without the decryption key.

Managing and Monitoring User Activity

Monitoring user activity is a crucial aspect of maintaining cloud endpoint security. By keeping an eye on user behavior, businesses can identify any unusual or potentially malicious activity:

  • Implement a user activity monitoring system: This allows for the tracking and recording of user behavior on your network. If any unusual activity is detected, alerts can be sent out to the relevant parties.
  • Make use of user behavior analytics (UBA): These tools use machine learning algorithms to establish a baseline of normal user behavior and then flag any deviations from this baseline.
  • Conduct regular audits: This ensures compliance with security policies and procedures, as well as industry standards and regulations. These audits can identify any weaknesses in your security posture and provide recommendations for improvement.

Use XDR Solutions

Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions are a recent advancement in cloud endpoint security. They integrate multiple security products into a cohesive system that can detect, investigate, and respond to security threats across networks, clouds, on-premise endpoints, and email systems.

XDR solutions offer enhanced visibility across your cloud and on-premises environment, making it easier to detect and respond to threats. XDR tools use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify threats based on behavior, and piece together data from different parts of the IT environment into a unified attack story, making it possible to detect evasive and sophisticated threats.

Deploy Cloud Native Security Solutions

Deploying cloud native security solutions involves using tools and technologies that are specifically designed for the cloud environment. These solutions are built to handle the dynamic, scalable, and distributed nature of cloud computing, providing better integration and more effective security.

Cloud native security solutions include cloud access security brokers (CASBs), which provide visibility into cloud applications and enforce security policies; cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs), which offer protection for cloud workloads against threats; and cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools, which help in identifying and remediating risks associated with cloud resource configurations. A recent development is cloud native application protection platforms (CNAPP), which include these tools and more in a single, unified platform.

Related content: Read our guide to cloud security solutions

Cloud Security with Aqua

With Aqua Security, you get a complete security platform, which secures cloud native applications from start to finish, at any scale. The Aqua platform protects your entire stack, on any cloud, across VMs, containers, and serverless.

Aqua can help you secure your cloud by:

  • Protecting the build with a “shift left” approach to cloud native security that stops threats and vulnerabilities in their tracks — empowering DevOps to detect issues early and fix them fast. Aqua uses a combination of static and dynamic scanning to find vulnerabilities, malware, secrets, and other risks during development and staging. It also allows you to set flexible, dynamic policies to control deployment in your runtime environments.
  • Securing infrastructure, automating compliance and the security posture of your public cloud services, Infrastructure-as-Code templates, and Kubernetes against best practices and standards. This ensures that the infrastructure you run your applications on are securely configured and in compliance.
  • Protect workloads, including VMs, containers, and serverless functions, using granular controls that provide instant visibility and real-time detection and response. Aqua leverages modern micro-services concepts to enforce immutability of your applications in runtime, establishing zero-trust networking, and detecting and stopping suspicious activities, including zero-day attacks.
  • Secure hybrid cloud infrastructure with cloud native security over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud deployments, with persistent controls that follow your workloads wherever they run.
Amit Sheps
Amit is the Director of Technical Product Marketing at Aqua. With an illustrious career spanning renowned companies such as CyberX (acquired by Microsoft) and F5, he has played an instrumental role in fortifying manufacturing floors and telecom networks. Focused on product management and marketing, Amit's expertise lies in the art of transforming applications into cloud-native powerhouses. Amit is an avid runner who relishes the tranquility of early morning runs. You may very well spot him traversing the urban landscape, reveling in the quietude of the city streets before the world awakes.