What Are Cloud Security Controls?

Cloud security controls are mechanisms and procedures designed to protect data, applications, and infrastructure in cloud environments. These controls enforce policies and provide a framework to manage the security posture of cloud-based systems, safeguarding against threats and unauthorized access. Cloud controls can be physical, technical, or administrative, encompassing a broad range of measures from encryption and identity management to incident response protocols.

According to a Statistica survey, the biggest public cloud security threats are misconfigurations, insecure APIs, and exfiltration of sensitive data. Effective cloud security controls are essential for preventing these and other common threats and maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of cloud workloads and data.

Cloud controls highlight the responsibility of cloud customers for securing their workloads in the cloud. According to Gartner

“In nearly all cases, it is the user, not the cloud provider, who fails to manage the controls used to protect an organization’s data […] Through 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault.”

In this article:

What Is Needed for Effective Cloud Security Controls?

When selecting a cloud security solution, it’s important to make sure the security controls include the following capabilities.

Centralized Visibility of Cloud Infrastructure

Centralized visibility involves having a unified view of all cloud assets, including virtual machines, storage buckets, network configurations, and more, across different cloud environments and services. This holistic perspective enables security teams to detect anomalies, assess vulnerabilities, and respond to threats more efficiently. Without centralized visibility, managing security in complex, multi-cloud environments can become fragmented and ineffective, leading to increased risk of breaches and compliance issues.

To achieve centralized visibility, organizations should implement cloud management platforms. These tools help in monitoring and analyzing security logs, detecting unauthorized access attempts, and identifying misconfigured resources. By consolidating this information in a single dashboard, security teams can gain actionable insights into their cloud security posture.

Native Integration Into Cloud Provider Security Systems

Integrating security controls natively with cloud provider security systems is crucial for the effectiveness of cloud security measures. Native integration allows organizations to leverage the security features and services offered by cloud providers, such as identity and access management (IAM), encryption services, and threat detection capabilities.

For successful native integration, organizations should prioritize security solutions that are designed to work with their cloud providers’ infrastructure. These solutions should support capabilities like automatic scaling, compliance monitoring, and real-time threat detection, leveraging cloud-native APIs and services.

Security Automation

Security automation is a fundamental component of effective cloud security controls. It involves the use of automated tools and processes to perform security tasks without human intervention. Automation can significantly enhance the efficiency and accuracy of security operations, from real-time threat detection to the rapid deployment of security patches.

Implementing security automation requires the adoption of tools that can automatically identify and respond to security events. Whether it’s automating the enforcement of security policies or the remediation of identified vulnerabilities, automation plays a key role in maintaining a strong security posture in dynamic cloud environments.

Compliance Management

Compliance management is essential for organizations operating in the cloud to ensure they meet regulatory and industry standards. It involves continuously monitoring and managing cloud resources to comply with laws such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS. Effective compliance management helps organizations avoid legal penalties, protect customer data, and maintain trust.

To facilitate compliance management, organizations should implement tools that provide visibility into their compliance status in real-time. These tools should be capable of identifying compliance gaps, automating compliance reports, and providing guidance on how to address non-compliance issues.

Threat Intelligence Feeds

Leveraging threat intelligence feeds is critical for enhancing cloud security. These feeds provide real-time information about emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and malicious activities observed worldwide. By integrating threat intelligence into their security operations, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the threat landscape, anticipate attack vectors, and implement proactive defenses.

To effectively utilize threat intelligence feeds, organizations should incorporate them into their security information and event management (SIEM) systems or other security analytics platforms. This integration allows for the automatic correlation of threat intelligence with internal security logs, enabling security teams to quickly identify and respond to potential threats.

Types of Cloud Security Controls 

1. Deterrent Controls

Deterrent controls are designed to discourage potential attackers by signaling that robust security measures are in place. Examples include warning banners and the visible presence of security mechanisms. These controls do not prevent an attack but influence the attacker’s decision-making, potentially deterring malicious activities.

Implementing deterrent controls as part of a comprehensive security strategy adds an additional layer of defense. They serve as a psychological barrier, contributing to a secure cloud environment by making it less attractive to potential attackers.

2. Preventive Controls

Preventive controls aim to stop security incidents before they occur. These include measures such as access controls, encryption, and network segmentation. By limiting access to resources and protecting data in transit and at rest, preventive controls reduce the attack surface and prevent unauthorized activities.

These controls are essential for mitigating risks associated with cloud computing. They ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information and systems, thereby protecting against data breaches and other security threats.

3. Detective Controls

Detective controls are mechanisms that identify and report security incidents as they occur. This category includes intrusion detection systems, security monitoring tools, and log analysis. By continuously monitoring for suspicious activities, detective controls enable timely detection of potential security breaches.

The effectiveness of detective controls lies in their ability to provide visibility into security events, facilitating rapid response and mitigation. They are crucial for identifying threats that bypass preventive measures, ensuring that organizations can quickly address security incidents.

4. Corrective Controls

Corrective controls are actions taken to respond to and recover from security incidents. These include patch management, incident response plans, and backup and recovery procedures. Corrective controls aim to minimize the impact of security breaches and restore normal operations as quickly as possible.

Implementing corrective controls ensures that organizations have procedures in place to address security incidents effectively. They are a key component of a resilient cloud security strategy, enabling businesses to recover from attacks and prevent future occurrences.

Related content: Read our guide to cloud infrastructure security

Frameworks for Cloud Security Controls

1. MITRE ATT&CK Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework is a global knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques (TTPs) based on real-world observations. It provides a comprehensive guide for understanding attacker behavior and improving cyber defense. Organizations use the framework to develop specific defenses against known attack patterns, enhancing their ability to detect and respond to threats.

Applying the MITRE ATT&CK Framework in cloud environments helps security teams to anticipate and counteract sophisticated attacks. It fosters a proactive security posture by enabling the identification of gaps in defenses and the implementation of targeted controls.

2. NIST Cyber Security Framework

The NIST Cyber Security Framework offers a policy framework of computer security guidance for organizations to assess and improve their ability to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber attacks. It consists of standards, guidelines, and practices to manage cybersecurity risk. The framework is adaptable and can be applied across sectors, making it valuable for cloud security.

Adopting the NIST Cyber Security Framework helps organizations in establishing a robust security program. It provides a structured approach to managing cybersecurity risk, encompassing aspects of identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery.

3. CIS Controls

The CIS Controls are a set of actionable security controls developed by the Center for Internet Security to help organizations improve their cyber defense. There are specific CIS controls for all major cloud providers and common software systems. They are prioritized and focused on the most effective actions that can be taken to protect against the most pervasive threats.

Implementing CIS Controls in cloud environments assists organizations in strengthening their security posture. By focusing on key actions that have a high impact on security, the CIS Controls provide a practical framework for safeguarding cloud resources.

4. CSA Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM)

The CSA Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM) is a cybersecurity control framework for cloud computing, consisting of security controls aligned to cloud security objectives. It is designed to provide fundamental security principles to guide cloud vendors and to assist prospective cloud customers in assessing the overall security risk of a cloud provider.

The CSA CCM bridges the gap between cloud providers and consumers, offering a comprehensive set of controls that cover key aspects of cloud security. It facilitates transparency and promotes best practices, enhancing trust in cloud services.

4 Critical Cloud Security Controls

While there are many possible cloud security controls, which differ depending on your environment, the following controls are important for a majority of organizations operating in the cloud:

1. Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC)

Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC) are crucial components of cloud security controls. Effective GRC ensures that security policies are aligned with business objectives, risks are properly managed, and compliance with laws and regulations is maintained. It involves continuous assessment and adaptation of security strategies to address the evolving threat landscape and regulatory environment.

Implementing GRC practices in the cloud helps organizations to maintain control over their data and operations. It promotes a culture of security awareness and accountability, ensuring that security measures are integrated into all aspects of business operations.

2. Vulnerability Management

Vulnerability management is a key security control that involves the identification, assessment, and remediation of vulnerabilities in cloud environments. Regular vulnerability assessments and the prompt patching of identified weaknesses are essential to protect against exploits and attacks.

A robust vulnerability management program is fundamental for maintaining the security of cloud services. It enables organizations to proactively address vulnerabilities, reducing the likelihood of successful attacks and enhancing the overall security posture.

3. Shift Left Security

Adopting the ‘shift left’ approach involves integrating security early in the development lifecycle of cloud-based applications. This approach emphasizes the importance of security considerations from the initial stages of design and development, rather than addressing security as an afterthought.

The ‘shift left’ approach enhances security by identifying and mitigating risks early, making it more cost-effective and efficient. It fosters a culture of security within development teams, leading to the creation of more secure cloud applications.

4. Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a key control for managing and improving the security posture of cloud environments. CSPM solutions automate the identification and remediation of risks associated with cloud resource configurations. They provide visibility into cloud assets, enforce security policies, and detect misconfigurations and compliance violations.

Implementing CSPM helps organizations to maintain continuous security and compliance in their cloud environments. It reduces the risk of data breaches and ensures that cloud resources are configured according to best practices and regulatory requirements.

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.