What Is a Cloud Security Framework? 

A cloud security framework is a set of guidelines, best practices, standards, and procedures for securing cloud-based environments. It provides a structured approach to managing and securing cloud services, including data protection, access control, and threat mitigation. 

Cloud security frameworks serve as a blueprint for organizations to follow, ensuring that their cloud operations are secure and compliant with regulatory requirements. They enable a systematic approach to identifying and addressing security risks, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data stored in the cloud.

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What Elements Do Cloud Security Frameworks Cover? 

Cloud security frameworks typically cover at least one or more of the following elements:

  1. Data security: Encompasses measures to protect data at rest, in transit, and during processing. Encryption, access controls, and data masking are commonly employed techniques to ensure data confidentiality and integrity. By adhering to these practices, organizations can prevent unauthorized access and data breaches.
  2. Application security: Focuses on securing software that operates in the cloud. This includes implementing secure coding practices, vulnerability assessments, and regular security updates. A comprehensive application security strategy prevents attacks such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other exploits targeting application vulnerabilities.
  3. Network security: Protects the infrastructure and network architecture. This includes deploying firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), and virtual private networks (VPN) to protect against unauthorized access and network attacks. Effective network security ensures that communication between cloud services and users is secure.
  4. Cloud compliance: Supports adherence to laws, regulations, and standards governing data protection and privacy in cloud environments. A cloud security framework ensures that organizations meet these compliance requirements, avoiding legal penalties and reputational damage. Compliance frameworks such as GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA are considered, ensuring data privacy and security.

Related content: Read our guide to cloud security solutions

Notable Cloud Computing Security Frameworks and Standards 

Here are some of the leading security standards and frameworks for cloud computing environments.

1. Center for Internet Security (CIS)

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) provides benchmarks and controls tailored for securing cloud environments. Its guidelines focus on configuring cloud services securely, covering aspects like identity and access management, data protection, and activity logging. Organizations use CIS benchmarks to achieve a secure baseline configuration.

CIS also offers continuous monitoring and assessment tools to ensure compliance with its standards. This helps organizations maintain their security posture, adapting to new threats and changes in the cloud landscape. CIS is widely recognized, providing a trusted framework for cloud security.

Useful resources

See the detailed CIS benchmarks for popular cloud platforms:

2. NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework offers a flexible approach to managing cybersecurity risk in cloud environments. It is structured around five core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. This framework guides organizations through the process of implementing effective cybersecurity measures, addressing both technological and procedural aspects. A new version of the framework, NIST CSF 2.0, was released in February 2024.

NIST’s approach is adaptable, allowing organizations to tailor the framework to their specific needs and risk profiles. It supports continuous improvement, encouraging organizations to evolve their security practices as the threat landscape changes. NIST’s framework is highly regarded for its comprehensiveness and versatility.

Useful resources

3. Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) provides the Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM), a comprehensive framework for cloud security. CCM covers key security domains such as compliance, data security, and identity management, providing detailed controls and guidelines. It serves as a roadmap for securing cloud services and achieving compliance with various regulatory standards.

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4. MITRE ATT&CK Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework is a knowledge base of cyber adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. MITRE provides a specialized Cloud Matrix, helping security teams understand and anticipate attacker behavior in cloud native environments. This framework assists in threat modeling, security testing, and incident response, providing detailed information on attack vectors and mitigation strategies.

By utilizing the MITRE ATT&CK Framework, organizations can enhance their defensive measures and develop more robust security policies.

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5. ISO/IEC 27001

ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard for information security management. It specifies requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving an information security management system (ISMS). This standard is relevant for cloud security as it encompasses risk management processes, security controls, and compliance measures.

Adoption of ISO/IEC 27001 demonstrates an organization’s commitment to information security. It provides a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information, ensuring that data is secure both in the cloud and on-premises. 

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6. Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)

FedRAMP is a U.S. government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. It aims to ensure all federal data is consistently protected at high levels across the cloud. FedRAMP certification is mandatory for cloud service providers seeking to work with federal agencies.

This framework emphasizes rigorous security assessments and ongoing monitoring, ensuring cloud services meet stringent security requirements. FedRAMP facilitates the adoption of secure cloud technologies within the government, promoting innovation while maintaining high security standards.

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7. Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA)

FISMA requires federal agencies to develop, document, and implement an information security and protection program. It applies to cloud computing services used by these agencies, ensuring they meet specific security guidelines and standards. FISMA emphasizes the importance of data security, risk assessment, and the implementation of security best practices.

Compliance with FISMA demonstrates an organization’s ability to protect federal information systems and data. It involves regular audits and reviews to ensure continuous compliance and security. FISMA’s framework is crucial for cloud service providers looking to engage with the federal government.

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How to Choose Cloud Security Frameworks 

Selecting an appropriate cloud security framework requires a thoughtful assessment of your organization’s specific needs, risks, and compliance requirements. Here are key considerations to guide the decision-making process:

  • Organizational objectives and risk appetite: Align your chosen framework with your organization’s business objectives and the level of risk it’s willing to accept. Frameworks such as NIST are flexible and suitable for organizations that require adaptability, while ISO takes a more comprehensive approach to information security.
  • Industry-specific compliance: Different sectors have unique regulatory requirements. For instance, organizations working with the government sector might need to comply with FedRAMP, while other industries have specific standards which may not be focused on cloud computing, such as HIPAA in healthcare or PCI-DSS in retail and eCommerce.
  • Cloud service model and architecture: The framework should complement your chosen cloud service model (IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS) and architectural complexity. MITRE ATT&CK’s specialized matrices cater to different cloud service models, and both CIS and CSA offer specific guidance for common cloud platforms.
  • Integration with existing security policies: Select frameworks that integrate seamlessly with existing policies and controls to minimize disruption. ISO/IEC 27001 and CSA CCM provide structured ways to incorporate new controls within your existing information security management system (ISMS).
  • Scalability and adaptability: The framework should scale as your organization grows and be adaptable to new security threats. CSA CCM, for instance, has a “lite” version for small businesses while offering robust security controls.
  • Resource availability: Consider the technical expertise, time, and financial resources required to implement and maintain the framework. Some frameworks, like CIS benchmarks, provide free resources and are relatively straightforward to implement.

Cloud Native Security with Aqua

The Aqua Cloud Native Security Platform empowers you to unleash the full potential of your cloud native transformation and accelerate innovation with the confidence that your cloud native applications are secured from start to finish, at any scale.

Aqua’s platform provides prevention, detection, and response automation across the entire application lifecycle to secure the build, secure cloud infrastructure and secure running workloads across VMs, containers, and serverless functions wherever they are deployed, on any cloud.

Secure the cloud native build – shift left security to nip threats and vulnerabilities in the bud, empowering DevOps to detect issues early and fix them fast. Aqua scans artifacts for vulnerabilities, malware, secrets and other risks during development and staging. It allows you to set flexible, dynamic policies to control deployment into your runtime environments.

Secure cloud native infrastructure – Automate compliance and security posture of your public cloud IaaS and Kubernetes infrastructure according to best practices. Aqua checks your cloud services, Infrastructure-as-Code templates, and Kubernetes setup against best practices and standards, to ensure the infrastructure you run your applications on is securely configured and in compliance. 

Secure cloud native workloads – protect VM, container and serverless workloads using granular controls that provide real-time detection and granular response, only blocking the specific processes that violate police. 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 – apply cloud native security over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud deployments, with persistent controls that follow your workloads wherever they run.

The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.