Cloud Security: Challenges, Solutions, and Best Practices

Learn about key cloud security challenges, discover the cloud solutions technology landscape, and learn best practices to secure your cloud

What is Cloud Security?

Businesses and governments wishing to foster innovation and collaboration increasingly rely on cloud computing services. A McAfee report shows that 97% of organizations use cloud services, and 83% of them say they store sensitive information in the cloud. 

Alarmingly, as many as 20% of companies surveyed experienced a data breach through their public cloud infrastructure. 

Cloud security consists of procedures and technology used to protect cloud systems and infrastructure against security risks and cyberattacks. In order to protect data and applications in the cloud from emerging and current threats, users must evaluate their current security measures, security best practices and compliance requirements, and develop new strategies appropriate to their specific  cloud environment. 

In this article:

Why Is Cloud Security Important?

Data Protection

With the increasing amount of data being produced daily, cloud platforms are becoming the de facto storage solution for many organizations. However, this makes it critical to protect cloud-based data stores.

Cloud security aims to protect data from being accessed by unauthorized individuals. It also provides a secure environment for data storage, mitigating risks such as data leakage, unauthorized access, and deletion.

Regulatory Compliance

Companies operating in many industries are required to comply with a variety of standards and regulations. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, legal action, and a damaged reputation.

Cloud security helps organizations meet these compliance requirements. It provides a framework for maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of the data, ensuring that sensitive information is stored and shared securely. Cloud security solutions also offer robust reporting and auditing tools that make it easier for organizations to demonstrate compliance with regulations.

Business Continuity

By moving operations to the cloud and using cloud-based business continuity technologies, businesses can ensure their operations continue smoothly even in the face of a disaster.

Cloud security tools and technologies can help prevent data loss and downtime. Cloud services enable regular backups, disaster recovery, and seamless data restoration, ensuring that your business remains operational and your data accessible even when disaster strikes.

Trust and Reputation

Cloud security plays a critical role in building and maintaining trust with customers and end users. By ensuring the security and privacy of customer data, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to protecting their customers’ interests, thereby enhancing their reputation.

How Cloud Security Works

The Shared Responsibility Model

Cloud security is based on the shared responsibility model. This means that both the cloud service provider (CSP) and the customer are accountable for different aspects of security. They must work together to ensure the comprehensive protection of data and applications in the cloud.

Generally speaking, the shared responsibility model defines that the cloud service provider is responsible for the security of the cloud, while the customer is responsible for security in the cloud. The CSP ensures that the infrastructure of the cloud is secure from threats, while the customer must ensure that their data and applications within the cloud are secure.

Cloud Service Provider Responsibilities

The CSP’s responsibilities typically include managing the security of the cloud platform, maintaining the physical security of data centers, managing network infrastructure, and handling system configuration. They also protect their systems against intrusion by implementing measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and encryption.

Furthermore, they ensure that their services are constantly available and resilient to disasters by implementing robust disaster recovery plans. They also need to provide their customers with the necessary tools and access controls to manage their own data and applications in the cloud.

Cloud Customer Responsibilities

Cloud customers are responsible for securing their data within the cloud. This includes managing and controlling user access to data and applications, encrypting sensitive data, and maintaining secure configuration for operating systems and applications.

Customers must also establish and enforce their own security policies, perform vulnerability assessments, and respond to incidents within their cloud environment. They need to ensure that they are using the cloud services securely and in compliance with relevant regulations.

Moreover, customers are responsible for understanding the privacy and compliance requirements of their specific industry and ensuring that their use of cloud services aligns with these requirements. This includes conducting regular audits and risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities or non-compliance issues.

Top 10 Cloud Security Risks

Cloud security raises major challenges for most security organizations. Here are some of the primary challenges you will need to deal with when securing cloud infrastructure.

Broad Attack Surface

A cloud environment can have hundreds or thousands of entities, which change on a daily basis. Entities are often short-lived and there is limited visibility over what is running, who has access to it, and how it is configured. 

In addition, there can be a huge variety of systems running in a cloud deployment, including compute instances, managed services, containers, serverless functions, and virtualized networks. Each of these has its own configuration options, security weaknesses, and best practices, and each represents a point of entry for attackers. 

Related content: read our guide to cloud infrastructure security ›

Unauthorized Access 

Cloud infrastructure is outside the corporate network perimeter, and can be directly accessed from the public internet. This makes cloud resources more accessible but also makes it much easier for attackers to connect to a system and gain access. It is a major challenge to ensure that all cloud resources have properly configured authentication, and that passwords for privileged roles are not shared or compromised. 

Lack of Visibility and Tracking

When employing an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model, cloud providers assume full control over some aspects of the infrastructure layer, and customers have no access to it. This is even more true for platforms as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). As a result, cloud customers find it difficult to visualize the environment, discover assets and monitor them effectively.

Ever-Changing Workloads

Cloud environments make it possible to provision and shut down assets in a dynamic manner, at high scale, and with velocity. Traditional security tools cannot enforce protection policies for continuously changing and transitory workloads

Malicious Insiders 

Malicious insiders could be users with ill intent who have privileges to access cloud resources, or benign users whose accounts were compromised by an attacker. In the cloud, it is even more difficult to prevent insider threats. Cloud-based infrastructure is accessible from the public internet, making it easier for attackers to leverage compromised accounts. Security misconfigurations can allow malicious users to escalate privileges across cloud deployments.

Insecure Interfaces/APIs

Cloud infrastructure uses APIs heavily for automation and integration between services and resources. These APIs tend to be well-documented, and this means they can be reverse-engineered by attackers. Attackers can use API documentation to exploit methods for gaining unauthorized access or exfiltrating data, if APIs have not been properly secured.

DevOps, DevSecOps

Many organizations are developing cloud systems using DevOps methods, with a rapid CI/CD development process. This makes it critical to build security controls into source code and deployment templates from the beginning of the development lifecycle. This approach, in which security shifts left in the process, from testing or deployment stages to early development, is known as DevSecOps.

Granular Privilege and Key Management

Administrators can create detailed roles for cloud users to grant other permissions that exceed their requirements and expectations. Inexperienced users can delete or save database resources. These permissions are usually granted to users who are unable to perform these operations. This major misconception poses a security risk at the application level.

Complex Environments

Hybrid and multicloud environments are gaining favor within many enterprises. Managing security in hybrid and multicloud deployments requires tools and methods that can operate seamlessly across on-premises deployments, branch office edge equipment, and public and private clouds.

Related content: read our guide to multi cloud security ›

Cloud Compliance and Governance

All major cloud providers comply with PCI 3.2, NIST 800-53, HIPAA, GDPR, and other recognized standards. Still, the customer remains responsible for making sure that their workloads and data processes are aligned with these standards. 

However, because the cloud environment offers limited visibility, compliance audits are extremely difficult without the use of specialized tools. Cloud compliance tools can perform automated, continuous compliance checks, and submit real-time alerts when they identify misconfigurations.

Types of Cloud Security Solutions and Technologies 

Here are the primary security solutions used to secure cloud infrastructure:

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP)

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) is an emerging technology that is designed to provide comprehensive security for workloads in the cloud. These platforms provide protection against common threats in the cloud environment, such as malware, data breaches, and unauthorized access.

CWPP solutions are designed to protect workloads across all types of cloud environments, including public, private, and hybrid clouds. They provide unified security management and automated compliance checks, significantly reducing the complexity of managing security in a multi-cloud environment.

Furthermore, CWPP solutions offer advanced features such as threat intelligence, behavioral analysis, and incident response, enabling organizations to detect and respond to threats more quickly and effectively.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a category of cloud security solutions that identify and remediate risks in cloud configurations. CSPM solutions continuously monitor cloud environments and automatically remediate configuration issues that could potentially expose your organization to threats.

CSPM tools can also provide visibility into cloud assets, enabling organizations to better understand their cloud environments and the security risks associated with them. This allows for more effective risk management and aids in maintaining compliance with industry standards and regulations.

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) serve as a security control point for cloud service applications and platforms, providing security policy enforcement. CASB solutions can provide visibility, data security, threat protection, and compliance for cloud services.

CASBs work by ensuring that network traffic between on-premises devices and the cloud provider complies with the organization’s security policies. They can provide a range of services such as monitoring for suspicious activities, enforcing security compliance policies, and protecting sensitive data from leakage.

Furthermore, CASBs can help organizations extend their security policies to cloud services, ensuring consistent security across both on-premises and cloud environments.

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is a newer category of cloud security tools that focuses on managing identities and entitlements in the cloud. CIEM solutions help organizations manage the complex and dynamic relationships between users, applications, and data in the cloud.

CIEM solutions do this by providing visibility into who has access to what resources in the cloud, identifying excessive permissions and unused identities, and enforcing least privilege policies. This helps to reduce the risk of insider threats and identity-based attacks, which are a growing concern in cloud environments.

Cloud Data Security Solutions

Cloud data security solutions are technologies and practices designed to protect data stored in the cloud from loss, leakage, and theft. These solutions include encryption, tokenization, and key management practices that protect data at rest, in transit, and in use.

Cloud data security solutions can also provide data loss prevention (DLP) capabilities, ensuring that sensitive data is not lost, misused, or accessed by unauthorized users. DLP can help organizations comply with industry regulations and protect intellectual property and customer data.

Moreover, cloud data security solutions can offer advanced capabilities such as data discovery and classification, which can help organizations understand and manage their data better and improve compliance with data protection regulations.

Cloud Compliance Solutions

Cloud compliance solutions help organizations meet regulatory compliance requirements when using cloud services. These solutions can automate compliance checks and provide audit trails, making it easier for organizations to demonstrate compliance with regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Cloud compliance solutions can also help organizations manage and mitigate risks associated with non-compliance, such as fines and reputational damage. They can provide visibility into compliance issues, enabling organizations to address them proactively and demonstrate compliance to auditors.

Learn more in our detailed guide to cloud security solutions ›

Cloud Security Best Practices

Follow these best practices to improve security for your cloud environments.

Perform Due Diligence

When using cloud services, software as a service (SaaS), or other development components, review security features and test resources for security, just like you would test your own systems. While software provided by cloud providers is typically of high quality and secure, it is very common to use third-party software on the cloud, for example, marketplace images, container images, or other third-party services. 

Ensure Hygiene and Visibility

Cloud deployments have many transient components, including compute instances, containers, data volumes, serverless functions, and managed databases or data stores. Make sure you have an accurate inventory of cloud assets, who deployed them, what they are doing, and whether they exhibit any security risks or vulnerabilities.

Use Identity and Access Management (IAM)

IAM solutions are especially important in defending cloud systems, because users can access cloud resources from any location or device. IAM provides visibility into which users have what roles and permissions in the cloud environment. You can monitor user behavior and set alerts for suspicious behavior. Most IAM systems also provide multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign on (SSO) capabilities. 

Secure Credentials to Prevent Social Engineering

To prevent phishing and similar social engineering attacks, use security measures like:

  • Educating users not to share credentials with others
  • Implement email and endpoint protection
  • Create alerts when logins are attempted from different locations or multiple IPs
  • Set session timeouts and require regular rotation of passwords
  • Enforce use of multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Update Services and Cloud Systems

Remember that the cloud provider does not take responsibility over workloads. Except with specific managed services (such as DBaaS), your organization is responsible for patching and updating software like operating systems, databases, and content management systems. Use automated tools to detect cloud systems that have vulnerabilities, and try to automate security updates, to ensure fast remediation. 

Audit and Optimize Configurations

It is not enough to secure configurations once. Cloud environments are constantly changing, and there is a need to continually monitor and verify that configurations are still safe. Every time a new compute instance or data volume is created, scaled, or replicated, there is a potential for misconfiguration that can have security implications.

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.
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.