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 are increasingly relying upon 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, you will learn:

Top Cloud Security Challenges

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.

Cloud Security Solutions Landscape

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

  • Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP)—protect cloud workloads by ensuring they are deployed according to best practices with the necessary security controls. Can harden operating systems and whitelist applications, scan for vulnerabilities, and perform integrity checks.
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)—scans cloud environments for misconfigurations and compliance risks. Can automatically apply security configurations, and provides central control over configurations for compute instances, storage buckets, databases, and other cloud resources.
  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)—CASB protects hybrid cloud deployments, ensuring the same security policies are applied on the public cloud and in the local data center. Includes firewall, web application firewall (WAF), authentication, and data loss prevention (DLP).
  • eXtended Detection and Response (XDR)—a security platform that can protect systems in the cloud and in the local data center. Combines data from cloud systems, on-premise networks and endpoints, applies advanced analytics to identify evasive threats, and enables immediate automated response.
  • Cloud data security solutions—provide access and security policies for storage services deployed across multiple clouds, and data transferred to or from those services. Manages encryption, governance, and provides data loss prevention (DLP) capabilities.
  • Cloud compliance solutions—ensures organizations are meeting compliance requirements in the cloud. Unlike CWPP, these solutions are passive, notifying about violations without actively enforcing secure configurations.

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 constantly 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.