Cloud Workload Security: Risks, Controls, and 10 Best Practices

Learn how to secure cloud workloads and prevent risks like misconfiguration, social engineering and malware.

The Cloud Native Experts
September 13, 2021

What is Cloud Workload Security?

Cloud workload security solutions, an important part of cloud security strategies, are designed to protect workload data as it moves between cloud environments. It is especially important for cloud migration operations shifting data from on-premises environments to the cloud.

A cloud workload security solution helps you identify, secure, and manage workloads. These solutions can help you decrease risk and improve compliance. 

Cloud workload security solutions tie protection to the identity of communication applications and services, rather than general traffic routes, providing the appropriate level of security for cloud environments.

In this article, you will learn:

The Security Risks of Cloud Workloads

Here are some of the major security risks faced by cloud workloads:

  • Misconfigurations—are the cause of almost 60% of cloud data breaches, according to a Divvy report. Weak data transfer protocols and misconfigured access management systems, for example, can expose a cloud workload to breaches. Misconfigurations may occur due to cloud migration issues or configuration fatigue.
  • Credentials and access—threat actors often use social engineering attacks, like phishing, to try to steal user credentials. According to an Oracle study, 59% of respondents reported that privileged cloud credentials were compromised during a phishing attack.
  • Malware—cloud workloads are commonly exposed to public networks. This provides threat actors with plenty of opportunities to infect workloads with malware. For example, threat actors may compromise data handling processes, or use supply chain attacks, which hide malware in one of your workload packages, manipulating legitimate interfaces.
  • Container Escape—if containers are not sufficiently secured, attackers can break container isolation and compromise the host or other containers running on the same machine.

Security Controls for Cloud Workloads

First-Party Security Controls

All major cloud providers offer built-in security controls, many of which can help secure workloads. 

Learn more about specific controls provided by the three leading cloud providers, in our detailed guides to:

Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)

CWPP solutions monitor compute resources, such as virtual machines (VMs), functions, and containers. A CWPP uses a workload-centric approach, deploying agents to monitor resources, and providing better insights into cloud workloads. 

Learn more in our blog post: Gartner’s 2020 Market Guide to Cloud Workload Protection Platforms ›

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

CSPM provides a broad view of a cloud environment, which can help you detect and remediate manual errors and service misconfigurations. CSPM solutions offer continuous monitoring of cloud services, which are often used to run cloud workloads. They check for misconfigurations and report deviations, allowing administrators to fix issues as they occur. 

Learn more about Aqua Security’s CSPM solution ›

Vulnerability Management

A vulnerability management tool can help detect vulnerabilities in cloud workloads. These tools usually offer continuous monitoring combined with analysis and prioritization. This enables the tool to quickly detect vulnerabilities, analyze risk factors, and prioritize according to risk levels. Administrators and security specialists can then take action.

Learn more in our detailed guide to vulnerability management ›

Container Security

Container security tools and practices are designed to protect your containers and their orchestrators. For example, a container image scanner can look for vulnerabilities in the image and let you know if any are detected. This way, you can patch the image before deploying containers into production. Cloud native security solutions can also secure containers at runtime, identifying and mitigating exploits as they happen.

Learn more about Aqua’s container security platform ›

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

SIEM tools can help you collect logs and signals from multiple sources, including cloud environments and on-premises workloads. A SIEM solution correlates the data and then quickly analyzes the data and detects threats. The main advantage of a SIEM tool is that it centralizes data aggregation and event management, ensuring you gain greater visibility and control of all of your environments.

8 Best Practices for Cloud Workload Security

The following best practices can help you more effectively secure cloud workloads:

  1. Use multi-factor authentication—secures cloud workloads, preventing hackers from compromising account credentials. If you rely only on usernames and passwords, you may be vulnerable to attack.
  2. Use Identity and access management (IAM)—provides central control over user accounts, roles, and access to cloud workloads. This also allows you to efficiently grant access to developers, who need access to production workloads.
  3. Use cloud monitoring—helps you gain better visibility into your cloud environment. Since you cannot protect what you cannot see, you should make sure there are no blind spots in your cloud environment.
  4. Leverage end-to-end encryption—can help you ensure the data being stored or transmitted remains protected. Use SSL certificates to encrypt communication between browsers and the web servers or cloud resources.
  5. Establish baselines—can help you differentiate between normal and abnormal activity by comparing data and behavior to historical metrics or standards.
  6. Use File integrity monitoring (FIM) for VMs and Containers—can be used to detect unauthorized changes to files, including configuration files, content files, and critical system files. FIM tells you when and how your files are being modified at any moment in time. 
  7. Set up security alerts—ensure you are notified immediately when a problem occurs. Customize your security alerts by assigning a severity level to each event to avoid alert fatigue so that you only receive alerts when they matter.
  8. Train employees on security—help employees and insiders understand the organization’s security policies and procedures and their responsibilities. A great way to better understand your organization and implement security best practices is to build an enterprise-wide security awareness program.

Aqua Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)

When it comes to workload protection at runtime – prevention and detection isn’t enough. True runtime security means stopping attacks in progress. That means enforcement that happens after the workload has started. This does not mean policy controls that are applied before a workload starts. 

Why does this matter? Because if you think you are stopping attacks in a production environment, but all you are doing is applying a policy like OPA, for example, you are not achieving the intended control and outcome of protecting against real attacker behavior in cloud native environments. Shift-left is only prevention, which we all know is important, but just one layer of a true defense-in-depth approach.  

With Aqua, importantly, whether the method is mitigating an exploit or stopping command and control behavior, the workload security policies are granular and can be used without downtime or binary actions to only allow or kill an image. 

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.