Hybrid Cloud Security: Challenges and 8 Critical Best Practices

Understand hybrid cloud security challenges and discover the steps you should take to secure your hybrid cloud.

November 1, 2020

What Is Hybrid Cloud Security?

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that orchestrates between two types of platforms: local private clouds and third-party public cloud services. Hybrid clouds provide enterprises with flexible deployment options, by allowing workloads to move between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change.

Hybrid cloud security involves protecting data, applications and infrastructure, both on-premises and in the public cloud. This includes business processes, workloads, and management across multiple IT environments.

A hybrid environment presents unique security challenges, as the security measures implemented must be effective across different platforms and under varying compliance regulations. Effective hybrid cloud security strategies ensure that sensitive data remains protected regardless of where it resides, maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of information while enabling the flexibility and scalability benefits of cloud computing.

In this article:

Why Is It Important to Secure Hybrid Clouds?

Securing the hybrid cloud environment is crucial for enabling the following capabilities.

Reducing the Attack Surface 

Securing a hybrid cloud infrastructure can reduce the attack surface across both public and private clouds. By maintaining a consistent security posture across all cloud environments, organizations can prevent unauthorized access and mitigate the risk of cyber attacks, regardless which part of the environment they target, ensuring that sensitive data and applications remain secure.

Securing Access to Applications and Data 

Hybrid cloud security ensures secure access to applications and data by leveraging advanced authentication methods and encryption protocols. Implementing identity and access management (IAM) solutions allows for the management of user identities and permissions, ensuring that only authorized personnel can access sensitive information. 

Ensuring Safe Interactions Between Networks  

Implementing robust security measures in a hybrid cloud environment ensures safe interactions between different network segments. This includes the use of private links, virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure web gateways to create encrypted connections, protecting data as it moves between on-premises and cloud-based resources.

Preventing Insider Threats

Preventing insider threats in a hybrid cloud environment involves a combination of technological solutions and personnel policies. By implementing strict access controls and monitoring user activities, organizations can detect and mitigate potential insider threats. Hybrid cloud security practices can be effective both against insiders remotely accessing public cloud resources and those abusing access from within the organization’s data center.

Hybrid Cloud Security Challenges

Following are a few of the key challenges organizations are facing when implementing a hybrid cloud strategy.

Compliance and Governance

Cloud technology is now mature enough to be used by organizations in a variety of industries, including for highly sensitive workloads and in heavily regulated industries like healthcare, finance, and government. However, hybrid infrastructure poses special compliance challenges.

A main part of the challenge is not the specific compliance requirements, but the need to manually check if infrastructure is in compliance with regulations or standards. This is a tedious, complex, and error-prone process, which gets much more complicated if an organization uses different systems in the cloud and on premises. 

To make compliance manageable in a hybrid environment, it is essential to ensure that all configuration and infrastructure changes are automated, repeatable, reproducible, and automatically audited.

Data Leakage

Sensitive data can be compromised in a number of ways, including corruption, destruction, improper access, or legitimate loss. In a hybrid cloud environment, there is always the risk that a secure private cloud will be maliciously or accidentally shared to the public cloud.

Data security is always the responsibility of the data owner, so companies using hybrid cloud models should take extra care in evaluating the security protocols and data practices of their chosen public cloud provider, and ensure the same security strategies carry over from the on-premise database to the public cloud.

Visibility and Control

As customers begin to deploy infrastructure like OpenStack private clouds, in combination with public clouds like Azure, AWS and Google Cloud, it becomes difficult to see and control these multiple distributed systems. Security vulnerabilities, security incidents and even actual breaches can go unnoticed.

Poor visibility carries additional risks, beyond security:

  • More difficult to implement self-service systems
  • Difficult to identify root cause of production issues
  • Difficult to control costs across the hybrid cloud
  • Collaboration in an agile/DevOps environment can break down because it’s not clear who made changes in the environment and when

What Are the Key Components of Hybrid Cloud Security?


Authentication is a cornerstone of hybrid cloud security, ensuring that only authorized users and services can access your cloud resources. It involves verifying the identities of users, systems, or entities before granting access to data and applications. Effective authentication mechanisms include multi-factor authentication (MFA), which adds an extra layer of security by requiring two or more verification factors. 

In a hybrid cloud environment, implementing authentication involves integrating identity and access management (IAM) and single sign on (SSO) systems that can operate across both on-premises and cloud-based infrastructures, ensuring a consistent and secure authentication experience for users, regardless of where the resources are located.

Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning is a critical security process that involves inspecting cloud environments, in particular container images and infrastructure as code (IaC) templates, for known security weaknesses and misconfigurations. In hybrid cloud setups, automated scanning tools should be deployed across both public and private clouds to continuously identify and assess vulnerabilities in the infrastructure, applications, and services. 

These tools can help in pinpointing unpatched software, broken authentication, and improper configurations that could be exploited by attackers. Regular vulnerability assessments enable organizations to understand their security posture, prioritize risks, and remediate issues before they can be exploited.

Workload Security

Workload security refers to the protection of the software and applications that run in the cloud, including their data, configurations, and associated processes. In a hybrid cloud environment, securing workloads is vital as they often move between on-premises data centers and public cloud services. 

This portability exposes workloads to different threat vectors. Workload security encompasses the use of encryption, access controls, runtime protection, and monitoring to safeguard applications from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats.


Microsegmentation is a security technique that divides the cloud environment into smaller, distinct security segments down to the individual workload level. This approach allows for more granular security policies to be applied, effectively isolating workloads from each other. 

In the context of hybrid cloud security, microsegmentation is particularly valuable as it can limit the lateral movement of attackers within the network and between private and public cloud resources. If a breach occurs, the impact is contained to the compromised segment, reducing the overall risk to the organization. 

Configuration Management

Configuration management involves maintaining a consistent state across all cloud environments and infrastructure, both private and public, ensuring that systems are configured according to security best practices and organizational policies. It plays a critical role in preventing misconfigurations, which are a common cause of security vulnerabilities. 

Effective configuration management includes automating the deployment and maintenance of configurations, monitoring for unauthorized changes, and regularly auditing environments to ensure compliance with security standards. By establishing a standardized and automated approach to configuration management, organizations can reduce the risk of human error, enhance security posture, and ensure faster response to potential security incidents.

Hybrid Cloud Security Best Practices

Below are critical best practices that can improve your hybrid cloud security strategy.

1. Standardize Processes

Companies that fail to standardize business processes, as well as security processes, between their public and private cloud, are paving the path to human errors and security gaps.

Some of the world’s biggest data breaches were a result of configuration errors on public clouds. Many of these breaches would have been avoided if teams had used the same security measures they do on-prem.

For example, if there is a procedure for setting administrator passwords on-premises, the same procedure should be used to set those passwords in the public cloud, to ensure public cloud assets are properly password protected. If you have a process for ensuring that credentials in a development environment are not carried over to production, the same process must be repeated in the public cloud.

It is also extremely important to standardize the process of transferring assets, like virtual machines or databases, between on-premises and cloud-based environments.

2. Consistently Encrypt Data

As a general security measure, encrypt data in transit and at rest. Many cloud service providers include data encryption as part of their security features. But it is essential to coordinate encryption between public and private clouds, ensuring that the same level of encryption is used. Place a special focus on encryption of data in transit between private and public clouds.

3. Configure Secure Tools and Processes for the Cloud

By organizing security processes into automated workflows, businesses can reduce the likelihood of human error and ad-hoc practices. For example, for software development and deployment (a typical use case for hybrid cloud environments), automated DevSecOps pipelines can make a huge difference.

DevSecOps allows security professionals to incorporate automated gates into software development processes, running a series of security tests before allowing code to be promoted to production. Automated tools allow you to securely manage deployment and destruction of development and deployment resources, avoiding leftover copies of data and virtual machines that can become a liability.

4. Establish a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Policy

Organizations must develop backup plans to ensure smooth operation in emergencies such as service outages or data center outages. This includes implementing automated data backups, image-based backups of virtual machines and, if necessary, an entire disaster recovery site hosted in a remote site or cloud region.

5. Manage Access Across Hybrid Environments

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is critical for protecting assets in a mixed private/public cloud environment. Security teams can extend IAM across both environments, using techniques like unified directories and identity federations leveraging Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML).

IAM should be used to enforce the principle of least-privileged access in both private and public clouds. This ensures that employees, contractors and other users have access to only the resources they absolutely need.

6. Leverage CWPP

A Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) is defined by Gartner as a security offering focused on the workload level, which provides specific protection requirements for each workload in hybrid and multi-cloud environments. In a complex hybrid cloud environment, CWPP can:

  • Provide greater visibility over workloads, configuration gaps, vulnerabilities and incidents
  • Assess risk and prescribe remediation for specific workloads
  • Identify and remediate vulnerabilities before deployment
  • Support a DevSecOps workflow in which security is “shifted left” to development and testing stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC)

7. Isolate the Most Critical Infrastructure

Critical systems, whether deployed on public or private cloud resources, should be isolated from other systems and accessed by the fewest possible number of users. Network segmentation, using technology like Amazon’s virtual private cloud (VPC) can be important in achieving isolation.

8. Leverage CSPM

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a class of security solutions that automatically assesses best practices and security vulnerabilities in a cloud environment, and provides the necessary steps to resolve issues, usually through automation.

It is especially suited for hybrid cloud environments because it provides visibility and control over disparate, distributed systems.

CSPM can help you achieve the following security tasks in a hybrid cloud:

  • Determine the footprint of your cloud environment and monitor creation of new instances or buckets
  • Provide visibility and ensure consistent policies are enforced across multiple cloud providers
  • Scan compute instances for misconfigurations that could be vulnerable to exploitation
  • Scan buckets for misconfigurations that could reveal sensitive data
  • Review cloud deployments for compliance with appropriate compliance obligations
  • Implement risk assessment frameworks such as ISO and NIST
  • Ensure critical operational tasks, such as key rotation, are working properly
  • Repair violations automatically from a central console

Hybrid, Multi Cloud, and Infrastructure Security with Aqua

With Aqua, organizations can leverage the capabilities of cloud workload protection with cloud infrastructure best practices for full-stack security. Aqua is the only pure play cloud native security company to converge the capabilities of a cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) and cloud security posture management (CSPM) in one complete solution.

Hybrid and Multi-cloud — Aqua security provides security controls for cloud migration, hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud deployments, with persistent controls that follow workloads wherever they run.

The Aqua Platform provides security controls for containers and serverless functions throughout their lifecycle, and supports all container orchestrators, public and private cloud platforms including AWS, Azure, GCP, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and VMware. It ensures uniform security and compliance enforcement across all these environments.

In a hybrid and multi cloud environment, Aqua can help with:

  • Cross-environment segmentation—Aqua provides a container firewall that segments workloads within the same environment or across clouds, preventing attacks from spreading, the spread of attacks, without interfering with cloud deployments.
  • Multi-tenancy control and security—Aqua can manage multiple team deployments or customer tenancies from a central console. It maintains separation of data and access, ensuring complete isolation between tenants.
  • Scanning images and functions—Aqua scans container images and serverless functions for known vulnerabilities, embedded secrets, OSS licensing issues, malware, and configuration issues before they are deployed.
  • Protect serverless workloads—Aqua protects serverless environments such as AWS Fargate and Azure Container Instances, from a single console with consistent policy enforcement.
  • Infrastructure Security — Aqua Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) provides scanning, monitoring, and remediation of configuration issues in public cloud accounts.
  • Multi-Cloud Visibility—Aqua CSPM continually audits cloud accounts for security risks and misconfigurations across hundreds of configuration settings and compliance best practices to enable consistent, unified multi-cloud security.
  • Rapid Remediation of Misconfigurations—Aqua provides self-securing capabilities to ensure cloud accounts do not drift out of compliance and delivers detailed, actionable advice and alerts, or choose automatic remediation of misconfigurations with granular control over chosen fixes.

Enterprise Scale—Aqua supports hundreds of cloud accounts using an extensible plugin architecture. It is also API/Cloud Dev friendly, uses SSO with SAML 2.0 and integrates with many popular productivity tools.