Why Runtime Security is Essential to Cloud Security

Runtime security refers to the process of protecting applications, workloads, and software systems from security vulnerabilities and threats during their execution.

July 13, 2023

What Is Runtime Security in Cloud Environments? 

Runtime security is an essential aspect of an organization’s overall cybersecurity strategy, specifically when dealing with cloud environments. In simple terms, runtime security refers to the process of protecting applications, workloads, and software systems from security vulnerabilities and threats during their execution. This means that runtime security measures are implemented and monitored while the application is running, ensuring that all critical data and processes are secure.

In cloud environments, runtime security becomes even more crucial as applications and workloads are often distributed across multiple services and platforms. This dynamic infrastructure requires a more sophisticated approach to security, which includes continuous monitoring, threat detection, and incident response. Additionally, cloud environments often involve multi-tenancy, where multiple users share the same resources, further increasing the need for robust runtime security measures.

This is part of a series of articles about cloud security.

In this article:

Why Is Runtime Security Important in Cloud Environments? 

Runtime security plays a critical role in protecting cloud-based workloads from various threats, including data breaches, unauthorized access, and malicious attacks. The following are some reasons why runtime security is essential in cloud environments:

Shared responsibility model

In cloud environments, security is a shared responsibility between the cloud provider and the customer. While cloud providers are responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure, customers are responsible for securing their applications and workloads. Runtime security is a crucial component of meeting the customer’s responsibilities under the shared responsibility model, as it enables organizations to protect their cloud-based assets effectively.

Dynamic and complex infrastructure

Cloud environments often involve multiple services, platforms, and providers, resulting in a complex and dynamic infrastructure. This complexity can make it challenging to manage and monitor security effectively. Runtime security helps address these challenges by providing continuous protection and visibility into the running applications and workloads, allowing organizations to detect and respond to threats in real-time.

Larger attack surface

As organizations migrate their workloads to the cloud, the attack surface expands, making it more susceptible to threats. Runtime security helps reduce the attack surface by identifying vulnerabilities in the running applications and workloads and implementing security measures to mitigate these risks.

Compliance and regulatory requirements

Many industries have strict compliance and regulatory requirements that mandate the implementation of robust security measures, including runtime security. By ensuring that their cloud-based workloads are protected during execution, organizations can meet these requirements and avoid potential fines or penalties.

Runtime security is a vital component of the broader concept of cloud workload protection. Cloud workload protection refers to a comprehensive approach to securing all aspects of an organization’s cloud-based workloads, including applications, data, and infrastructure. Runtime security, as a part of this strategy, focuses on the security of the applications and workloads while they are running, ensuring that any vulnerabilities or threats are detected and mitigated in real-time.

Cloud workload protection and runtime security are closely related since they both aim to protect an organization’s cloud resources from various threats. However, while runtime security is primarily concerned with securing the applications and workloads during their execution, cloud workload protection encompasses a broader range of security measures, including:

  • Configuration management
  • Data encryption
  • Identity and access management
  • Vulnerability scanning
  • Continuous monitoring and threat detection

By implementing runtime security as part of a comprehensive cloud workload protection strategy, organizations can better safeguard their cloud-based assets and minimize the risks associated with cloud computing.

Related content: Read our guide to DevOps security

Types of Runtime Security in Cloud Environments 

Container Runtime Security

Containerization has gained immense popularity in recent years due to its ability to streamline application deployment and management. However, securing containers during runtime is essential to prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security threats.

Monitoring and visibility are crucial for maintaining container runtime security. By continuously monitoring container activity, organizations can detect suspicious behavior, unauthorized access, or changes to the container environment. This monitoring should include tracking network connections, file system activity, and process execution.

Vulnerability management is an essential aspect of container runtime security. Containers often include numerous dependencies and libraries, which can introduce vulnerabilities if not properly managed. Organizations should regularly scan container images for known vulnerabilities and apply patches or updates as needed. Additionally, it’s essential to monitor the container environment for new vulnerabilities that may emerge during runtime.

Runtime security can also help prevent misconfiguration of container infrastructure. Organizations should limit access to containers based on the principle of least privilege, ensuring that users and services have only the necessary permissions to perform their tasks, and avoid granting root access to containers. Runtime security solutions can identify excessive access privileges, and in some cases even automatically remediate them.

Kubernetes Runtime Security

Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for orchestrating containerized applications. However, securing Kubernetes during runtime is critical to protect the cluster infrastructure, workloads, and sensitive data.

Ensuring proper cluster configuration is vital for maintaining Kubernetes runtime security. Misconfigurations can lead to vulnerabilities and unauthorized access. Organizations should follow best practices for securing Kubernetes clusters, such as enabling role-based access control (RBAC), implementing network segmentation, and configuring security context constraints.

Network security is another essential aspect of Kubernetes runtime security. Kubernetes clusters consist of multiple nodes, which communicate with each other using network connections. By implementing network policies and segmentation, organizations can control the flow of traffic between nodes, limiting the potential attack surface.

Detecting and mitigating threats during runtime is crucial for maintaining Kubernetes security. Organizations should implement security tools that provide monitoring, alerting, and automated response capabilities. These tools should be able to detect anomalies, such as unauthorized access, unexpected process execution, or changes to the cluster environment. By quickly identifying and responding to potential threats, organizations can minimize the risk of security breaches.

Cloud Native Runtime Security

Cloud-native runtime security refers to the protection of applications and infrastructure within cloud-native environments, such as containers, Kubernetes, and serverless computing. This approach focuses on securing applications and infrastructure during the execution stage, addressing the unique security challenges presented by cloud-native technologies.

One of the core principles of cloud-native runtime security is immutable infrastructure. Immutable infrastructure refers to the practice of creating and deploying infrastructure components that cannot be modified once deployed. This approach reduces the risk of unauthorized changes, configuration drift, and security vulnerabilities. By implementing immutable infrastructure, organizations can enhance the security posture of their cloud-native environments.

Policy enforcement is another essential aspect of cloud-native runtime security. By defining and enforcing policies across the application lifecycle, organizations can ensure that security best practices are consistently followed. This includes policies related to access control, resource usage, data protection, and compliance requirements. By enforcing policies during runtime, organizations can quickly identify and remediate potential security violations.

In cloud-native environments, security automation is critical for maintaining runtime security. Security automation involves using tools and processes to automatically detect, report, and remediate security risks during runtime. By leveraging automation, organizations can reduce the manual effort required to maintain security, improve response times, and minimize the risk of human error.

Best Practices for Runtime Security 

Implementing robust runtime security measures in cloud environments is essential for safeguarding your applications and workloads. The following are some best practices to consider when developing your runtime security strategy:

  • Adopt a comprehensive approach: Runtime security should be a part of a broader cloud workload protection strategy that includes security measures such as data encryption, identity and access management, and continuous monitoring. 
  • Go beyond cloud-provider-specific security tools: Some cloud providers offer native security tools and services that can help you implement runtime security measures. However, these tools are often optimized for a specific cloud environment, limiting their effectiveness. Third-party cloud native security tools can provide comprehensive protection across multiple cloud environments.
  • Implement continuous monitoring and threat detection: Continuously monitoring your cloud applications and workloads for signs of malicious activity or security anomalies is essential for identifying and responding to threats in real-time. Leverage advanced analytics powered by machine learning to detect anomalies and attacks that do not match known patterns.
  • Keep software and dependencies up-to-date: Regularly updating your applications and their dependencies is crucial for mitigating the risks associated with outdated software and known vulnerabilities. Make sure to implement a patch management process that ensures your workloads are always running the latest, most secure versions of their software components.
  • Educate your team: Ensuring that your team members are knowledgeable about runtime security best practices and the specific security measures in place in your cloud environment is crucial for maintaining a strong security posture. Provide ongoing training and resources to help your team stay informed about the latest threats and best practices for runtime security.

Protect Workloads at Runtime with Aqua Security

Aqua Cloud Security is a full-stack cloud security solution that combines infrastructure and workload protection to provide total visibility into your cloud environment and pinpoint the most critical risks. 

The Aqua Cloud Security solution focuses on the entire lifecycle, tightly integrating the tools needed to protect both cloud workloads and infrastructure against security risks and cyberattacks. Aqua’s Cloud Security solution includes Cloud Workload Protection (CWPP), Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM), and Kubernetes Cloud Security Posture Management (KSPM).

Learn about the Aqua Platform