The five pillars of an actionable cloud security framework


Photo of Jermaine Green

Jermaine Green

Senior Cloud Architect LinkedIn

With more workloads migrating to the cloud, the threat vista is expanding. So much so that 60% of IT leaders recently surveyed are not confident in their ability to secure access to cloud environments.

This is worrying. Organisations we know are facing growing challenges in securing diverse cloud environments. These include a lack of visibility into the IT estate, a skills shortage, misconfigurations, policy errors, and siloed security solutions, according to the Ponemon Institute. In addition, traditional perimeter-based security is not strong enough to mitigate these increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Unsurprisingly, cybersecurity is the priority investment over data management/analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

However, having the proper foundation is paramount to making this investment work. This is where the five pillars of cloud security are critical. They provide a comprehensive framework to secure your cloud estate. Once established, you can build and maintain a strong cloud security posture.

Putting cloud security pillars into practice

While cloud security uses the shared responsibility model between cloud providers and organisations, the most significant security risk in the public cloud environment is the misconfiguration of controls in enterprises’ digital estates.

Here, we outline the five pillars you must implement to proactively secure your organisation from malicious attacks. 

1. Understanding the importance of access and identity management (IAM)

With the rapidly growing amount of data being processed, transmitted, and stored, often accessed by hybrid and mobile workers, a reliable and flexible access control system is crucial.

IAM comprises policies, processes, and systems that provide a streamlined and secure way of managing users’ digital identities. IAM ensures only authorized users can access the data and services they need by utilizing identification, authentication, and authorization. Core features of IAM include single sign-on, multifactor authentication (MFA), role-based access control, identity federation, and secret management.

As well as providing more substantial user access control, IAM enables organisations to prove compliance with industry regulations and allows third parties, such as suppliers, to access the company’s network without creating a security risk.

2. Data security and privacy best practices

Data security and privacy are critical components of a security strategy as they safeguard sensitive data and ensure compliance with data protection regulations and standards such as GDPR.

Data security and privacy best practices focus on protecting data stored and processed in the cloud. Key components include encryption, access control, backup and recovery, data lifecycle management, and data sovereignty.

Unprotected data at rest or in transit is vulnerable to attack. There are, however, robust methods for protecting it.

  • Encryption at rest: Protects stored data from unauthorised access. Encrypting data at rest secures files and documents, ensuring only those with the encryption key can access them, much like locking private documents in a physical safe. Encrypting data in this way protects it from hackers and data leaks.
  • Encryption in Transit: Protects data from unauthorized access or modification while being transferred over a network. Data is encrypted before it is sent, verifying the identity of the sender and receiver and decrypting the data upon arrival. Cloud encryption in transit can help safeguard sensitive data from cyberattacks, eavesdroppers, or malicious insiders looking to intercept data in transit.

Different methods and protocols can be used to achieve cloud encryption in transit, depending on the type of data and the network layer involved. This is integral to cloud security when choosing, configuring, and using cloud services. Common ones include:

  • HTTPS: HTTPS adds a layer of security to the standard HTTP protocol. It is used for secure communication across the internet or a network. HTTPS encrypts the data using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificates issued by trusted authorities. HTTPS also authenticates the web server using these certificates, ensuring you communicate with the intended website.
  • TLS: This protocol provides encryption, authentication, and integrity for data in transit at the transport layer of the network. TLS can secure various connections, such as email, instant messaging, voice-over IP, and VPNs. TLS uses asymmetric cryptography to exchange keys and symmetric cryptography to encrypt data. TLS also supports various cipher suites and algorithms to suit security needs and preferences.
  • IPSec: This is a group of networking protocols to set up secure connections over a network. It provides encryption, authentication, and integrity for data in transit at the network layer. IPSec can create secure tunnels between two or more devices, such as routers and firewalls. It is widely used for VPN gateways. IPSec uses cryptographic protocols such as ESP (Encapsulating Security Payload) and AH (Authentication Header) to protect the IP packets. IPsec also supports various modes of operation, such as transport mode and tunnel mode, and essential management methods, such as IKE (Internet Key Exchange).

3. Network Security

Traditional security measures cannot address the dynamic nature of the cloud. A cloud network security solution is designed specifically to reduce the chances of malicious actors accessing data on public or private cloud networks, modifying and destroying information, or disrupting network traffic. It includes protecting the network infrastructure and communication channels that connect cloud resources.

Network security components include firewalls, network segmentation, encryption, VPNs, DDoS protection, and intrusion detection and prevention systems.

4. Application Security

Traditional network, application, and infrastructure security do not adequately protect cloud-based applications. The collaborative nature of the cloud opens the threat vista. Cloud application security comprises policies, processes, and controls running on the cloud platform to protect applications and data.

Application security involves securing the applications’ code, configuration, dependencies, and runtime environment. Some critical aspects of application security to consider are secure development practices, code analysis, vulnerability scanning, patching, container security, and web application firewalls.

5. Operational Security

One of the critical steps for successful cloud operations is securing the cloud environment. Cloud operational security covers the processes and practices applied throughout the cloud lifecycle.

Operational security enables organisations to monitor, detect, respond, and recover from security incidents and continuously improve the cloud environment’s security posture.

The breadth of operational security is vast and includes logging and auditing, alerting and notification, incident response and forensics, disaster recovery and business continuity, and security awareness and training.

Every business has sensitive data in the cloud.

As companies move their critical business data to the cloud, understanding the security requirements to keep it safe is vital.

Today’s security landscape is complex. By addressing these five pillars of cloud security, organisations can implement a robust security framework to support their cloud transformation and mitigate risk.

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