Cloud computing has its fair share of cybersecurity risks, especially when handling sensitive data. Implementing best practices for cloud security will help you mitigate these risks from impacting data privacy, integrity, and availability. Read our blog to learn about essential cloud security best practices in 2023 and beyond.
What are Common Best Practices for Cloud Security?
When thinking about best practices for cloud security, it is crucial to focus on securing the most important assets in your infrastructure.
A robust approach to cloud security requires:
- Understanding the cloud assets at risk for cybersecurity threats
- Identifying tested and proven cloud security recommendations
- Developing a security policy to oversee cloud security best practices
Implementing best practices for cloud security will help your organization keep sensitive cloud data safe from being compromised, especially with guidance from a cloud security partner.
Cloud Assets at Risk for Security Threats
Before diving into the various best practices for cloud security, it helps to understand how your cloud environment works and which assets may be at risk for cybersecurity threats. Although cloud computing is fast, reliable, and adaptable, it faces unique risks.
In general, cloud assets can be hosted in public, private, or hybrid cloud environments. These environments vary in scale and the various cloud services they can host.
Public, Private, and Hybrid Cloud Environments
Public cloud environments are typically hosted remotely by third-party providers, who provide organizations access to cloud computing infrastructure. Since these environments are widely accessible, they can be less expensive than their private counterparts.
Examples of public cloud environments include:
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- Google Cloud
- Microsoft Azure
Unlike public cloud environments, private ones are hosted by companies that dedicate resources to providing users with a unique cloud experience.
For instance, users interested in large-scale cloud accessibility for thousands to millions of users may opt for privately-hosted cloud offerings instead of publicly-hosted ones.
Examples of private cloud environments include:
- IBM Cloud Service Providers
- HP Enterprise
Hybrid cloud environments blend features from public cloud offerings with those from private ones to create tailored cloud experiences for users. For instance, a hybrid cloud platform can enable a public cloud service like AWS to function in a private data center.
Examples of hybrid cloud environments include:
- VMWare Cloud on AWS
- Azure Stack
- Google Anthos
Choosing whether to host your cloud assets on a public, private, or private cloud environment is a critical data security consideration.
Private cloud environments tend to be more secure than public ones because resources are not shared between organizations. As such, organizations using the private cloud can exercise more control over the application of security controls across their assets.
In some instances, public cloud environments are just as secure as private ones if the hosting provider implements robust, industry-standard security.
In recent years, with the prevalence of cloud data breaches, clients of public cloud providers are holding these companies more accountable for securing the public cloud environments using cloud infrastructure security best practices.
Cloud Service Models
A cloud service model is simply a type of service offered within a cloud environment. Most cloud service models are products, services, or tools offered via a business-to-customer or business-to-business arrangement.
Examples of cloud service models include:
- Software as a Service (SaaS) – These are cloud-hosted software application software assets that provide business-to-business or business-to-customer solutions such as:
- Email applications
- Cloud storage offerings
- Collaboration software
- Retail applications
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) – PaaS assets are cloud-hosted platform applications that enable IT components like software, networks, and databases to function. They include:
- Microsoft Azure
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – IaaS is a type of cloud-based infrastructure that enables individuals or organizations to access resources on the cloud (e.g., hardware and servers). Examples of IaaS solutions include:
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- IBM Cloud
Certain cloud service models can provide users with a combination of IaaS, SaaS, or PaaS functionality. However, organizations must secure these cloud service models with industry-standard security controls tailored to each unique application.
And, you must identify the risks unique to the cloud service models within your broader IT infrastructure. The more you know about these risks, the better you can position your cyber defenses to act swiftly upon threat discovery.
Breakdown of Cloud Security Best Practices
When it comes to implementing best practices for cloud security, your organization will likely be more successful in achieving a secure cloud environment using a risk mitigation approach. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the types of risks that could impact cloud data security, you can effectively identify the most appropriate controls to safeguard this data.
So, what best practices for cloud security apply to the cloud service models and other assets within your IT infrastructure?
Let’s explore common cloud security best practices:
Cloud Security Regulatory Compliance
Organizations must act swiftly to mitigate the fast-evolving cloud security risks present in today’s digital environments. This means being prepared 24/7 to defend their cloud-based assets against potential cybersecurity threats.
One of the best ways to achieve and maintain cloud cyber preparedness throughout the year is to comply with the cloud security recommendations listed in various regulatory frameworks.
These frameworks include:
- PCI DSS – The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) require organizations that handle cardholder data (CHD) to secure it during processing, storage, or transmission on or off the cloud. PCI cloud security compliance involves:
- Identifying all locations of CHD on the cloud and ensuring those in scope for PCI DSS are fully protected
- Securing cloud networks with network security controls (NSCs)
- Mapping all cloud-based environments containing CHD and sensitive authentication data (SAD)
- Changing vendor-supplied access controls for any cloud environments
- Refraining from cloud storage of CHD and SAD
- Restricting access to CHD on the cloud using authentication like multi-factor authentication (MFA)
- HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) helps organizations within and adjacent to healthcare to safeguard protected health information (PHI) at rest and in transit. Organizations that store or transmit electronic PHI (ePHI) on the cloud must comply with the HIPAA Security Rule safeguards to restrict unauthorized access to sensitive cloud-based data environments.
- NIST CSF – The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) provides broad security risk management best practices that can be adopted by any organization operating on the cloud. These include:
- Identifying risks to cloud-based assets and the data they handle
- Protecting at-risk data on the cloud using access controls
- Detecting cloud security vulnerabilities early in their lifecycle
- EU GDPR – Compliance with the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) helps organizations that process the personal data of EU citizens to safeguard it from data privacy threats. These organizations must safeguard the privacy of these data, whether it’s processed on-premise or on the cloud.
- HITRUST – HITRUST streamlines regulatory compliance across several standards (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPAA, NIST CSF) by combining their recommended cloud security controls into a single program that comprehensively manages cloud security risks.
Each regulatory framework listed above addresses some aspect of cloud security and provides recommendations for cloud security best practices.
Whether you implement cloud application security best practices or those tailored to networks or systems, your organization will significantly benefit from complying with regulatory cloud security requirements.
Routine Cloud Security Testing
Besides maintaining ongoing regulatory compliance, achieving short- or long-term cloud security will also require routine testing of your cloud application, infrastructure, or data security controls.
Some of the most effective cloud infrastructure security best practices include:
- Cloud security scanning – Cloud security scanners help promptly detect cybersecurity threats to cloud assets before they can fully develop and impact other components of your cloud and IT infrastructure. Conducting routine cloud security scans will help identify vulnerabilities in your:
- Cloud perimeter defenses (e.g., firewalls)
- Cloud-hosted web applications (e.g., applications that collect and store data on the cloud)
- Penetration testing – Also called “ethical hacking,” pen testing is an effective cloud security testing tool because it simulates a cyberattack and helps identify new or existing gaps in your cloud security controls. Routine penetration testing will help:
- Test networks and critical system components before they are deployed to the cloud.
- Identify high-impact risks to cloud security tools before they develop into threats.
- Optimize the effectiveness of security controls across cloud-based assets.
- Implement the standards required for compliance with regulatory requirements.
Cloud security testing is not limited to cloud security scanning and penetration testing. Routine testing of your cloud security controls using a risk-based approach will significantly lower the chances of cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities unknown to your internal security team.
Patch management is another example of best practices for cloud security in 2023 and beyond, complementing the ongoing testing tools and processes your organization implements. Cloud service providers and device manufacturers typically release critical security updates once available, enabling organizations that operate on the cloud to secure their assets.
Working hand-in-hand with cloud security scanning and penetration testing, proper and timely patch management helps your organization to keep cloud security controls up-to-date with the latest security configurations.
Cloud Access Control Management
Depending on the cloud service models active within your organization, you will likely need to implement robust access controls to prevent cybercriminals from gaining unauthorized access to sensitive cloud environments.
With more organizations migrating their previously on-premise assets to the cloud, cybercriminals are constantly looking for potential access control vulnerabilities to exploit.
Frequently exploited cloud access control vulnerabilities include:
- Use of weak, easy-to-decipher passwords to access cloud data environments
- Reliance on low-security single-factor authentication (e.g., passwords)
- Poor monitoring of cloud access controls by system administrators
- Implementation of low-strength encryption below industry standards
To mitigate these vulnerabilities from impacting your organization’s cloud-based assets, you can implement two robust access control mechanisms that can be tailored to the cloud:
- Identity and access management (IAM) helps streamline the implementation of cloud security access controls, ensuring user access privileges are:
- Delegated based on specific roles
- Managed by a designated administrator
- Modified as users assume or leave access-based roles
- Security information and event management (SIEM) helps monitor access to sensitive cloud environments by:
- Detecting potential security threats and intrusions
- Providing visibility into access controls across the entire cloud environment
- Notifying security teams when suspicious activity is detected
A secure cloud environment starts with controlling who can access it, regardless of time, location, or method. Working hand-in-hand, these best practices for cloud security will help manage access to cloud environments and protect cloud data from being compromised.
Benefits of a Cloud Security Policy
An essential aspect of implementing recommended best practices for cloud security is that they must align to achieve the maximum possible cybersecurity protections your organization needs. A set of misaligned tools and processes will result in poorly coordinated safeguards, which could impact your security posture down the line.
With the help of a cloud security policy, you can oversee the development and implementation of critical best practices for cloud security.
A cloud security policy will enable:
- Effective delegation of cloud security roles and responsibilities across your organization
- Scheduling of required routine processes such as testing, monitoring, and reporting
- Faster deployment of essential cloud security features (e.g., patches)
Most importantly, a cloud security policy will ensure your organization has a robust framework for managing cloud security risks. Regardless of the amount of sensitive data you store on the cloud, a data breach can result in its loss or compromise, with serious legal, financial, and reputational consequences.
The best way to safeguard your data is to secure your cloud infrastructure with the help of reliable, industry-standard cloud security recommendations—and by partnering with a cloud security services provider for guidance on implementing these best practices.
Optimize Your Cloud Security
Whether your applications or networks are the highest-risk assets in your cloud infrastructure, implementing best practices for cloud security will help mitigate security risks from developing into threats. Working with a cloud security partner like RSI Security will help you optimize your cloud security controls—providing you peace of mind in the short and long term.
To learn more and get started, contact RSI Security today!