Cloud Security Checklist

If you’re a small company using Google Docs for document sharing or a large enterprise shifting its global ERP system to the cloud, you must insist that vendors who offer Web-based software and services follow certain security and compliance criteria.

See Also: Best Practices for Cloud Security

These requirements include who can access your applications and data and the systems hosting them. To meet corporate and regulatory standards, you must obtain detailed logs of who has access to your data and applications and verify that it is adequately encrypted.

What you demand from the cloud depends on your corporate standards and compliance needs, the number of workloads you move to it, and how you divide management and security responsibility between your staff and your provider.

See Also: What are the Security Risks of Cloud Computing?

Just as the cloud is different from on-premises deployment, security in the cloud can differ from traditional best practices. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Software as a service (SaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS) have different security criteria.

However, it would help if you considered each of the items in the cloud security checklist below in your cloud security plans.

Understand Cloud Usage and Risks

The first phase of cloud computing security focuses on understanding your current situation and assessing risk. You can perform the following steps using cloud security solutions that allow cloud monitoring:

  • Identify your sensitive data. Data loss or misuse, which may result in civil fines or the loss of intellectual property, is your most important risk field. Data classification engines can help you categorize the information so you can determine the risk entirely.
  • Understand how sensitive data is accessed and shared. Sensitive information can be safely stored in the cloud, but you must keep track of who accesses it and where it goes. Evaluate permissions on files and folders in your cloud and access contexts such as user roles, user location, and device type.
  • Explore shadow IT (unknown cloud usage). Most people don’t ask their IT team before signing up for a cloud storage account or converting an online PDF. Discover what cloud services you don’t know are being used using your web proxy, firewall, or SIEM logs, and then analyze their risk profiles.
  • Check AWS or Azure configurations for infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Many of the essential settings in your IaaS environments can be misconfigured, resulting in an exploitable vulnerability. Start by checking your configurations for identity and access management, network configuration, and encryption.
  • Expose nefarious user actions. Employees who aren’t paying attention and third-party attackers may also show signs of cloud data violence. User behavior analysis (UBA) can track anomalies and reduce both internal and external data loss.

Protect Your Cloud Environment

Once you understand your cloud security risk situation, you can strategically apply protection to your cloud services based on their risk level. Several cloud security technologies can help you implement the following best practices:

  • Apply data protection policies. You can set rules that control what data can be stored in the cloud, quarantine or delete sensitive data from the cloud, and coach users if they make a mistake and breach one of your policies once your data has been identified as sensitive or organized.
  • Encrypt sensitive data with your keys. Encryption in a cloud service will protect your data from outside parties, but the cloud service provider will still access your encryption keys. Instead, encrypt your data using your keys so you can control access completely. Users can work with data without interruption.
  • Set restrictions on how data is shared. Once data enters the cloud, enforce your access control policies on one or more services. Begin by designating users or groups as viewers or editors and restricting the information that can be exchanged externally through shared links.
  • Stop moving data to unmanaged devices you don’t know. Access to cloud services is possible from anywhere with an internet connection, but access from unmanaged devices, such as a mobile phone, creates a security blind spot. By requiring system security authentication before downloading, you can prevent downloads to unmanaged devices.
  • Apply advanced malware protection to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) such as AWS or Azure. In IaaS environments, you are responsible for the security of your operating systems, applications, and network traffic. To secure the infrastructure, anti-malware technologies can be extended to the operating system and virtual network. For single-purpose workloads, use program whitelisting and memory exploit prevention, and for general-purpose workloads and file repositories, use machine learning-based protection.

Respond to Cloud Security Issues

As your cloud services are accessed and used, regular events require an automated or guided response, just like in other IT environments. Follow these best practices to get started with your cloud security incident response implementation:

  • Request additional validation for high-risk access scenarios. For example, if a user is accessing sensitive data in a cloud service from a new device, they automatically require two-factor authentication to prove their identity.
  • Adjust cloud access policies as new services emerge. You cannot predict every cloud service that will be accessed. Still, you can automatically update web access policies, such as those enforced by a secure web gateway, with information about a cloud service’s risk profile to block access or provide a warning message. Do this through the integration of a cloud risk database with your secure web gateway or firewall.
  • Remove malware from a cloud service. The malware will infect a shared folder that syncs with a cloud storage service automatically, replicating the malware in the cloud without the user’s awareness. To avoid ransomware or data theft attempts, scan your files with malware protection in cloud storage.

The challenges and threats you face while using cloud services develop as well. Always be aware of any cloud provider security feature updates so you can adjust your policies accordingly. Security providers will also change their threat intelligence and machine learning models to keep up with this.

See Also: PCI Compliance in the Cloud

In the above stages and best practices, several key technologies can be used to perform each step, often working in conjunction with cloud providers’ native security features.

  • Access and permissions
    • Check application permissions for cloud accounts.
  • Restrict access to vulnerable applications.
  • Multi-factor authentication
    • Users must follow a two-step login process to enter your cloud environment.
  • Password policies
    • Set password lengths and expiration time.
    • Run a password check for all users to verify compliance standards and enforce a password change via the admin console if needed.
  • Message encryption and mobile management
    • Enable and use encryption for confidential information protection.
    • Configure mobile device policies to access cloud applications.
  • Data loss prevention
  • Ensure data integrity and continuity of systems, processes, and services.
  • Apply a data loss prevention strategy to protect sensitive information from accidental or malicious threats.
  • External sharing standards
    • Define criteria for calendar, file, drive, and folder sharing among users.
  • Vulnerability assessment
    • Perform frequent vulnerability checks to identify vulnerabilities based on a comprehensive list of security breaches.
  • Network traffic and access log
  • Give customers or employees optional file access permissions.
    • Access the system log with insights into data exchange options for administrators.
  • Business continuity
  • A plan should be in place to deal with unforeseen situations in the commercial, political or social environment.
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) standards
    • Establish practical SLA standards, including a detailed description of the service metrics and associated penalties for violations.

The primary cloud security best practice above is essential for any organization that migrates to the cloud. If any of these apps go unnoticed, it could lead to a security disaster.

See Also: Cloud Storage Security: How to Keep Data Safe in the Cloud?

Cloud computing has indeed revolutionized the business and technological environment. Increasing dependence on cloud services for storing and managing sensitive data is sufficient motivation for attackers. Therefore, all companies and users need to understand cloud security best practices to protect their cloud environments adequately.

See Also: What are the Security Impacts of Public Cloud?

See Also: What are the Security Impacts of Private Cloud?

Surkay Baykara
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Biznet. Over the past 15+ years my professional career has included several positions beginning as a developer and IT administrator, working my way up to a senior Technical Performance Consultant before joining Biznet back in 2015. I had several different roles at Biznet, including Penetration Tester and PCI DSS QSA. In my job as a QSA, I found my passion and worked closely with the Audit and Compliance team. I've been working inside InfoSec for over 15 years, coming from a highly technical background. I have earned several certifications during my professional career including; CEH, CISA, CISSP, and PCI QSA.

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