How to Conduct a Cloud Security Assessment

Cloud computing is now widely acknowledged to provide greater data accessibility and control than on-premises solutions. However, to take advantage of cloud technology, you must first consider cloud security and make a cloud security assessment.

Moving to the cloud or a new cloud provider means a new set of security concerns and more security approaches than a traditional environment because we see that traditional security tools are no longer sufficient to manage cloud-based security.

See Also: Cloud Security Checklist

The Cloud Security Assessment Checklist aims to provide a list of high-level security areas to consider when evaluating the security of your cloud environment.

Implementing cloud security checklist items that you can use for cloud security assessment will vary based on your unique environment. However, the policies remain the same regardless of how they are implemented.

While you may need to tailor the cloud security assessment to your industry or organization’s size, here are some best practices to consider for your cloud security audit.

What is a Cloud Security Assessment?

A cloud security assessment is an assessment that tests and analyzes cloud infrastructure to ensure the organization is protected from various security risks and threats on the cloud.

See Also: Cloud Security Controls: What You Need to Know

Cloud security assessments enable an analysis of the entire cloud environment to determine the extent and direction of potential attacks. In addition, a cloud security assessment can show weaknesses in internal and external components of your company’s cloud infrastructure.

A cloud security assessment assists organizations in evaluating their cloud infrastructures to determine whether adequate levels of security and governance are in place to meet the challenges and risks that each organization faces.

The cloud security assessment is generally designed for the following topics:

  • Identifying weaknesses and potential entry points in the organization’s cloud infrastructure
  • Analysis of the network for evidence of exploitation
  • Identifying security approaches that can be described to prevent future attacks

Typically, a cloud security assessment focuses on the following areas:

  • Overall security posture: Interviews are conducted, and relevant documents are reviewed to assess the security of the enterprise cloud infrastructure.
  • Access control and management: Identity and access management processes are reviewed, including user accounts, roles, and key management.
  • Network security: Network segmentation and firewall policies are reviewed for common misconfigurations.
  • Incident management: Review the incident response policy related to the cloud infrastructure, including roles and processes related to an incident.
  • Storage security: The state of cloud storage is evaluated, including object-level storage, block-level storage, and associated snapshots.
  • Platform services security: The security configuration of advanced service offerings specific to each cloud service provider is reviewed.
  • Workload security: Security is reviewed for workloads, including virtualized servers, server-hosted containers, functions, and serverless containerized workloads.

Why Should You Do a Cloud Security Assessment?

Cloud computing offers your organization significant operational efficiencies compared to traditional on-premises servers. However, moving to and working on the cloud brings new risks. Therefore, the rapid adoption of cloud-based workloads can pose security risks at some point, often outstripping your organization’s security services capabilities.

See Also: What are the Security Impacts of Private Cloud

Many businesses have multiple cloud accounts or subscriptions. Unfortunately, not all of them are subjected to the same level of security scrutiny, resulting in situations in which less critical workloads lack critical security controls. As a result, the impact of a breach can be surprisingly serious, even in cloud environments that were previously thought to be insignificant.

See Also: What are the Security Impacts of Public Cloud

Unlike a traditional network, which a perimeter security model often defends, the cloud environment requires more advanced security measures that provide protection anytime and anywhere. In addition, as more users access cloud-based systems due to their work-from-home needs, your organization’s attack surface can unintentionally expand and increase security risks.

See Also: Cloud Application Security Guide with Best Practices

A common problem with cloud security is a misconfiguration. Cloud configurations are the root cause of many security breaches, often caused by accidental mistakes by employees. A cloud security assessment is required to identify such issues and other outdated aspects of the security model.

Another common problem is due to excessive network permissions. Excessive network permissions can allow untrusted third parties to gain unauthorized access via inbound traffic or increase the damage caused by a minor breach via unauthorized outbound traffic.

Excessive privileges, a lack of restrictions on source IP addresses or countries, and a lack of multi-factor authentication (MFA) are common cloud security issues.

Finally, common in cloud-based systems, insufficient or inappropriate logging makes it difficult to detect, characterize, and recover malicious activity, resulting in higher costs.

When these cloud security issues are combined, attackers can easily impersonate authorized activity and modify, leak, or destroy data.

What Are the Benefits of Cloud Security Assessment?

A cloud security assessment provides peace of mind that your organization’s networks and assets are correctly configured, sufficiently secure, and not the subject of an ongoing attack.

When reviewing your organization’s network history, the assessment will also identify access points or other weaknesses in the architecture, as well as detailed recommendations to help strengthen defenses and improve capabilities in the future.

  • Identify gaps in capabilities that weaken your organization’s cloud security posture.
  • Compare the maturity of your organization’s current cloud security strategy with leading industry standards and frameworks.
  • You can define a strategic cloud security roadmap aligned with risk mitigation and business priorities, as well as areas for improvement.

Some of the specific benefits of a cloud security assessment are as follows:

  • Reduced risk of unintentional misconfiguration: Custom configuration changes suggested as part of a cloud security assessment can help reduce the cloud’s attack surface.
  • Reduced risk from missed notifications: The recommendations of the cloud security assessment team can improve your organization’s ability to detect and respond to a security breach, preventing a minor issue from becoming a full-blown breach.
  • Improved resilience: The team performing the cloud security assessment will make recommendations to assist your organization in recovering from a breach as quickly as possible.
  • More efficient account management: Organizations with non-optimal identity architectures can reduce their time on account and privilege management while also reducing the likelihood of accidental over-privileges.
  • Detection of past security: A cloud security assessment can identify deviations in an organization’s cloud configuration that could compromise the norm.

Cloud Security Assessment Checklist

Implementing a secure cloud infrastructure requires extensive analysis. It would help consider all risk management measures to determine how secure your organization is. Cloud security best practices cover various aspects of your environment and business.

See Also: Best Practices for Cloud Security

Therefore, cloud security should be an organization-wide concern and not just the responsibility of one person or a team and should be addressed throughout the organization. A cloud security assessment is the most convenient way to perform an in-depth security assessment. Here’s what needs to be reviewed to improve data protection in your organization.

Policies and procedures

Both the cloud provider and the customer bear responsibility for maintaining a secure system. Implementing and monitoring comprehensive policies and procedures will help eliminate this area as a threat.

  • Has the cloud been included in all security policies and procedures?
  • Are there any safety procedures in place for your employees?
  • Is there a procedure in place for when employees leave or change positions?
  • Do you have any procedures in place to deal with a security breach?

Controlling access

Identity and access management is a critical first step in securing your cloud environment. The access management assessment controls how users are identified and authenticated and who can assign access rights.

Access and identity management is the most fundamental step in cloud security risk assessment. At this stage, you need to check the following:

  • Who has access to your cloud system?
  • Which devices can access the system?
  • Do you allow guests to access cloud accounts?
  • What permissions do guest accounts have?
  • Do you use multi-factor authentication?
  • Who has access to your systems?
  • Have the accesses been thoroughly reviewed?
  • Do you provide security awareness training to all of your employees?
  • Is your guest access controlled?

Network Security

When using a cloud-based environment, the cloud provider bears the majority responsibility for network security. For example, injecting malicious code into cloud services can allow hackers to intercept and steal sensitive data. Likewise, disabling RDP access and restricting internet SSH and SQL Server access will help prevent brute force attacks on virtual machines.

  • Are there gateway security measures against malware injections?
  • Are there security measures against network-based attacks?
  • Is all sensitive data encrypted over less reliable networks?

Directory services

It is essential to protect credentials for identity and access in a secure directory. To achieve this, you must answer these questions:

  • Do you have an LDAP-compatible directory to store IDs?
  • How often do you update the security protocols for this directory to take advantage of the latest technologies and practices?
  • Are the security professionals who manage the directory adequately audited?

Data loss prevention and backup policies

Data loss can occur due to a variety of factors such as hardware failure, natural disaster, or malicious action. Therefore, a recovery plan is vital to avoid catastrophic data loss. Data loss can put your business at serious risk, so you need to make sure important information is easily recoverable.

  • Do you have a comprehensive recovery plan?
  • Does your provider have a default data backup function?
  • Does your cloud environment support third-party data backup software?
  • What are the current plans and procedures for data recovery?
  • Do you perform regular checks of these physical warehouses and complementary cloud infrastructures?
  • Does your cloud provider handle backup and data recovery adequately with comprehensive plans and procedures?
  • Do you conduct regular tests to ensure the success of the restoration?

Security Operations

Make sure your cloud infrastructure is in the hands of competent experts. Note the following:

  • Is the security team adequately trained?
  • Does your company have a senior cloud security specialist?
  • Has the security team implemented an appropriate cloud data security strategy?
  • Has your organization adopted its security management to the cloud?
  • Is everyone on the team aware of their responsibilities regarding cloud security?
  • Do you have in-house guidance on how to stay safe in cloud infrastructure?

Encryption

Encryption makes it useless to the hacker as long as the keys are safe, even if your data is breached. The more sensitive the information, the more critical it is to encrypt it.

Good encryption will make leaked information useless for hackers. The type and number of required cryptographic services depend on the size and type of your organization. We recommend that you consider the following:

  • Have you determined which files, databases, and networks require encryption?
  • Is all critical data on your servers encrypted?
  • How many encryption services do you have?
  • Are you using a different service for databases, files, certificates, and public keys?
  • Do you encrypt all sensitive data on servers and in transit?
  • Have you safeguarded all private keys associated with certificates and public keys?

Security updates

Maintaining a secure environment requires keeping your systems up to date with the latest security patches. To ensure a secure cloud environment, keep your systems up to date at all times. Here are some things to think about:

  • How often do you install security updates and patches?
  • Does the IT team test security patches in a development environment before deploying security updates to live servers?
  • Can you make a rollback change to security systems in an emergency?
  • Do you regularly scan your environment for system vulnerabilities?
  • Installing the latest security patches?
  • Can you show which patches are installed?

Monitoring

Ensuring that your system activity is logged and saved for future analysis is vital. If you want to be aware of every gap in your cloud system, it’s crucial to implement a proper logging system right from the start. Here are the things to check:

  • Can your cloud system log changes to policy assignments, security policies, and administrator groups?
  • Can you monitor applications working with sensitive data?
  • Does the security team manually check the system for possible security breaches?
  • How long has the monitoring system been in place?
  • How long do you keep your diaries?
  • Do you record when apps touch-sensitive data?
  • Do you keep an eye on your system for possible security breaches?

Answering the cloud security questions above can help you look at your cloud security more objectively and critically. As a result, thanks to the cloud security assessment, you will know what measures and tools you need to implement to protect your data more effectively.

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykarahttps://www.pcidssguide.com
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Cyberwise. 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 Cyberwise, 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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