What Is Cloud Security?

Gui Alvarenga - March 18, 2024

Cloud security definition

Cloud security is a discipline of cybersecurity focused on the protection of cloud computing systems. It involves a collection of technologies, policies, services, and security controls that protect an organization’s sensitive data, applications, and environments.

Cloud computing, commonly referred to as “the cloud,” is the delivery of hosted services — like storage, servers, and software — through the internet. Cloud computing allows businesses to reduce costs, accelerate deployments, and develop at scale.

Cloud security goals:

  • Ensure the privacy of data across networks
  • Handle the unique cybersecurity concerns of businesses using multiple cloud services providers
  • Control the access of users, devices, and software

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Why is cloud security important?

As companies continue to transition to a fully digital environment, the use of cloud computing has become increasingly popular. But cloud computing comes with cybersecurity challenges, which is why understanding the importance of cloud security is essential in keeping your organization safe.

Over the years, security threats have become incredibly complex, and every year, new adversaries threaten the field. In the cloud, all components can be accessed remotely 24/7, so not having a proper security strategy puts gathered data in danger all at once. According to the CrowdStrike 2024 Global Threat Report, cloud environment intrusions increased by 75% from 2022 to 2023, with a 110% year-over-year increase in cloud-conscious cases and a 60% year-over-year increase in cloud-agnostic cases. Additionally, the report revealed that the average breakout time for interactive eCrime intrusion activity in 2023 was 62 minutes, with one adversary breaking out in just 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

Cloud security should be an integral part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy regardless of their size. Many believe that only enterprise-sized companies are victims of cyberattacks, but small and medium-sized businesses are some of the biggest targets for threat actors. Organizations that do not invest in cloud security face immense issues that include potentially suffering from a data breach and not staying compliant when managing sensitive customer data.

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How does cloud security work?

An effective cloud security strategy employs multiple policies and technologies to protect data and applications in cloud environments from every attack surface. Some of these technologies include identity and access management (IAM) tools, firewall management tools, and cloud security posture management tools, among others.

Organizations also have the option to deploy their cloud infrastructures using different models, which come with their own sets of pros and cons.

The four available cloud deployment models are:

Deployment ModelDescription
Public CloudA public cloud infrastructure is hosted by a third-party service provider and is shared by multiple tenants. Each tenant maintains control of their account, data, and applications hosted in the cloud, but the infrastructure itself is common to all tenants.

This type of model is the most affordable, but it is also associated with the greatest risk because a breach in one account puts all other accounts at risk.
Private CloudAlso called a single-tenant deployment model, the private cloud is one in which the infrastructure is offered via the private cloud and is used exclusively by one tenant. In this model, cloud resources could be managed by the organization or the third-party provider.

The benefit of this deployment model is the level of control it provides individual organizations.
Additionally, it provides enhanced security and ensures compliance, making it the most leveraged model by organizations that handle sensitive information. However, it is expensive to use.
Hybrid CloudA hybrid cloud combines a public and a private cloud into one data-sharing environment.

The biggest benefit from this deployment model is the flexibility and performance it offers.
Multi-CloudMulti-cloud deployments leverage multiple public cloud services. These commonly consist of compute and storage solutions, but there are numerous options from various platforms to build your infrastructure.

Most organizations use a third-party CSP — such as Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Microsoft Azure — to host their data and applications. Strong cloud security involves shared responsibility between these CSPs and their customers.

It is important not to rely only on security measures set by your CSP — you should also implement security measures within your organization. Though a solid CSP should have strong security to protect from attackers on their end, if there are security misconfigurations, privileged access exploitations, or some form of human error within your organization, attackers can potentially move laterally from an endpoint into your cloud workload. To avoid issues, it is essential to foster a security-first culture by implementing comprehensive security training programs to keep employees aware of cybersecurity best practices, common ways attackers exploit users, and any changes in company policy.

The shared responsibility model

The shared responsibility model outlines the security responsibilities of cloud providers and customers based on each type of cloud service: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

This table breaks down the shared responsibility by cloud service model:

Service TypeVendor Responsibility

User Responsibility

SaaSApplication securityEndpoints, user and network security

Misconfigurations, workloads and data
PaaSPlatform security, including all hardware and softwareSecurity of applications developed on the platform

Endpoints, user and network security, and workloads
IaaSSecurity of all infrastructure componentsSecurity of any application installed on the infrastructure (e.g. OS, applications, middleware)

Endpoints, user and network security, workloads, and data

Types of cloud security solutions

The dynamic nature of cloud security opens up the market to multiple types of cloud security solutions, which are considered pillars of a cloud security strategy. These core technologies include:

  • Cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP): A CNAPP combines multiple tools and capabilities into a single software solution to minimize complexity and offers an end-to-end cloud application security through the whole CI/CD application lifecycle, from development to production.
  • Cloud workload protection platform (CWPP): A CWPP is a unified cloud security solution that offers continuous threat monitoring and detection for cloud workloads across different types of modern cloud environments with automatic security features to protect activity across online and physical locations.
  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM): CSPM automates the identification and remediation of risks across cloud infrastructures and is used for risk visualization and assessment, incident response, compliance monitoring, and DevOps integration.
  • Container Security: Container security solutions are meant to protect containers from cyber threats and vulnerabilities throughout the CI/CD pipeline, deployment infrastructure, and the supply chain.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM): SIEM solutions provide visibility into malicious activity by pulling data from everywhere in an environment and aggregating it in a single centralized platform. It can then use this data to qualify alerts, create reports, and support incident response.
  • Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM): CIEM offerings help enterprises manage entitlements across all of their cloud infrastructure resources with the primary goal of mitigating the risk that comes from the unintentional and unchecked granting of excessive permissions to cloud resources.
  • Identity and access management (IAM): IAM is a framework that allows IT teams to control access to systems, networks, and assets based on each user’s identity.
  • Data loss prevention (DLP): DLP is a part of a company’s overall security strategy. It focuses on preventing the loss, leakage, or misuse of data through breaches, exfiltration transmissions, and unauthorized use.
  • Application security posture management (ASPM): ASPM tools are designed to identify vulnerabilities, assess risks, and prioritize mitigations in custom applications.
  • Data security posture management (DSPM): DSPM helps organizations manage their data across the cloud, enforce security policies, monitor for risks, and ensure compliance across multiple frameworks.

Cloud security benefits and challenges

It is essential to have a cloud security strategy in place. Whether your cloud provider has built-in security measures or you partner with the top cloud security providers in the industry, you can gain numerous benefits from cloud security. However, if you do not employ or maintain it correctly, it can pose challenges.

The most common benefits include:

1. Better visibilityOrganizations that incorporate a cloud-based, single-stack cybersecurity provider get centralized visibility of all cloud resources. This allows security teams to be better aware of instances where malicious actors are trying to perform an attack. These tools are equipped with technology that allows your team to better understand your cloud environment and stay prepared.
2. Cybersecurity consolidationA strong cloud security strategy involves the consolidation of security measures in place to protect the cloud and other digital assets. A centralized security system allows you to manage all software updates centrally as well as all policies and recovery plans in place.
3. Lower costs
Advanced cloud security providers have automated processes to scan for vulnerabilities with little to no human interaction. This provides developers with extra time to focus on other priorities and frees up your organization's budget from hardware meant to improve your security.
4. Data protectionA strong cloud security provider also provides data security by default with measures like access control, the encryption of data in transit, and a data loss prevention plan to ensure the cloud environment is as secure as possible.
5. Advanced threat detectionHaving advanced threat detection and response as well as threat intelligence capabilities is a big plus when considering a cloud security platform. This involves experts who are up-to-date with prominent and lesser-known adversaries so they can be prepared if one of them decides to attack.
6. Cloud compliance Because cloud environments can be exposed to multiple vulnerabilities, companies have many cloud security frameworks in place or at their disposal to ensure their product is compliant with local and international regulations relating to the privacy of sensitive data. These measures are put in place dynamically so that whenever the cloud environment changes, it remains compliant.

Unlike traditional on-premises infrastructures, the public cloud has no defined perimeters. The lack of clear boundaries poses several cybersecurity challenges and risks.

1. Data breachesData breaches are the number one concern of organizations today. According to IBM and the Ponemon Institute, the global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million in 2023, a 15% increase over three years. Data breaches occur differently in the cloud than in on-premises attacks. Malware is less relevant. Instead, attackers exploit misconfigurations, inadequate access, stolen credentials, and other vulnerabilities.
2. VisibilityTo meet different business and operational needs, over 80% of organizations utilize two or more cloud providers, which can create a lack of visibility of the entire cloud environment if not managed correctly. This leads to decentralized controls and management, which creates blind spots. Blind spots are endpoints, workloads, and traffic that are not properly monitored, leaving security gaps that are often exploited by attackers.
3. Dynamic workloadsA workload consists of all the processes and resources that support a cloud application. In other words, an app is made up of many workloads (VMs, containers, Kubernetes, microservices, serverless functions, databases, etc.). The workload includes the application, the data generated or entered into an application, and the network resources that support a connection between the user and the application.

Failure to properly secure each of these workloads makes the application and organization more susceptible to breaches, delays app development, compromises production and performance, and puts the brakes on the speed of business.
4. MisconfigurationsMoving fast makes applications susceptible to misconfigurations, which are the number one vulnerability in a cloud environment. Misconfigurations lead to overly permissive privileges on accounts, insufficient logging, and other security gaps that expose organizations to data breaches, cloud breaches, insider threats, and adversaries who leverage vulnerabilities to gain access to your data and network.
5. Access control/unauthorized accessCompanies often grant employees more access and permissions than needed to perform their job functions, which increases the risk of identity-based attacks. Misconfigured access policies are common errors that often escape security audits.

In addition, organizations using multi-cloud environments tend to rely on the default access controls of their cloud providers, which can become an issue in multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environments. Insider threats can do a great deal of damage with their privileged access, knowledge of where to strike, and ability to hide their tracks.
6. Security compliance and auditingCloud compliance and governance — along with industry, international, federal, state, and local regulations — is complex and cannot be overlooked. Part of the challenge is that cloud compliance exists in multiple levels, and not all of these levels are controlled by the same parties. Shadow IT, which is the use of not explicitly authorized software, devices, or applications, makes cloud compliance even more challenging.

Learn More

To address these cloud security risks, threats, and challenges, organizations need a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy designed around vulnerabilities specific to the cloud. Read this post to understand 12 security issues that affect the cloud.  Read: 12 cloud security issues

How to properly secure the cloud

Though cloud environments can be open to vulnerabilities, there are many cloud security best practices you can follow to secure the cloud and prevent attackers from stealing your sensitive data.

Some of the most important practices include:

  • Encrypt all data within the cloud to ensure seamless flow among applications.
  • Centralize visibility of private, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments.
  • Implement cloud security policies that clearly define organization-wide permissions/restrictions.
  • Enforce cloud security standards with a cloud security posture management (CSPM) solution.
  • Protect your workload and containers with a cloud workload protection (CWP) solution.
  • Use a web application firewall to protect your cloud-native applications.
  • Employ threat intelligence capabilities to anticipate upcoming threats and prioritize effectively to preempt them.
  • Craft an incident response plan in the event of a breach to remediate the situation, avoid operational disruptions, and recover any lost data.
  • Embrace zero trust by authorizing access only to users that really need it and only to the resources they need.

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Why embrace Zero Trust?

The basic premise of the Zero Trust principle in cloud security is to not trust anyone or anything in or outside the organization’s network. It ensures the protection of sensitive infrastructure and data in today’s world of digital transformation. The principle requires all users to be authenticated, authorized, and validated before they get access to sensitive information, and they can easily be denied access if they don’t have the proper permissions.

Why CrowdStrike?

CrowdStrike has redefined security with the world’s most complete CNAPP that secures everything from code to cloud and enables the people, processes, and technologies that drive modern enterprise.

With a 75% increase in cloud-conscious attacks in the last year, it is essential for your security teams to partner with the right security vendor to protect your cloud, prevent operational disruptions, and protect sensitive information in the cloud. CrowdStrike continuously tracks 230+ adversaries to give you industry-leading intelligence for robust threat detection and response.

The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform contains a range of capabilities designed to protect the cloud. CrowdStrike Falcon® Cloud Security stops cloud breaches by consolidating all the critical cloud security capabilities that you need into a single platform for complete visibility and unified protection. Falcon Cloud Security offers cloud workload protection; cloud, application, and data security posture management; CIEM; and container security across multiple environments.

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Guilherme (Gui) Alvarenga, is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager for the Cloud Security portfolio at CrowdStrike. He has over 15 years experience driving Cloud, SaaS, Network and ML solutions for companies such as Check Point, NEC and Cisco Systems. He graduated in Advertising and Marketing at the Universidade Paulista in Brazil, and pursued his MBA at San Jose State University. He studied Applied Computing at Stanford University, and specialized in Cloud Security and Threat Hunting.