What is Cloud Security?

Gui Alvarenga - February 4, 2022

Cloud computing 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 is the technology, policies, services, and security controls to protect data, applications, and environments in the cloud.

Cloud security focuses on:

  • ensuring the privacy of data across networks
  • handling the unique cybersecurity concerns of businesses using multiple cloud services providers
  • controlling the access of users, devices, and software

The Shared Responsibility Model

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

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 type:

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

Cloud Security Challenges & Risks

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

Below are the 8 most common cloud security challenges and risks:

1. Data breaches

Data breaches are the number one concern of organizations today. According to IBM and the Ponemon Institute, from 2020 to 2021, the average cost of a data breach increased from $3.86 million to $4.24 million, which is the highest average cost increase seen in the past 17 years. Data breaches occur differently in the cloud than in on-premise attacks. Malware is less relevant. Instead, attackers exploit misconfigurations, inadequate access, stolen credentials, and other vulnerabilities.

2. Visibility

To meet different business and operational needs, 76% of organizations utilize two or more cloud providers, which creates a lack of visibility of the entire cloud environment. 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 workloads

A 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 those workloads not only make the application and organization susceptible to breaches, but also delay app development, compromise production and performance, and put brakes on the speed of business.

4. Misconfigurations

Moving fast makes applications susceptible to misconfigurations, which is today 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. Unsecured APIs

An API basically allows applications or components of applications to communicate with each other over the Internet or a private network. In other words, businesses use APIs to connect services and transfer data, either internally or to partners, suppliers, customers, and others.

Exposed, broken and hacked APIs are responsible for major data breaches, exposing financial, customer, medical and other sensitive data. Because APIs turn certain types of data into endpoints, a change to a policy or privilege levels can increase the risk of unauthorized access to more data than the host intended.

6. Access control/ unauthorized access

Often companies grant employees more access and permissions than needed to perform their job functions, which increases identity-based threats. Misconfigured access policies are common errors that escape security audits.

In addition, organizations using multi-cloud environments tend to rely on default  access controls of their cloud providers, which becomes an issue specially in multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environments. Inside threats can do a great deal of damage with their privileged access, knowledge of where to strike, and ability to hide their tracks.

7. Securing the control plane

The control plane consists of tools that manage and orchestrate cloud operations and API calls. Because the control plane provides the means for users, devices, and applications to interact with the cloud and cloud-located resources, it must be accessible from anywhere on the internet. Enforcing security policies and securing the control plane prevents attackers from modifying access and configurations across cloud environments.

8. Security compliance and auditing

Cloud 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 they are not all 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.

To address these cloud security challenges, organizations need a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy designed around vulnerabilities specific to the cloud.

2022 Cloud Threat Report

Download this new report to find out which top cloud security threats to watch for in 2022, and learn how best to address them.

Download Now

Key Elements of a Robust Cloud Security Solution

1. Advanced data protection capabilities

An effective way to protect data is to encrypt it. Cloud encryption transforms data from plain text into an unreadable format before it enters the cloud. Data should be encrypted both in transit and at rest. Most cloud providers and applications offer basic encryption. However, businesses should keep the shared responsibility model in mind and take control of their own encryption. Additional levels of advanced data protection include multi-factor authentication (MFA), microsegmentation, vulnerability assessment, security monitoring, and detection and response capabilities.

2. Unified visibility across private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments

Unified discovery and visibility of multi-cloud environments, along with continuous intelligent monitoring of all cloud resources are essential in a cloud security solution. That unified visibility must be able to detect misconfigurations, vulnerabilities and security threats, while providing actionable insights and guided remediation.

3. Security posture and governance

Another key element is having the proper security policy and governance in place that enforces golden cloud security standards, while meeting industry and government regulations across the entire infrastructure. A cloud security posture management (CSPM) solution that detects and prevents misconfigurations and control plane threats, eliminating blind spots, and ensuring compliance across clouds, applications, and workloads.

4. Cloud workload protection

Cloud workloads increase the attack surface exponentially. Protecting workloads requires visibility and discovery of each workload and container events, while securing the entire cloud-native stack, on any cloud, across all workloads, containers, Kubernetes and serverless applications. Cloud Workload Protection (CWP) includes vulnerability scanning and management, and breach protection for workloads, including containers, Kubernetes and serverless functions, while enabling organizations to build, run, and secure cloud applications from development to production.

5. Threat Intelligence with real-time threat detection and remediation

Threats evolve rapidly, and organizations that want to escape the game of catch-up use threat intelligence to enable proactive defenses. Threat intelligence enables security teams to anticipate upcoming threats and prioritize effectively to preempt them. Security teams can also use threat intelligence to accelerate incident response and remediation and to make better decisions. A cloud security platform should integrate threat intelligence with a cloud workload protection platform and incorporate automation to make the consumption of intelligence more accurate, consistent, and timely.

6. Incident Response

A robust solution will provide context into the incident, retain detection information long enough to support investigative efforts, automatically analyze quarantined files, and integrate with existing case management systems.

CrowdStrike’s Cloud Security Solutions

CrowdStrike has redefined security with the world’s most advanced cloud-native platform that protects and enables the people, processes and technologies that drive modern enterprise.

Powered by the CrowdStrike Security Cloud, the CrowdStrike Falcon Platform leverages real-time indicators of attack, threat intelligence, evolving adversary tradecraft and enriched telemetry from across the enterprise to deliver hyper-accurate detections, automated protection and remediation, elite threat hunting and prioritized observability of vulnerabilities.

Learn more about CrowdStrike’s Cloud Security Solutions below:

GET TO KNOW THE AUTHOR

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.