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
Why is cloud security important?
As companies continuously transition to a fully digital environment, the use of cloud computing has become increasingly popular. This comes with the added risk of facing 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 CrowdStrike’s 2023 Global Threat Report, cloud exploitation cases have increased 95% from 2022 and cases that involve cloud-conscious threat actors almost tripled from 2021, with the average cost of a data breach increasing to $4.24 million from $3.86 million the year prior. Additionally, the Falcon Overwatch team observed the average breakout time for interactive eCrime intrusion activity was 79 minutes, with one adversary breaking out in just 7 minutes.
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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The shared responsibility model
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. A strong cloud security involves shared responsibility between these cloud service providers and their customers.
It is important not to rely only on security measures set by your cloud service provider, but also to implement security measures within your organization. While a solid cloud service provider should have strong security to protect from attackers on their end, if there are security misconfigurations, privilege access exploitations, or some form of human error within your organization, attackers can potentially move laterally from 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 of any changes in company policy.
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 Type||Vendor Responsibility||User Responsibility
|SaaS||Application security||Endpoints, user and network security
Misconfigurations, workloads and data
|PaaS||Platform security, including all hardware and software||Security of applications developed on the platform
Endpoints, user and network security, and workloads
|IaaS||Security of all infrastructure components||Security 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 should include some
- 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.
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 visibility||Organizations 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 consolidation||A 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 protection||A 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 detection||Having 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 breaches||Data 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. Visibility||To 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 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 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. Misconfigurations||Moving 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 access||Companies often 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 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 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 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.|
How to properly secure the cloud
Though cloud environments can be open to vulnerabilities, there are many tips you can follow to secure the cloud and prevent attackers from stealing your sensitive data.
Some of the most important tips include:
- Encrypt all data within the cloud to ensure seamless flow among applications.
- Centralize visibility of private, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments.
- 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
- Embrace zero trust by authorizing access only to users that really need it and only to the resources they need.
- Craft an incident response plan in the event of a breach to remediate the situation, avoid operational disruptions, and recover any lost data.
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.
CrowdStrike’s threat intelligence teams continuously tracks 200+ adversaries to ensure its customers enjoy complete threat detection and response. With 88% of experts reporting to have experienced a cloud attack during the last 12 months, it is essential your security teams partner with the right security partner that will protect your cloud, prevent operational disruptions, and protect sensitive information in the cloud.
The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform contains a range of capabilities meant to protect the cloud. CrowdStrike Falcon® Cloud Security stops cloud breaches and consolidates disjointed point products with the world’s only CNAPP built on a unified agent and agentless approach to cloud security for complete visibility and protection. Among its use cases are cloud workload protection, security posture management, CIEM, and container security across multiple environments.