Cloud Security:
Definition, Challenges & 8 Key Elements

Gui Alvarenga - March 7, 2023

What Is Cloud Security?

Cloud security is a collection of technologies, policies, services, and security controls to protect an organization’s sensitive data, applications, and environments in cloud computing systems.

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 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

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 the organization safe.

Over the years, security threats have become incredibly complex, and every year, new adversaries threaten the field. Since in the cloud, all components can be accessed remotely 24/7, the lack of cloud security puts all this gathered data in danger all at once. 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 customer sensitive data.

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 the sole receivers of cyberattacks, but small and medium-sized businesses are some of the biggest targets for threat actors.

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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 most common cloud security challenges and risks:

Data Breaches

Data breaches are the number one concern of organizations today. According to IBM and the Ponemon Institute, from 2021 to 2022, the average cost of a data breach increased from $4.24 million to $9.44 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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

8 Key Elements of a Robust Cloud Security Strategy: How To Secure the Cloud

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. Protect Cloud-Native Applications with Next-Generation WAF

Protecting cloud-native distributed applications with a next-generation web application firewall (WAF) is important because it allows for a more in-depth inspection of traffic coming and going to web application servers, automatically updating WAF rules in response to changes in typical traffic.

6. 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.

7. Embrace Zero Trust

Zero Trust in the cloud is a basic concept centered around not automatically trusting anyone inside or outside the organization. It helps in authorizing access only to users that really need it and only to resources they need.

Additionally, zero trust networks use micro-segmentation which essentially makes cloud network security far more common. Segmenting these workloads help protect anything within one workload from issues that may arise in others and control traffic between them.

8. Incident Response

A robust cloud security strategy implements incident response (IR). Implementing IR 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. The industry continues to recognize CrowdStrike as a leader, most recently with CRN naming CrowdStrike a Winner of the 2022 Tech Innovator Award for Best Cloud Security.

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 Falcon Cloud Security.


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.